Unplug The Christmas Machine Doesn’t Deplug Much
By Kristin Battestella
I found Unplug The Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli at a second hand shop and decided to add the book-subtitled A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season- to my Christmas reading collection. Instead of meaningful spiritual how-tos, Unplug The Christmas Machine is merely an organizational chart and tip guide for stressful holiday women needing a breather during the hectic holiday season.
At first, I thought this to be an odd one off book that had been dismissed by critics and readers, but my 1991 edition is the second printing, and online checks show further revisions and reissues. If Unplug The Christmas Machine is so groundbreaking and so ruthless of its take down on the commercial and stressful holiday season, how has it continued to a thirteenth printing? How could our Christmas machine have continued if this book were so massive? Wouldn’t one or the other destroy each other? The economic necessity of the Christmas shopping season would surely kill a book calling for a home made and de-cluttered December revolution, and a book trampling all things beyond a family holiday season should have ended our Christmas shopping excess-which now begins in October. Initially published in 1986, Unplug The Christmas Machine has in fact done little to stop the Christmas monger.
I don’t find Christmas stressful at all. I shop throughout the year, buying a few choice pieces for each member of my immediate family. My family doesn’t mind things we could use-candles, clothes, books-or homemade foods, CDs, or photos. At its best Unplug tells readers to cut back on gifts, excessive holiday activities, and find what is most important to them during the season. Authors Robinson and Staeheli do this by constantly referring to workshops they hold to further meet with folks and help them get in touch with the true meaning of Christmas. The chapters are divided into sections for women, men, kids; each segment has a story allegedly told at one of these phantom workshops and exercises for you to find how to cut back on the excesses of the season. I understand how folks might not want their names and feelings all over the place in a book, and hey, the authors are trying to make money, too, but the complete lack of explanations makes it seem that these stories were just made up for authors to get their point across. A little footnote detailing where this special seminar was held or an asterisk with the classic ‘names have been changed…’ would have gone a long way. Instead, Unplug The Christmas Machine reads like a desperate attempt to get a slice of that Christmas machine pie.
There isn’t anything on Unplug The Christmas Machine’s cover that alludes to Christian ideology on the inside, but when I hear about taking down Christmas dollar signs and replacing them with the true meaning of Christmas, well, you know, I tend to think of, um, Christ, and Christ’s Mass, you know, Jesus’ observed birthday. Unplug isn’t a bad book for women and families who really are caught up in expensive toys and overly abundant baking and holiday programs and opulent social parties, but in a book that is about the take down of commercialism for a down home Christmas of old, I shouldn’t have to ask myself, ‘Where’s the religion?’.
Robinson and Staeheli briefly give us lines like, ‘So and so is a Christian, so instead of buying another expensive gift, she donated money to her church and felt better about herself.’ I’m not upset that Unplug The Christmas Machine isn’t a Biblical referencing source for why secular Christmas ideals are bad and Christian spirit is good, I’m annoyed that the authors are more worried about offending people who celebrate Christmas solely on the secular and not the religious. Shouldn’t a book like this be offensive? The first chapter is titled ‘A Christmas Carol revisited’. Where is all that Dickensian talk of reform and the dangers of ignorance and want? Where are the tales about big box chains denying Salvation Army Bell Ringers? No stories of protests against nativities and ‘holiday trees’? Shouldn’t a book called Unplug The Christmas Machine be radical in its inspirations to stand up for your family’s traditions and values in the face of the almighty dollar?
For a single mother without eight arms but five kids, Unplug The Christmas Machine is a fine book. It allows families caught up in the line waiting for photos with Santa to take pause. Believe it or not its okay to not have a lot of gifts, much less give a gift to every single person you know. Homemade gifts are okay, too. Not going to THE biggest party EVER in order to spend time with elder family members or volunteer at a home or shelter is socially acceptable-yes, it’s true. It’s sad that we need to see these words in print for us to slow down. If you feel undone because of all you do between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, by all means, Unplug The Christmas Machine is for you. If you are expecting a spiritual reflection on the current Christmas controversies, stick with Bill O’Reilly and Charles Dickens.