The Sociology of Christmas Trash

Christmas By the Curb. 
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If you want to get a real understanding of what goes on around the Christmas holiday, take a walk around your neighborhood.

Many of us do that, just to see the Christmas lights and how all the houses are decorated.

But, this year, take one more Christmas time walk around the neighborhood–and do it on December 26th, the day after Christmas.

And, this time, direct your attention to what’s left by the curb, not the home decorations.

We’re talking Christmas trash.

Maybe in your neighborhood, like in mine, the trash pickup arrives–ever so conveniently for this article–on Wednesday, the 26th,  i.e. today.

So on this morning’s walkabout, I took a camera and noted what had been sent to the dump, with the idea in mind that it would provide some interesting insight into the Christmas-holiday-spending-and-giving-and-getting  sociology of my own neighborhood.

It did. Here’s a brief overview of the sociology of Christmas Trash, as seen in one rather All-American Neighborhood.

  1. You can very easily tell which families have kids and which do not. The houses with kids have lots of trash in front. Those houses that don’t have kids have much less trash and wrapping paper to be tossed. There is always the chance (high in many neighborhoods) that the homeowners went to visit their relatives/kids/family in another town or state and so no one was home this Christmas and the trash pile reflected that. On the other hand, there is also the very real chance that some of the houses with a small CTI (Christmas Trash Index) are inhabited by folks who don’t celebrate Christmas at all. Fair enough. But if you want a quick litmus test about who’s in and who’s out for Yuletide giving, check the the CTI at each of the houses.
  2. Families with small children have a higher CTI than families with older kids. Smaller kids get more stuff, which means more boxes(small), more wrapping, etc. Older kids get clothes and money and stuff in bigger boxes and once in a while a new car, but you can generally match the Christmas trash to the family inside and–based on your knowledge of your neighbors, it’ll match up.
  3. Today’s kids are totally spoiled. If you see a home with a six foot high pile of Christmas trash and gift boxes–80% of it for toys and kids’ stuff–you may assume that at least one or maybe all of the children in that family are totally spoiled. I noticed lots of very large trash piles at the homes where I knew there  were (small) children.
  4. Every home orders from Amazon. It was the exception, not the rule, to find a trash pile that did not have at least one Amazon box in it, and most had two or more. At some houses, almost all of the boxes were from Amazon, a very shorthand way to note that Amazon is huge in America and at no time is it bigger than Christmas.
  5. Gifting Trends are readily on display. The boxes tell the story. For adults, the most gifted items were Instant Pots, large screen TV displays, small electronics like Alexa (from Amazon). For kids, the old stand byes–Legos, Bikes, Dolls and Doll Houses, basketball and soccer goals–remain very popular. Not so many of the powered skateboards this year–maybe those fires that kept erupting  and burning houses down cooled the market’s fever for that previously too-hot Christmas gift.
  6. Some families are way ahead of the curve in moving the Christmas boxes and wrapping out of the house. And some are not. Last night, late, some families had already moved the remains of Christmas past to the curb. There’s a certain efficiency in such a movement, and it happens a lot with large families, who have too much to look after to get tied up in nostalgia. Get the gift; open it; give appropriate thanks; send the boxes and wrappings out the door. Thank you, Next.
  7. Christmas is very expensive. The sheer variety of gifts and the expense of some of those gifts (as signified by the packaging and fancy names on boxes) points to the the conclusion that Americans just spend a lot of money at Christmas. It takes time to shop, some gifts–especially electronics and jewelry and certain sports equipment–is very expensive. I did not see any sign of Dan Aykroyd’s legendary  $1.99 “Bag o’Broken Glass” packaging from the classic SNL skit (with Candy Bergman). I did see lots of electrically powered mini-go-carts, sure to terrorize neighborhood drivers for months to come.
  8. Gifts of Christmas Past are obvious by their absence.  Not a lot of computer boxes and packaging in the Christmas piles that I saw today. No Apple boxes, nothing from HP or Dell or Microsoft. No cell phone boxes–assume that someone got a new cell phone for Christmas, but the boxes are so small, they could have been tucked away in larger boxes and not visible. Whether or not this information would be considered sufficiently vetted to bet your next stock market trade on it–well, wouldn’t do that. But, just as a walking observation, the absence of computer and cell phone packaging indicates that the gift givers went in a different direction this year. Perhaps not coincidently, so did the stock market.

If you haven’t taken a walk around your neighborhood yet today, you might want to grab a jacket (if it’s cool outside) and go for a stroll. And pay attention to what’s left by the curb.

A family culture is talking to you in every trash pile and you don’t have to be a sociologist to understand the meaning.

Hope that you had a Merry Christmas, and may your CTI be off the charts.


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