Paul Andersen: An ascetic contemplates the holidays

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

I can no longer “kill a tree for Christ,” so does that make me an eco-Scrooge?

I used to drive my family up to the killing fields above Ruedi, tromp up into the woods, find the “perfect tree,” say a prayer of thanks, and defy our collective conscience with a handsaw. Then we would drag our holiday cheer down to the car and strap it on like a deer carcass. A month later, the tree was thrown onto the wood pile.

Call me an irreligious un-American, but the annual Christmas harvest is not an act of stewardship by carefully pruning the forest. No one takes Charlie Brown trees, but only the best they can find.

I’m worse still about holiday gifting. Last week, MileagePlus sent out a mailer: “Light up the holidays with 2,000 bonus miles.” All you have to do is spend $8,000 in the month before Christmas.

This doesn’t quite square for a family that’s been striving to resist the materialism of Christmas and live up to the original Christian concept that rampant materialism is a deterrent to the spirit. How quaint.

Earning miles is alluring if you want to fly hither and yon without a care for “flight shame.” But to earn enough miles, you must spend like a Goldman Sacks hedge fund manager. And here’s what you buy: “The Compact Underwater Scooter” from Hammacher Schlemmer.

Billed as “America’s longest running catalogue,” the 2019 cover features a man jetting through azure water by the aforementioned scooter, blissfully skimming the rippled white sand of some tropical beach.

Paging through, it’s hard not to click the mouse on “The Facial Muscle Toner.” This $100 gadget is modeled by a comely young woman clenching in her mouth a tennis ball-sized object with twin wands attached to opposite sides.

The woman appears to be shaking her head back and forth to activate the wands, which tone facial muscles so that one’s cheeks don’t sag and one’s chin won’t wrinkle. If anyone is watching you do this, they will laugh so hard their abs will sustain the best toning of all.

Then there’s the $200 “Compression Knee Massager,” a cap-like device that heats and compresses the ailing knee for miraculous healing. It advertises “three levels of soothing warmth” so that the consumer can become limber enough to get down on their knees in praise of techno-toys.

But for the truly upscale homeowner — those with built-in pools — “The Motorized Pool Float” is irresistible. The catalogue shows a man grinning ear-to-ear while piloting this floating easy chair across a pool with dual propellers — “the same shrouded propellers used in tugboats” — so as to effortlessly reach the margarita sweating in a koozie at poolside.

These and other unimaginably gratifying gifts will, alas, not be adorning the Andersens’ Christmas tree (ours is the branching limb of a long-dead pinon tree with cubist panache) during the holidays because we prefer to save our hard-earned money rather than hand it over to catalog purveyors and credit managers.

Again, we’re out of step, as saving money makes no sense (cents) because interest rates are lower than Donald Trump’s morality meter. There’s a perfectly good reason for an accepted national policy that discourages savings and encourages spending. It’s called capitalism, and it’s what keeps employees punching the clock.

Instead of saving, most Americans are shackled by debt to mortgages, car payments and credit card interest rates. Debt is highly vaunted, even as it erodes lifestyles with crippling obligations and dividends of stress and anxiety.

But, enough of the Scrooge mode. Now’s the time to prop up the tree, build a stack of gifts around it, sing a few carols, eat a sumptuous meal, and plan that coveted trip to Cancun with bonus miles.

I’ve noticed a little flab around my jowls, so while relaxing on the beach, I’ll activate the Facial Toner. Once I get those crazy wands gyrating, I’ll have the chiseled jaw of Cary Grant.

Then I can forget our debts and pilot The Motorized Pool Float into the Caribbean sunset while humming, “Angels we have heard on high, tell us to go out and buy…”

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at