Christmas, Consumerism and Kids - a note from our founder

Happy holidays from Euphrates!

We wish you a Christ-filled Christmas, for those who celebrate, and a happy new year 2019!! We are so grateful for and in awe of this global community.

The other day I came home to see my 5 year old daughter sitting on the couch watching a video on the babysitter’s phone. Instead of telling her to turn it off, like I usually would, I sat next to her and watched it with her. It was a youtube video tutorial of a woman displaying two dolls on a table, contrasting the “realLOL dolls” with the “fake LOL dolls”.  I found the woman’s voice immediately irritating, as she remonstrated: “Now here’s the REAL LOL doll. Look at how much bigger her eyes are. The fake dolls’ eyes are so much smaller—can’t you see? Oh no, look how they totally messed up her eyebrows on the fake one! The real dolls you can tell have such higher quality. See the stitching in the clothes? The fake ones have a cheap feel and look. On and on the she went, picking out differences here and there, doing her best to educate my daughter about being a “discerning consumer.” Sigh, I thought. I don’t want my daughter to be a discerning consumer. I want her to be a discerning citizen.


After the video ended, my daughter and I had a little chat. I shared my view that the only purpose of those videos was to influence her to buy certain things so that those companies could make money, and that they were treating her like she was a wallet. How much better could that money be spent—towards helping people rather than buying the more expensive doll? We discussed how many more important things there were to be learning about than the difference between doll brands. I had anticipated a severe reaction to all this, given my daughter’s favorite thing in the world right now seems to be LOL dolls. She’s midly obsessed! To my great surprise, when I said she wasn’t allowed to watch those videos anymore, she nodded in agreement and said, “I didn’t agree with her. I liked the fake doll better anyway.” 


But who am I to talk—as the tree is piled high with presents and the latest toys. Christmas is here and in the U.S. we are inundated with things to buy and things to consume. I aspire to the revisioning of gift-giving and consumerism described in a blog“Is it time to rethink how we give gifts?” which cites that 53.1% of people report to receiving unwanted gifts during Christmas and $16 billion is wasted on unwanted gifts. Not to mention the environmental toll, when reports indicate up to 18% of gifts are never used and 4% are immediately thrown into the trash. 


Imagine if this effort, expense, and energy were poured into celebrating the “reason for the season,” and gift-giving became instead an impetus for educating ourselves to be better citizens. That same youtube lady could be teaching kids about minimizing waste, helping the homeless, engaging other cultures and countries, fact-checking our politicians, or learning civics. Instead of a litany of more “stuff”, we could practice serving others together. 


Some dear friends, Travis and Hollister Thomas, parents to three children, are always inspiring others with their innovative approach to serving together as a family. This Christmas they are collecting donations and delivering them directly to homeless folks in Palm Beach, Florida for the second year in a row. And they have renamed “Black Friday” “RAK Friday” and have committed for the past six years to doing “RAK - Random Acts of Kindness” as a family and inspiring others around the country to follow suit. 


Dick Gratzel,a software entrepreneur from Germany, undertook an extensive survey with scientists to determine his lifelong carbon emissions and drastically change his lifestyle, according to the Washington Post. Gratzel found few practical instructions on how to do that and set off on a personal mission to find out ways, which now include not flying at all and cutting meat and milk out of his diet. 


I’m scared to think of how high my carbon footprint is, with three kids, lots of travel and lots of cheese. But it seems more important to know than to be in the dark and then as a next step, to share tools and inspiration on how, in fact, to make those changes. I think it would be easier, too, to shift my lifestyle if done in community—one in which we are all trying and growing and conserving and learning from each other and motivating each other to be better citizens, not consumers. Now that’s a youtube video I would love my daughter to watch!

--Janessa Gans Wilder, CEO, Euphrates Institute