On the Thirteenth Day of Christmas

PHOTO: Lori Erickson, Flickr CC

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Hail, hail Christmas morning!

The family gathers around the tree to behold the fruits of Santa Claus’s labor. The stockings spew forth troves of sugar and plenty. The spirit of giving crescendos as we exchange gifts selected with care, or that were perhaps on sale.


And then it is over.

The action figures pose triumphant on the coffee table, bulging with anatomical optimism.

Bags “2,” “3” and “5” from a 1,500-piece LEGO set have been emptied into a box which recently held a pair of boots that, turns out, don’t fit.

A plastic case points sharp edges upward from a bed of sticky cellophane, the postage stamp-sized video game already loaded into a $99 contraption that computes faster than the Apollo 11 lunar orbiter.

The tape-lined box for the weird foreign toy, special ordered off the internet, mocks you in Korean. You think.

Meanwhile, the living room lies covered with wrapping paper, twist ties and shards of sharp plastic suitable for knifing punks out on the prison yard.

Why? Why, we ask, is there so much packaging for children’s playthings and small pocket tools? Why do they use $2 in screws to fix a $3 toy car to a viewing stand?

The problem stems from a human truism. We’re not as smart as we think we are, and become easily distracted by shiny objects. Much of recorded history can be neatly explained by these twin facts.

Manufacturers package things like toys or small household tools for appearance, not just to prevent theft or torture us. That, of course, would be our assumption on mornings like this. But no, the plastic shells we so despise exist to dangle the visual bait of consumer desire before our discriminating eyes.

When we go to the store, we want to see Scientist Barbie standing erect, with her beaker and pumps on full display. We don’t want to see the doll crumpled up in a bin with a Ziplock baggie around her neck containing her accessories — even if that’s real life. That’s how it’s gonna be *on a good day.*

We want to see bright colors and text that screams product features: “Eight unique attachments!” or “Self-Cleaning!” or “E-Z Grip Handle.” We want the physical objects to literally scream “Buy me!” If they did, we would. So instead, the packaging does the job.

In addition, consumer goods must travel great distances. Much, much farther than the distance from the North Pole to Howard Street. Think China. There are waves upon the mighty Pacific Ocean. Consumers demand that everything look good out of the box, even if the things cost a pittance to make and travel halfway around the world to get here. So they pack it tight.

To facilitate the ease of packing, transport and sale, we must suffer after the gifts are opened. And again when we go to the dump. And again when we learn that plastic never biodegrades and slowly infiltrates every part of our food supply. Fa la la la la, la la la la.

On a day marked by many to celebrate the very institution of joy, we so easily curse the sharp edges. Could it really be that we long so much for that which is real, buried at the heart of the excess packaging of modern life?

Perhaps. Blessed is he or she who possesses the multi-tool of truth, allowed us to cut through to that which matters most.

Unfortunately, mine is still in the package. So I guess I’ll use my teeth.

Merry Christmas. Happy Boxing Day. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

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