My son’s eighth birthday was looming and the kid was running around proclaiming all that his birthday was going to be, and mostly, what he was going to get. It was the latter that was filing me with dread.
When you step out for awhile from Western society and then step back in, children’s birthdays appear as Horrors on the Horizon. The hordes of presents reinforces that it’s not about people, it’s about stuff and getting More Stuff.
I cannot help but think of Krishnamurti’s statement: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” This experience of birthday parties filled with hordes of presents year after year orients children to our material society, that buying stuff and having stuff is what it’s all about. It teaches them that this is how we celebrate – not by being together with friends and family, but that we need to get Stuff. And by now it’s pretty glaringly obvious that this is not the way to happiness, yet we unwittingly teach them that it is.
If we are looking for a transformation of consciousness and to move away from materialism, we need to step away from the parade of presents. Kids could make something for birthdays (no matter how hideous) or perhaps choose a present from among favourite toys they already own. Bringing a couple of dollars for the birthday child to choose one present is also good. Children naturally want to experience the happiness of giving but the boatload of presents in the corner is unsettling.
Of course, none of this is easy. I managed to get myself in quite a tizzy over Aaron’s ‘requests’ for various crate sized Lego boxes. Despite the amount of Lego he already has, I actually contemplated buying more. Which was seriously crazy. In the end, I bought him a pair of new sandals. Since the kid had resorted to wearing either a pair of flip flops or my neighbour’s son’s old black leather dress shoes, he appreciated the present.