A whiny Christmas to all!

Image via Thinkstock

The spirit of complaining about nothing

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. November 18, 2015

It’s that special time of year between Halloween and New Year’s where people start making a fuss about decorations and salutations. This year it’s no different. We are still over a month away from Christmas and already we have two notable controversies to discuss. And the funny thing is, science and religions are not even involved.

The one that received the most attention is the Starbucks “red cup” controversy. When it was first brought to my attention that Starbucks had released their annual festively decorated trash—I mean, disposable cups—I, like most people, didn’t care. Each year, the coffee retailer goes out of their way to design holiday themed cups, but this year all that was present was a simple coat of red. It was minimalistic, and highly offensive to some, apparently.

Starbucks, with an effort to stay politically correct and secular, decided that a simple red would be a modest choice for the brand. I agree. It is nice to drink from a cup that isn’t cluttered with clichéd designs. Honestly, I barely ever look at the cup anyways. Why would I? It would just remind me that once again they thought my name was “Alex.”

I hope that next year Starbucks uses the same stupid red cup. Or better yet, they should just stick with the white cups that they use the rest of the year. After all, white is a Christmas hue.

The second controversy is even more absurd. It involves one of the largest payment processors in the world, PayPal. PayPal is known to frustrate a lot of people, but not usually in such a ridiculous fashion as their new commercial did. In the UK PayPal ad, a couple of children are left saddened, anxious, and concerned when their parents aren’t bringing any gifts home as the holiday approaches. Snotty little kids worried about their gifts, how touching right? The twist in the commercial is that the parents weren’t carrying any gifts home, because they made online purchases and they were delivered without the children knowing—much like some Father Christmas guy.

Well, apparently PayPal broke the illusion for some British children. There is no Santa Claus! What I find interesting is that children are watching a PayPal commercial at all. Moreover, if your children are able to conceptualize the idea of digital payments, they are probably too old to believe in Santa. Although, the idea of invisible money does sound as fictional as a man who lives in the North Pole with a bunch of elves and reindeers.

What corporations need to understand is that they can’t please everyone this time of year. If you put up too many decorations and play too much Michael Bublé, people are going to be angry. Then again, if you don’t make an effort, you get chewed out all the same. I didn’t grow up with Christmas being a big deal, it just happened around me. I’m not religious, and as an only child I never really had a problem with presents. Christmas to me is a chance to get some rest and enjoy myself. The only thing I have to complain about during Christmas is that most stores and restaurants are closed. That’s the real bullshit!

So this is Christmas and what have you done?

Opinions_experiance not trash

Give a reason to remember this holiday season

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. December 2, 2014

It’s been said over and over again, yet every year I still see aisle upon aisle of useless garbage in department stores and super markets. The annual exchange of knick-knacks and thingamajigs is the primary reason I get rather turned off by people’s behaviour this holiday season. I see them stressing out, spending money, and swapping items that serve no real function or trigger little lasting memory. It’s been said over and over again, but let’s try it again this year: give an experience, not trash.

The orgasmic thrill of unwrapping presents is a trait so human it might as well be related to the joys of eating; however, gifts do not need to be wrapped. We love unwrapping stuff, but more often than not, after you have left, the recipient of your gift will just have to “deal with it.” Room is limited, and presents quickly become garbage. Unless you are feeding your friends and families’ sick hoarding problems, you are giving them something they don’t need. And if they do need it, they’ll probably buy it themselves.

When I say, “give an experience” or “make a memory,” I don’t necessarily mean buying your friends, families, co-workers, or next-door neighbour a plane ticket to a tropical island; I mean you can take your friend out to lunch, take your parents to the movies, make dinner for your neighbours, or buy a case of beer and share it with your peeps.

It’s not about being frugal—it’s about being smart. I hate spending money knowing that it’s ultimately going to end up in the dump. I know when I’m giving a thoughtless gift just to keep face during the holiday season, and I know that other people do it too. I have nothing against those who claim that buying body lotions, coffee mugs, decorative soaps, holiday gift packs, satirical sweaters, or seasonal plush toys is an act of generosity, but please transfer those generous acts into something memorable or at least purposeful.

We always pretend as though Christmas is a one-day event, but it’s in fact a whole season. Few of us wake up on December 25 and unwrap gifts as if it’s a big spectacle. We have many days to celebrate, we have many days to share some experiences. All we need to do is trade in those hours we allot each year for shopping into hours we can share with the people we care about.

Make some food, plan a trip, take the time, and don’t give something that is forgotten by March.

I’ll save it for someone special


Keep the receipt; you have the right to return the gifts you don’t want

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. Jan. 7, 2014

There are many circumstances to gift exchanges, including traditions, hospitality, and romances. Although these gestures are often associated with goodwill and thoughtfulness, gifts can also become temptations, garbage, and good ol’ white elephants. Despite the occasional awkwardness that comes with gift giving, nothing compares to the gross attitude of returning gifts.

It often stuns me to see the line-up at department stores, set up specifically for returns. After the holiday season, consumers will find a day to gather all the unopened gifts they’ve received from Aunt Jane or Uncle Paul and return them for store credits—or if they’re lucky, money back. Maybe sometimes Aunt June and Uncle Paul will give their approval for returning their gifts, but who really has the gall to ask?

There is a stigma that comes with returning gifts, and rightly so. Purchasing presents can often be a stressful chore. Shopping malls become a battlefield, so much so that gift receivers should feel grateful that they got anything at all. But no! The onus should be on the giver to find the perfect gift and not simply settle once their feet are tired from doing the third lap around Metrotown. If you are going to buy someone something, make sure it is something they want, need, or will at least have a chuckle at.

Giving a gift with no thought behind it can be more insulting than not giving a gift at all. Sometimes people say, “It’s the thought that counts.” Well, was there really any thought at all? Sure you might’ve thought about them, but you didn’t consider their personality, their wants and desires, or even if they wanted you to give them a gift at all—because, hey, maybe they didn’t think about you. Not all your acquaintances will consider you gift-worthy, and they might simply omit you from their list for shopping-sanity reasons. So if you can’t confirm that the person enjoys chocolate, save the Ferrero Rocher for someone else; if you can’t confirm that the person enjoys reading, don’t buy a book (a.k.a. homework); and if you can’t confirm that the person wants a tacky antique figurine in their home, well I want it, I love tacky stuff.

Gift giving is an art form; skilled gift givers can read someone, assess their relationship with that person, and offer something of value. But after the gift is exchanged, it no longer belongs to the gift giver; it belongs to the receiver, and it’s theirs to do with as they please. Should they choose to return it, re-gift it, or allow it to sit on the shelf until your next visit—to show you how much they care—that is up to them.

Never condemn someone for returning your gifts, because giving a gift is all about making someone happy. Burdening them with your lack of thought is not what you intended, so suck up your pride—it was never really about you.

Celebrating Christmas early

It’s not that time of year yet


By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Nov. 2013

It seems each year the gap between Christmases is shorter and shorter, like some festive global warming sucking the life out of every other season. Every November, I watch as some people glow with anticipation, while others frown at all the premature tinsel, lights, and Santa Claus imitators. Now, I hate to defend the Grinches out there, because I’m all about fun and decorations—who cares what religion, holiday, or festival people actually celebrate, it’s all about good cheer—but let’s not have three servings of dessert before dinner; that would spoil our appetite.

I personally never set up Christmas decorations. I consider it a waste of time, although I’m glad other people string them up. Still I wonder why they don’t just leave them up all year round if they like them so much. Is that such a stupid question? Why can’t we have Christmas lights on 365 days of the year? I wouldn’t be angry—then again, we might as well go ahead and celebrate my birthday and Halloween 365 days a year as well. I wouldn’t be angry about that, either.

The point I’m trying to make here is that patience should be a part of the holiday season. It’s an important discipline to embed into our psyche. It strengthens us as people. Anticipation plays a large role during the holidays, and it’s figuratively the heartbeat of the season. There is nothing wrong with looking forward to something, but don’t count the Easter eggs before they hatch.

Honestly, there are way too many holidays and it’s a tad overkill to celebrate one for over a month and a half. Big box retail stores and Starbucks will tell you differently, but we know their plan. In a survey conducted by SOASTA, 77 per cent of American adults didn’t want stores putting up Christmas decorations before American Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday of November), and 81 per cent felt stores shouldn’t play Christmas music before turkey day, either.

My attitude towards decorations is always akin to my attitude towards chores: just get it over with. But it shouldn’t be. Decorating shouldn’t be a lonesome undertaking like mowing the lawn or cleaning the gutters. It should be a shared experience with those we care about. Isn’t that what the holiday is about? So savour it a little, don’t just rush into it and get it done. If you ever feel traditions are becoming a humdrum task, remember you’re not obligated. Nobody really cares if your lights are up at all.

Christmas is inviting, it’s fun, and it brings back all the good memories of childhood, but let’s grow up for a moment and think about everything else in life. It’s not healthy to indulge too much in one thing. We call them traditions, and traditions in their simplest form are rules and guidelines (I know, that sounds horrible, but they are). It’s not a bylaw and nobody is going to get arrested or fined, but the unwritten tradition is that decorations go up two weeks before Christmas and come down 12 days after.