Scott MacKay Commentary: Have A Sane Holiday Season

Nov 25, 2015

Tis the season of shopping, socializing and celebrating. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says commercialism has over shadowed the holiday season.

Thanksgiving is that wonderful holiday dedicated to feasting, family and giving thanks for what we have. The next day, Black Friday, is the day many  people speed to the mall in the pre-dawn darkness to line up under the wary eyes of security cops,  jostle each other and buy more stuff.

Then comes the time of tinsel, plastic Santas and the annual frenzied rush to spend and party as if this is the last Christmas on earth. The season is ubiquitous. Unless you live underground and way off the grid, it is  impossible to escape the carols blaring from your car radio, the television commercials urging you to create happiness by spending more and more and the faux collectivization of gaiety.

And, of course, those interminable football games punctuated by commercials that scream buy, buy, buy and indulge in as much junk food and beer as your system abides.

Still, there are some small things one can do to dent the dominance of the big box retailers who force employees to work before the mince pie is served at Thanksgiving. There is a way to help your fellow Rhode Islanders, reclaim the spirit of the season and keep your sanity.

I’m talking about  buying local, melting plastic and spending dollars with Rhode Island retailers and artists.  Get the Christmas turkey from a local farm, buy jewelry from a local silversmith, throw a party catered by a neighboring eatery.

It isn’t easy to do this. You have to row upstream against the tide  of predatory capitalism that prevails this time of year. Even the tax laws are stacked against local shops.

Say you want to purchase a book for the discerning reader on your list. So you head to one of the Ocean State’s fine independent book stores.  The staff of book lovers in these stores will let you browse as long as you like. They’ll help you with suggestions and steer you to recent reviews.

You’re free to take their help and leave. You can save money by going online and ordering the book you picked out. That’s because you won’t pay the 7 percent Rhode Island sales tax on your Internet purchase.  That’s because the law is rigged so that Amazon doesn’t pay sales taxes. The internet shopping behemoth  doesn’t  support Rhode Island.

But that  local bookstore does. It hires workers, sponsors  author readings, pays taxes. Not to mention  and contributing to good works. This year, why not pay a few extra cents.

There is another initiative that helps boost our economy. That’s the `Buy Local RI’ campaign run by the Rhode Island Foundation. Buy Local offers businesses and shoppers a website buylocalri.org where merchants can market products and consumers can find locally sold goods and sign up for emails and discounts.

A foundation economic study estimates that shifting just 10 percent of holiday shopping from chain stores to independent, Rhode Island-based businesses has the potential to add more than $370 million to the state’s economy. That same report estimates that nearly 60 percent of spending on local retailers stays in the Ocean State’s economy compared to only about 14 percent of money dropped at the national chain stores.

The other thing anyone can do is to resist the holiday madness is to tamp down the addiction to electronic leashes and devices. There is no better time than the holidays for stepping off the wireless hamster wheel that so defines modern life.

Don’t spend so much that January’s credit card bill threatens your financial security. Spend less on trinkets for loved ones; spend more time with them.  You will be appreciated.

And please turn a deaf ear to the annual media and talk radio trope of the infamous `War on Christmas.’ There is no war on Christmas. There never has been. As the late Christopher Hitchens reminded us, ``There are millions of well-appointed buildings all across the United States, most of them tax-exempt and some of them receiving state subventions, where anyone can go anytime and celebrate miraculous births and pregnant virgins all day and all night if they so desire. These places are known as churches.’’

Christmas is a day off for everyone.  Everything from Wall Street to Main Street closes. Religious symbols and creches are permitted even on public property so long as they are part of a secular display.

Christmas is no danger of being overlooked.  

This year, try to go against the holiday flow. Your nerves and your wallet will thank you.

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday at 6:40 and 8:40 on Morning Edition and at 5:44 on All Things Considered. You can also follow his political reporting and analysis at our `On Politics’ blog at RIPR.org