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University of Minnesota

Reclaiming the meaning

November 26, 2008

Bill Doherty.


U professor Bill Doherty works to help families recapture the deeper spirit of the holidays

In the midst of what has become the season of American hyper-consumption, Bill Doherty is helping people say, "Enough is enough."

Doherty's research and public engagement efforts at the University of Minnesota, where he's a family social science professor in the College of Education and Human Development, focus on making families stronger and making society's culture more family-friendly. Some of his past work has involved helping families slow down and simplifying birthday parties. This time, he's leading a group to challenge the frantic pace of life as the nation and world rev up for the holiday season.

"We are all bombarded with messages to buy more and bigger, and we run ourselves ragged during the holidays," says Doherty. "This group is a laboratory for seeking more balance in all of our lives—something that our society sorely needs in the midst of today's challenges."

"This [initiative] is a vanguard to reclaim the season ... [and] ... an effort to address the cultural challenges we face," says Doherty. "A lot of people I talk to don't feel like the season is fully consistent with their core values. They end up getting their kids more, or grandparents get kids more, and their kids become little customers, and entitled customers, at this time."

Watch a video of Bill Doherty talking about how to take back what is important about the holidays and find alternatives to the culture of consumerism.

The group is staging a "countercultural event" (see details below) on what Doherty calls the "'holy day' of our consuming culture." That day, of course, is Black Friday—a day of mad shopping (retailers hope), and the one that follows the still relatively uncommercialized celebration of Thanksgiving.

Doherty says research shows that most people value their relationships, a sense of inner harmony between their actions and their behavior, and their communities far more than material things. "But you don't see that advertised very much.

"[During this season] it's a good idea to ask what your values are, not necessarily what you feel driven to do," Doherty says. "And maybe to take advantage of the fact that this year the economy isn't that good. Instead of apologizing to your children [for not getting enough presents], use this year, and this day of Black Friday, to [explore] what's most important about this season ... Most of us who grew up with Christmas don't remember a single present we ever got, but we remember the lights, the sounds, we remember the meals, we remember driving through the neighborhood and seeing the lights. Try to emphasize what is really magical ..."

Doherty doesn't recommend cutting out presents, especially for children, but to open a family conversation about what this special time means and how best to celebrate.


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Watch a video of Bill Doherty