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Sara Shallenberger writes on focusing on what matters during this holiday season

On Thanksgiving, millions of Americans gathered around the table with their family and friends. They filled their plates with warm, home-cooked meals, the product of long, well-spent hours in the kitchen. They toasted to each other, celebrating friendship, family, loyalty, and kindness. They gave thanks for what they had, expressing their gratitude that they had a place to live, food to eat, and family to share it with. "We couldn't want anything more than what we already have," they said.COURTESY PHOTO - Shallenberger

How wrong they were. For the next morning, Americans got up early, wallets in hand, to take advantage of Black Friday deals. In some capacity or another, most of us got involved—whether in stores, online, or even through the weekend, as the sales continued. Less than 12 hours after a day of wholesomeness and simplicity, many Americans transformed into materialistic fanatics, set on finding the best deals, the most valuable items, or the most extravagant purchases. Shoppers around the country shoved in lines and brought home new clothes, technology, and cars to add to their collections.

Admittedly, there's not much harm in this. Why not take advantage of a good deal? But it's certainly ironic, as this day of superficiality follows one of gratitude. This trend is reflected even more so with the Christmas season.

"'Tis the season to be jolly," we're told. Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble croon about crackling fireplaces, family gatherings, and peaceful snow. But, as we all know, reality is much different.

Christmas time isn't peaceful for most. Americans stress about finding the right gifts for various relatives, decorating their homes and christmas trees, and sending out holiday cards on time. They balance school and work with parties and other holiday commitments. For those with far-away relatives, they may make travel plans for themselves or others. The echoes of thankfulness, charity, and simplicity from Christmases past are hidden among the attractions of sparkly presents and holiday shopping. The Christmas season is now a bustle of planning, shopping, and navigating the social and consumer worlds.

Like Black Friday, it's not all a bad thing. I, for one, love a good, meaningful present as much as the next person. I love parties and sweaters and walking through Bridgeport when all the Christmas decorations are up. But I also love music, volunteering, and travel. There are so many fun and festive things to do during the holiday season that don't involve succumbing to consumer culture. There are tree lightings, concerts, and caroling. There's an abundance of opportunities to give back to your community through volunteering and food and toy drives.

You can get away from the holiday bustle through travel, whether it be overseas or just a day trip. Perhaps if we popularize some of these alternatives, shopping malls will no longer be the easiest place to find holiday spirit. The Christmas season might not be so stressful if we didn't feel the need to purchase mounds of stocking stuffers or fill our front lawns with inflatable snowmen. Perhaps, old-fashioned Christmas songs might ring true once more. In the age of climate change and gas fireplaces, we might not be able to get a "white christmas" or "chestnuts roasting on an open fire," but I think we can get pretty close.

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