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Christmas Gifts, Memories and Boycotts
Published:
12/2/2015 5:27:09 PM

By Barney Blakeney


The march to the malls signals the madness of this holiday season. Even before Thanksgiving, merchants made their pitches to capture the dollars of holiday spenders. I always get a little ticked off this time of year at the commercialization of Christmas.

As a kid, Christmas represented my most materialistic opportunities. We were poor people’s churn (kids in the Charleston vernacular, or chillren as my daddy would say) so receiving gifts was relegated to only a few times during the year -  birthdays, Easter and Christmas.

Kids in my family could count on at least one gift for a birthday, and Easter meant a new suit of clothes. But Christmas! Ahh, Christmas was that time when our parents pulled out all the stops. My folks had four kids and not a whole lot of money, but Christmas always was a time of plenty. Even in times when pickin’s were slim, mom and dad always made sure we had a good Christmas.

Like any kid, the gifts part about Christmas got my attention. But Christmas also was a deeply spiritual time. I was born into a deeply religious and spiritual family - both sides, mom and dad. Mamas people were preachers and teachers. Daddy’s folks were blue collar workers steeped in southern Baptist traditions.

Mom had a Bible with beautiful pictures depicting the various stories on the pages. It had Jesus’ words written in red ink. I liked that Bible. I’d go through it just to see the pictures. Religious recollections of my father are more action-oriented.

Family reunions always included a time for singing spirituals. My Uncle Coble was one of the mavericks of the family. As we mourned my father’s death, Uncle Coble walked into the room filled with us young cousins, laid a half pint of liquor on the table, put his finger to his lips and warned us to keep it to ourselves. But when the singin’ started at reunion, Uncle Coble would lead with the best!

We were poor folks and those dynamics shaped my concepts of Christmas. There were more good times and memories than gifts. During my teen years Christmas became a time for revelry. A gift still was special, but school was out so it was about letting the good times roll! And roll they did.

Me Pat, Lonnie and Ellis went from house to house eating and drinking. Christmas was the only time our parents - actually their parents because my mom was such a stick in the mud - would give us alcohol. They knew we consumed during the rest of the year, but it was sanctioned at Christmas. Lonnie’s mom Ms. Tanny, and Ellis’ grand mom Ms Gertrude, made the best homemade wine. Pat’s mom Ms Annabell made a good wine too, but I especially savored Ms Tanny’s wine.

Me and ‘Shootme’ did the travelling fork thing one Christmas. We stuck forks in our back pockets and walked from house to house sampling other folks’ dinners. “Have fork, will travel” was our declaration.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that Christmas started to lose its luster. Well maybe it wasn’t Christmas that changed, it was me. I never saw the commercial side of Christmas when I was younger. During those years, Christmas was fun whether on the receiving or giving end. Sure Christmas took on a different dynamic after I learned that your mother is Santa and your daddy is Claus.

But then the reality struck me and I felt the sting of Christmas as a tool of exploitation. I lost my taste for Christmas with that first gift bought not out of the sheer joy of giving or even receiving, but out of obligation. Merchants realize that Christmas, for many of us, is all about the obligation. And they exploit that sense of obligation.

For years now, I’ve anguished over the bittersweet taste of Christmas - a joyous occasion turned ugly by the stupid and the greedy. The Staple Singers recorded a song, “Who Took the Merry (Mary) Out Of Christmas?” We’ve forgotten the reason for the season and corporate culprits hope we never remember. Black folks, who own little and produce nothing, can ill afford the memory loss.

I think the Nation Of Islam’s call to boycott Christmas probably is a good thing. We spend billions of dollars buying gifts just because somebody said so, for people we don’t even know. Unfortunately, we don’t think we can live without buying stuff, so the call for a boycott likely will fall on our collective deaf ears.

I recently watched a rerun of an old Bernie Mac Show Christmas episode. Mac had problems with his adopted kids and their materialistic perspective on Christmas. He said he remembers the times of Christmas more than the gifts. That’s pretty much where I am with Christmas, I too remember more good times than gifts. Heck, I only remember one or two of the gifts I received. Maybe I should think more about Kwanza.
 

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