What America Got For Christmas

01/31/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Thousands of American families purposefully created their own Christmases this year. Making musical comedies in the living room cast with sisters and brothers, inventing original games, building montages from photograph stashes, going on local trips... we have posted at many of the sometimes outrageous ideas that folks came up with this Christmas season. Chain stores and big boxes were the Grinch this year. The experiences associated with the corporate Christmas - advertising, packaging, credit cards, sitting in traffic and standing in lines, and finally all that waste - were replaced by home-Christmasing.

And so the retail bubble finally burst, with some estimating an extreme contraction of up to 8%. The Christmas buying at local independent stores, trading at bartering and thrift and artisan events -- such spending did not weaken. The New York Times reported an upsurge in gifts "that seem heartfelt." Yes! A distinction was made this year between the hearty image on the packaging and in the ads, and the actual warmth of more intimate experience. It came this year down to spending more time together. People are telling us that they have decided that commercial Christmas creates isolation, as if the packaging forces us apart.

We have come a long way from George Bush's 9/11 equation of "shopping" with "fighting terrorism." In recent years there was so much big box construction that all the men, women, and children in Europe, South America and North America can be poured into the USA's retail space. Policy-wise, the country appeared to be locked into this notion that the world would produce and we would buy. This untenable argument was encouraged by short-sighted politicians who drove non-consumer jobs over seas.

Recently I was told on Fox News buy one business anchor, "Our economy is 70% consumerism. The idea of starting up another economy is a moot point." But America gave itself that gift this year: A gift economy. The beginning of a new economy is always a bit mysterious. Something very large has begun, though, and it is hard for those invested in the old economy to see it. 450,000 people joined community credit unions between March and September of this year. Startups of new companies continue at a record rate. We're beginning new enterprises out of our garages, converting hobbies into money-making, establishing new tech companies on our personal computers, joining our neighbors in flea markets, selling their baking out of the back of their pick-ups at the green market....

The ingenuity and practical get-to-it-iveness of Americans is an old cliché that happens to be true. We know from a painful education from Ken Lay and Bernies Ebbers and Madoff that the corporations will not protect us. However, it is not just these con-men that we respond to with our Christmas revolt, it is a system that required from us a whole set of perspectives, behaviors, and debt. Christmas the corporate way is stressful, hard work, and on the morning after Thanksgiving, even violent. We decided this year to fend for ourselves and we are doing it. The local economies suggested by home-Christmasing don't register on the big board, or even on the measuring devices of the financial news shows. But there will in due time be a public unveiling of a new American economy.

This Christmas, America gave itself a gift that will keep on giving. An America where local economies strike more of a balance with the big companies is clearly the up and coming idea. The bankrupt big boxes will become new local projects or returned to the fields and forests that were bulldozed. The commercial press will stop calling us merely broke and fearful and therefore penny-pinchers during the shopping season. We Christmased at home and in our local economies this year. We gave ourselves this gift and we knew what we were doing. We heard all the threats, the advertising still came at us, the Santas shouted and waved - but we quietly created our own Christmas.