Gift-free Christmas: Making a list and chucking it twice

Judith Magloczki isn't buying any gifts this year. Instead, she's gearing up for Christmas in a dark room, printing her own film for friends and family. Making gifts and cards is "a great alternative [to buying them]," the Madison, Wisc., college student writes on BuyNothingChristmas.org.

Ms. Magloczki is part of a quiet revolt against commercialism at Christmas. Across the country, even around the world, a growing number of people are banding together in quirky and quixotic ways to ponder the meaning of Christmas beyond Segway scooters and the latest version of Sims. One of the most ardent proponents of this simmering revolt is the Adbusters magazine, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Its editors have launched "Buy Nothing Day" on the busiest shopping day of the year - the day after Thanksgiving in the US. It's garnered followers in 30 countries since 1992.

Last year, it spawned a similar movement, "Buy Nothing Christmas," which encourages people to give to charities, make gifts themselves, or simply spend nothing at all. The goal is "a rejuvenation of Christmas as a time of peace and solidarity," says Aiden Enns, an editor at Adbusters and the central organizer for Buy Nothing Christmas.

"Right now, people think as consumers, not as citizens or members of a religion, a neighborhood, a work force," says Mr. Enns. "We make money to buy things, and then we go home to talk about them. 'Consume, spend, make more money.' I'm challenging that routine."

SOME of the challenges are downright peculiar. Last year, on the day after Thanksgiving, Seattle carolers sang their own versions of traditional songs: "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" began, "Slow down you frantic shoppers for there's something we must say." In Japan, "Zen-ta Claus" led a group meditation outside major shopping centers. And in Cairns, Australia, a group wearing black with large bar codes across their chests and plastic chains on their legs shepherded a Corporate Santa, dressed all in logos, and yielding a "consumers whip." Above the entourage towered the campaign slogan: "Stop shopping, start living, buy nothing."

Some of the shopping dissenters are less conspicuous. Allison Daroie, an employee at Beadworks on Boston's bustling, trendy Newbury Street, is making necklaces and earrings for her female friends and family.

"It's more personal when you make things for someone rather than buying, because you incorporate what you think they like with what you like," Ms. Daroie says. "It's very gratifying to be able to give someone a gift you've made."

Daroie has seen a spike in bead enthusiasm this Christmas: "People who don't even regularly make jewelry are coming in. Husbands are making their wives and mothers presents. It's been ridiculously busy."

Still, "Buy Nothing Christmas" can seem an overwhelming endeavor. Organizers urge people to put up Buy Nothing Christmas posters (downloadable from the website) - and, of course, to give to charities. But the prospect of buying nothing can seem simply unthinkable.

On BuyNothingChristmas.org, Tami Froehlich posted a message to the forum page beneath Magloczki's entry: "How do we explain this concept to our kid? Not after all these years that she has celebrated Christmas with gifts and giving. I would feel terrible."

Enns argues that this habit of acquisition - a notion that people need to buy things to grow happier and closer to each other - is at the core of the problem. "Christmas should be a time to celebrate the coming of God on earth," Enns says. "[Consumerism] is a problem of self concept. See yourself as an individual in a community first, and a consumer somewhere way down the line."

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