on the subject of gift horses and conspicuous consumption


on the subject of gift horses

I think I say this every year around this time, but I really love wrapping presents. It's sort of a guilty pleasure of mine. I say guilty, because it seems like a sort of frivolous thing to take pleasure in doing especially when so much wrapping paper is thrown away every year. I like it when gifts are presented prettily though, so I do my best to be resourceful with my wrapping materials. I save old wrapping paper, I reuse ribbon, I wrap gifts in remnant fabric or old flyers or magazines. It takes a bit of effort to save all of these things, but it makes me feel a bit better about balancing out my desire to give gifts that look nice and reducing some of the waste that the holidays inevitably brings.

Tonight, after an evening with friends, delicious homemade 'za and a movie, the gentleman and I got into a bit of a discussion about waste and ostentatious displays of holiday enthusiasm. On our way home we stopped by this house that has one of the most ridiculous displays of Christmas lights that I have ever seen.

The house is over-zealously decorated with thousands of lights, with seemingly no real reason other than the owner has a lot of lights and clearly a love of really bright and loud Christmas lights display. It was a sort of mess of themes, the yard being decorated with lit pink flamingos, cinderella's carriage, flying reindeer, a moving aurora borealis or magic carpet... lights everywhere in a blazing National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation sort of way. In that sense it's sort of fantastic, but in a slightly frightening way.

I must admit that I was not nearly as bothered by the display as the gentleman was, but then his issue with the way the house was lit up was one of much more philosophical significance than I had been considering. Totally simplifying our discussion, essentially what the gentleman was saying was that he disliked the display because it represented the sort of intense individualism present in our society, where we just do whatever we want just because we can. And I get what he's saying, that light display could easily be perceived as wasteful, not only in the time involved in preparing it but also in the energy that such a display consumes. Sure in this case it is only one individual who is footing the bill, but as the gentleman posited (and I'm really parsing down our conversation here, these are not direct quotes), that time and money might have been better spent in ways that would more helpful to society.

Of course that's the argument for everything. I don't disagree with the logic and argument that the gentleman presented, but I don't really think that this show of lights is really the best example of the type of villian that is ruining the world. From the little that I know about this particular light display, it takes the owner two weeks to set up, he uses $50,000 worth of lights and costs approximately $300 in electricity. His motives seem to be fairly tame. He doesn't profit off of the display, it's a hobby and he gets enjoyment out of people who drive by to see the lights while they are on for one month of the year. If I were to agree that this display of lights was really a horrific display of conspicuous consumption, then what would I have to make of the time I spent wrapping all of those gifts from me, from the gentleman or from my parents? Surely the money spent on those gifts could have been better directed towards some worthy cause, my time better spent advocating for some charity. Are those darling little packages tied with bits of ribbon any less offensive than the dazzling array of LEDs?

The conversation surrounding the lights was not one that the gentleman and I were able to reach any conclusions on, nor is it likely to. But I'm okay with this as it allows me to appreciate the display for its photographic potential while still being taken aback by the gaudy fury of it all. This duality of perspectives also allows me to give presents (and wrap them too) while remaining mindful of the reasons why I am giving gifts, so that I don't fall prey to the pressures of holiday consumerism.

All this from an afternoon of wrapping presents and a five minute conversation on the way home.