Three Cheers for Consumerism!

Noah Trupin ’23 (Web Editor, 142nd Board) in Editorials | December 9, 2022

With the commencement of Turkey Term, the Lawrenceville community spirals into a concoction of stressed furor and holiday spirit. New classes and co-curricular activities begin while campus comes to life with winter cheer; major assignments lurk around the corner with winter break just beyond. Between the intermittent commitments of Lawrenceville life, students–and their parents–take to preparing Lawrenceville for the holiday season. Houses host their traditional winter events, parents and prefects spend Sunday afternoons decorating Houses inside and out, and the School offers a slew of seasonal events. Yet despite the School’s emphasis on holiday tradition, a walk through the Circle and Crescent during Turkey Term highlights a lack of equality in House celebration; One House may display elaborate decorations visible through their windows and on their porches while others may possess a sad, bare exterior. While some Houses spend weeks and significant funding on preparing for Turkey Term and the holiday season, decoration falls by the wayside for others. With decoration and House spirit designated as hallmarks of the season at Lawrenceville, this disparity in decor and tradition between Houses creates a feeling of disengagement and separation within the community. We imagine the holidays as a communal celebration—yet the inequality of material cheer on campus yields a collection of disjointed activities, misconstruing the holiday’s traditional emphasis on community and festivity.
The Lawrenceville School flaunts the collaborative nature of its students, citing unity in and out of the classroom through House and Harkness. However, with such a collective of ambitious students, competition arises–in the classroom, on the sports field, and, as evidenced by competing extravagances during the holiday seasons, even in celebration–between each student, club, and House. During the holiday season, competition arises in the form of gift-giving and decoration: Who will best embody the season? Who will give the best gifts? Which House will assemble the best holiday display? Each question proves answerable through its relation to consumerism. Whoever purchases the most extravagant decorations and garments will best embody the season; whoever gives the most prolific or elaborate items will earn the reputation as the best gift-giver; whichever House parents take the time to purchase and decorate will have the best displays. Through the nature of the School community, we step away from the traditional communal celebrations of the holiday season and into a bout of competitive spending.
Such competitive spending, an inevitable consequence of holiday celebration and Lawrentian consumerism, generates intra-community disjointness contrary to the holiday season’s tenet of unity. Lawrenceville’s current holiday traditions express the qualities of community, festivity, and giving reflectant of the holiday season, albeit suffering from an obsession for accumulation. From acquiring new holiday-themed outfits to ostentatious fairy lights across houses, Lawrenceville’s holiday traditions reside in a self-perpetuating cycle of consumeristic celebration, rooted in the competitive need to best other Houses. While we must recognize the potential benefits of our current holiday traditions—fostering a sense of camaraderie and cheer within our Houses—we also must recognize the division and inequality they create between Houses. Lawrenceville possesses inherent consumerism, and thus avoidance of the trait proves unreasonable. Rather, we can harness students’ and parents’ consumerist tendencies to promote widespread celebration, tying together Houses across campus and, perhaps, reaching into the broader community. 
If eliminating the exchange of goods and money—a tradition embedded in the holiday season—proves infeasible, we instead can turn to practices that combine thoughtfulness and beneficial consumerism, benefitting both the Lawrenceville community and those outside the School’s borders. For instance, the Kennedy House implemented a service element to their gift exchange; rather than just giving a gift, House members now also donate to a non-profit on behalf of their gift exchange recipient. Such an activity redefines how giving appears at Lawrenceville. Instead of promoting a materialistic exchange between two individuals, Kennedy’s tradition breaches the Lawrenceville bubble and spreads the spirit of giving into the outside world, benefiting those in need. The Dawes House has both implemented a price limit for the gift swap and introduced a homemade segment to the tradition. Now, students may write a note, use a provided bracelet-making kit, or create a gift, departing from the consumerism-oriented materialistic tradition of the past for one rooted in thoughtfulness. Such behaviors, represented in Kennedy and Dawes across campus, demonstrate a false dichotomy between consumerism and division within the community. Though consumerism may cause division between individuals and Houses during the holiday season, it does not constitute a malicious force. Rather, if we were to imbue our consumerist traditions with a sense of community that extends beyond the House bubble (as Kennedy and Dawes have), we invest in the spirit of the holidays. 
At Lawrenceville, money and extravagance comprise a foundational part of the holiday season. With gift exchanges and elaborate House decoration all over campus, one cannot escape the presence of holiday consumerism. Still, as long as we eliminate the competitive component of holiday consumerism, we can move away from our current financial competition and towards a School that uses its resources to promote unity and giving during the holidays. Whether through transforming gift exchanges into a charity event, decorating the entire campus instead of individual Houses, or promoting thoughtfulness in gifting, we can maintain the same traditions of gift-giving and holiday cheer while bridging the inequalities between Houses and ensuring a unified holiday celebration. 
The holiday season makes for a time of unity—and this season marks the perfect time to take the first steps towards a unified community. By redefining how we give and celebrate as a community, we can come together to build new charitable, thoughtful, and unifying traditions. After all, that’s what the holidays stand for.