Yes, I’ve already done a lot of Christmas shopping on line. And yes, I feel a little guilty about it.
But when I take a closer look at the guilt, it really just
serves to remind me that there are very few ways of Christmas shopping that
don’t make me feel guilty. The whole concept can just seem so self-indulgent,
even if I’m shopping for other people.
At the same time, it’s so satisfying to point, click, and
save myself a trip to….well, anywhere. A mall. A superstore. A plaza.
Last weekend, I was lucky to be in Portland for a couple of
days. So, having not shopped at all – on
principle and by preference – on Black Friday, I actually did quite a lot of
small-scale purchasing on Saturday. But that didn’t seem so bad. A far-reaching
public relations campaign had dubbed the day “small business Saturday,” and it
felt like that’s what I was supporting: small businesses. Even though I know
many of the little unique-looking boutiques in Portland’s Old Port are actually
small chains, with counterparts in other boutique-heavy communities like
Edgartown, Nantucket, Chatham, and Portsmouth, I still felt like I was shopping
the old-fashioned way, ducking in and out of little shops, carrying my
purchases by hand rather than pushing a cart, aware that since I was car-free,
I’d better not buy more than I could comfortably tote the several blocks back
to the condo, on foot.
It did feel like the right way to shop, compared to the
newspaper and TV images of people in line at big box stores on Black Friday.
But my self-righteousness only goes so far. None of it was really necessary –
not the little pieces of Christmas candy for the kids, the token gifts for
friends, none of it. We could all celebrate Christmas with no gifts at all. But
it was fun, and I was contributing in a very small way to local vendors and
artisans, so I mollified myself with thoughts of how I was adding to the city’s
A few days later, though, I couldn’t resist plowing through
most of the remainder of my gift list on line. I still had no desire to get
into the car and drive anywhere to shop. And even though it pains my conscience
to give so much business to Amazon rather than local businesses, it still
doesn’t seem entirely wrong. I was saving carbon emissions by not driving
anywhere. And, well, I was saving myself a lot of aggravation, which I would
like to think benefits the world in other ways, though that may be a bit of a
But the reality is, there’s no one answer to whether it’s
right or wrong to indulge in holiday shopping, and whether there are right ways
or wrong ways to do it. Yes, any shopping supports employees somewhere –
whether in Framingham or Bangladesh – who no doubt need the work. No, I still
can’t begin to explain how buying stuff has anything whatsoever to do with the
birth of Christianity. Yes, shopping on line means avoiding the environmental
impact of driving. No, I don’t feel great about the often bizarre amount of
disposable packaging in which each small item shipped from Amazon is swathed.
Yes, I do understand that those “two-day shipping” promises exact a toll on the
overworked employees required to fulfill the orders at breakneck speed.
But in a way, what I was left with was realizing, mostly,
that there seldom are cut-and-dried answers when it comes to matters of the
conscience. Yesterday on NPR I heard a debate about communities outlawing
plastic shopping bags. A great idea, in my opinion – except the other side of
it is that people end up buying plastic bags for things like lining
wastebaskets and cleaning up after pets for which they previously used their old
grocery bags. It’s easy to have strong opinions when you don’t give things much
Last night after dinner, my ten-year-old sat down at my
computer and designed a brochure advertising holiday services. According to the
full-color printout she gave me, she’s willing to do tasks such as wrap presents,
design cards, address cards, and “personalize gifts,” all for less than a
dollar. I contracted her immediately to wrap and make cards for any gifts on my
list that weren’t for her. It will run me about six dollars. That’s one form of
Christmas spending I think I can do with a clear conscience. Possibly the only
one, but it's something.