Poker Chick is always amazed by growing American consumerism. Each year, it seems the holiday gift season starts earlier and earlier. It used to be that Christmas decorations came up soon after Thanksgiving. Now, the Halloween sugar bloat is still upon us when the wreaths come out. The trees, bells and lights on many Manhattan buildings were up by mid-November this year, including the workplace of yours truly.
Now Poker Chick is always in favor of holiday cheer. But a joyful celebration honoring the birth of Jesus Christ or the victory of the Maccabees somehow requires more and more loot with each passing year. The days of handmade cards and cookies are long gone.
Never is this more apparent than at the typical American mall on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Woman lugs first bag of gifts out to her car
Poker Chick is certain that the international community watches this phenomena with a special blend of curiosity, laughter and disgust. Stores open at 5am, right about the time many people are still enjoying seconds from Thanksgiving dinner. Sound ridiculous? Poker Chick thinks so. But the 1 in 3 shoppers who had already hit the mall by 6am this year disagree. But wait, there's more! "Gift sets" magically appear overnight at key traffic areas in stores. Regular packaging and shopping bags get replaced with special "holiday" variations. Signs all around seem to do everything short of screaming "buy me! buy me! buy me! Those pajamas were not enough!" Most amusing are the people stores hire as "seasonal help." These poor people are not trained for anything other than to direct oblivious shoppers to items with the highest profit margin. Poker Chick pities the helpless who don't know better than to follow their instructions. Grinches come out of the woodwork, as everyone angrily bumps elbows in this chaos. They even have a term for this: Holiday rage. These people will do whatever it takes to make purchases for everyone on their list. After all, their relationships hinge on finding the perfect present, or g-d forbid, forgetting one.
The gift lists get longer too. It used to be enough to get presents for your immediate family. Now it seems holidays involve not only every friend, family member and colleague you can name (not to mention your super), but also the people that really matter the most: people like your postal worker, dog-walker, hairdresser, and your local barista. If you've ever accidentally snubbed any of these people during the holidays you know exactly what Poker Chick is talking about. Just wait. It is simply a matter of time before you will find yourself out buying a holiday gift for that nice lady who changes the toilet paper at your office restroom.
Are you pressed for time? Concerned that you will not have time to shop for everyone on your list? Fret not: you have many options. For $65 an hour, you can hire a concierge service that will not only purchase all your gifts, but gift wrap them and mail them for you as well. Some save the dough and use their personal assistants instead. Short on cash and staff? There's always the ever-popular gift certificate. Besides the tried-and-true American Express, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble gift cards you can now buy gift cards for Starbucks, McDonalds and even your local gas station. After all, nothing says "I love you" more than a week's worth of free Egg McMuffins. Not in credit card debt? Clearly you are not spending enough.
Now you may laugh but Poker Chick does not exaggerate. Check out the facts: The average American spends $800 a year on holiday gifts. 1 in 3 of them use credit cards to help finance these purchses. This year, on Friday, November 24th, Americans spent $8.96 Billion dollars at malls across the country*. Dear readers, this does not include the approximate $1 Billion spent online that weekend. And all this before Cyber Monday.
Now, let's not misunderstand anything. Poker Chick is not against American consumerism in general. After all, it puts food on her table, and she is thankful for that. But let's put this into perspective a bit. More than $10 billion in spending in one weekend? Going into debt for presents? That's more than the entire annual GDP of small nations such as Bolivia, Jamaica, Albania, Nepal and even the Bahamas.
Do we really need all these things? Do we really need to spend a lot of money to show someone we care? Think back to two or three years ago. Do you even remember what gifts you got from whom? Poker Chick advises you to take an extra minute this year and breathe. Ask yourself: "do I really need this special gift set, or am I getting caught up in the madness?"
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see whether our continued export of Democracy brings this rampant consumerism along with it. Building a McDonald's in Afghanistan is one thing. Convincing its citizens that they have to buy their neighbors just the right Persian carpet as a thank you for those kababs is another. Will our material greed cross cultures? Sadly, it's too soon to tell.
(By the way, none of you will be receiving presents from Poker Chick this year.)
*Source: The nice lady on the Philadelphia evening news. Oh, and confirmed on cnn.com