Many Americans are anxious to simplify their holiday season, and the Center for a New American Dream has a wealth of information to help people focus on family, fun, good food and relaxation rather than just spending money.

The center’s 2002 poll showed that 54 percent of Americans felt that spending less money on gifts would actually allow them to focus more on the true meaning of the holidays. And 77 percent said they wanted a more simplified holiday.

“The traditional American Dream once focused on greater security, opportunity and happiness,” according to the center’s Web site. “Increasingly, that dream has been supplanted by an extraordinary emphasis on acquisition. The recent commercial definition of the American Dream has hidden costs for the environment, our quality of life, and our efforts to create a just and equitable society.”

The Center for a New American Dream is devoted to changing the definition of the American dream by helping Americans “consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life and promote social justice.”
And when it comes to providing the necessary resources, the center’s Web site delivers.

From comic strips about consumption to a consumption quiz, the center’s site entertains and challenges its viewers.

The site also offers articles on children and commercialism, how to get rid of junk mail, what people can do to protect the planet, faith-based programs, tips on how to have a less commercial holiday season and much more.

You can download a free “Simplify the Holidays” brochure, find out about alternative gift fairs, read about holiday statistics and get great ideas for gifts that won’t break the bank.

The center suggests making your own Christmas cards, assembling a collection of favorite recipes, or making charitable donations in the name of family and friends as some examples of how to focus on the spirit of the holiday rather than busying oneself with consuming.

“Instead of new wrapping paper, reuse old paper, the Sunday comics section, old maps, decorated brown grocery bags, or a colorful piece of material,” the site reads.

Or, give gifts of time like a monthly lunch date with an elderly relative or friend, a handwritten letter or card sent to a long-distance friend a relative once a month for a year, or a special activity with one’s spouse—candlelit dinner, massage, a special hike, etc.

The center also suggested giving gifts the whole family will enjoy, like jigsaw puzzles or tickets to a favorite cultural or sporting event.

The site provides a list of eco-friendly gifts and a place where users can submit their own gift ideas.

The center reported that this year Americans plan on spending $1,564 per household during the holidays—$1,042 on gifts alone. And Americans produce 5 million extra tons of trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The site also noted that it takes the average person four months to pay off their holiday bills.

Have family or friends you want to pass along the message of simplicity to? The center recommends sending them one of its e-cards. Or, you could just sing them one of the center’s adapted Christmas Carols like “Consumer Wonderland,” “Carol of the Toys,” “Hark! The Ninja Turtles Sing,” or “Uh, Oh We’re in the Red, Dear” sung to the tune of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.

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