Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about excess.
That’s easy to do this time of year, while ruminating on last month’s celebrations.
Ostensibly, Thanksgiving is about being grateful for all that we have. Our homes, our lives, our families.
But very practically speaking, for many of us, it’s about having too much — too much to eat, too much to drink and, I daresay, too much football to watch.
For many Christians, Thanksgiving also signals the start of the Advent season, which is a time of waiting, marked by prayer and fasting, for the arrival of the Christ child.
By contrast the secular, hypercommercialized launch of the Christmas season is really mostly about shopping in the perpetual quest to obtain all the things.
I opened my email on Thanksgiving evening (an action I immediately regretted), and well before the tryptophan had left my system, I was encouraged to consume even more.
“Ready for dessert?” inquired one retailer’s solicitation? “Stores open at 5 p.m.”
“Time to go back for seconds!” urged another. “Sale starts tonight!”
But the one that always gets me — the phrase I see repeated over and over throughout the holiday season — is, “Buy more, save more.”
The clever marketing strategy, which I admittedly have succumbed to on more than one occasion, promises us a higher percentage of savings the more money we spend.
The invitation for overindulgence is hard to rebuff.
More has become a way of life; we always find room for it. And when we don’t, we justify our overindulgence by resolving to give it away.
That’s because our modern society has learned to combat with great aplomb the feelings of guilt that stem from our material gluttony.
After all the money spent on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, we have Giving Tuesday, which seeks to direct our holiday expenditures (at least for 24 hours) toward charitable causes and organizations. That isn’t a bad thing.
Some retailers even manage to get in the game by donating a percentage of the money spent in stores Tuesday to charitable causes. Guilt-free shopping. It’s sheer genius.
To be clear, I am in no way disparaging Giving Tuesday.
Indeed, the holiday season is a beautiful time to make an annual contribution to your favorite charity, to “adopt” a family for Christmas or participate in an angel tree.
Generous giving is an important habit to engage in and an ever-more important one to teach our children.
But for many of us who don’t live paycheck to paycheck, who can spend what’s necessary to earn an extra 5% discount, it’s an easy exercise and sometimes an empty one, especially if that’s all we do.
What’s much harder than giving more is living with less.
Less material stuff, for sure.
But also less of what’s harder to sacrifice, the things we take for granted — heat, warm water, food. It sounds crazy until you try to recall the last time you were truly hungry. The last time you had to take a cold shower.
Because I think to be truly grateful during the holiday season (and all seasons, really) means not only accumulating less stuff, but consciously using less of all the things we forget we have. Doing so would in some small way allow us to experience the poverty of others, instead of only seeking to satisfy it.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, canonized in 2016 by Pope Francis, was known for this. The members of her order are pledged to a life of poverty and required to beg for their food to bring the sisters in closer union with those they help.
I’m not suggesting we all join the Missionaries of Charity or forever forgo hot showers in lieu of giving to charity.
By all means possible, continue to give to those who need. But remember also that there is virtue in living with less.
All of us would probably increase our appreciation of all that we have by having less. And the holiday season gives us a unique opportunity to see how blessed we truly are and to find ways to share those blessings with others.
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.