It is December 25. Christmas. I sit here this morning enjoying my coffee and the sounds of children happily playing with toys in the other room. Mostly giggling and excited play talk though there is the occasional shriek or tense raised voice. Mostly though, all is well. What’s different about these kids and their toys is that they did not open them up this morning and these are not new toys. These are the same toys they’ve been playing with for years. There is no tree in the house with presents underneath. We do have lights strung up for decoration though they remain up all year long as they provide a soft, cozy and yet festive atmosphere. We enjoy them, why take them down?

These are children who have never believed in Santa nor have they ever celebrated Christmas. Their mother, now an atheist was, for 14 years, a Bible believer that actually read the Bible and came to the conclusion that the Christmas holiday was nothing more than a creation by Constantine to emulate a pagan holiday for the purpose of conversion. In any case, last year, as she says, she studied her way right out of the Bible to deism which then, after a few more months of consideration, was replaced with atheism.

And so, here we are, a happy and content family enjoying a beautiful winter day. Sure, we have some homemade cookies but those are made all year long not just around the holidays and we enjoy some of the holiday music as well. We’ll enjoy this day as any other with three healthy meals, chopping wood, playing blocks, doing a bit of homeschool, maybe some crafts later.

Do our kids lack? Do they feel they are missing out because they’re not getting a roomful of new toys? No, I don’t think so and I’ll illustrate with a little story which is fairly typical. Recently we had a couple birthdays and the girls were asked for a list of things they wanted. The list? Empty. When pushed to come up with a list one shrugged and suggested a coloring book. When pushed further they agreed that they could use some fabric, paint and a few other art supplies. This is the rule, not the exception around here. In general these are kids that are very happy that seem to be living very full lives. For the most part the kids here spend their freetime reading, playing, crafting or watching a couple movies on weekends. In general, they’re not staring at screens, not texting and not partaking of the mainstream culture.

I’d guess that were I to take at a look at the wish-lists of random children living in the U.S., be they birthday or Christmas, the lists would, in general be quite long. I’d also guess that the kids with fairly long lists would already possess a great abundance of fairly new toys and gadgets. This isn’t about proclaiming some sort of right or wrong way to live or raise kids. Not about a right or wrong way of spending December 25 or any other day of the year. Rather, it is suggestion that it is entirely possible to live a life which does not revolve around the hyper-consumption that seems to have become the norm in today’s America. It is also to ask questions: Are we and our children happier as a result of this greatly increased consumption? Are we even aware that this seems to have become the new norm? What is the relationship of our identity and sense of happiness to our consumption of material goods? Have we come to believe that such consumption, as a distraction, can serve as a solution to our problems?

Really, the questions around consumption and hyper-consumption are not new. There are many more questions that could be asked regarding the effects of a way of life based on hyper-consumption on our personal and cultural health. There’s nothing fresh here and many others have been asking the questions for a long time. Nevertheless we seem stuck in this cultural and behavioral rut and I don’t see it as something that is making us happy or as something which can be sustained on a planet which has reached its limit.