I compare the present day celebration of Christmas and knock off designer apparel in this way. Both are more prominent than the genuine. Genuine is usually deeply meaningful and imparts lasting value. I can recall when a ‘designer bag’ was desired only if it was the real thing. Now the abundance of knock offs have devalued the satisfaction of having an original. Let me tell you how I arrived at the comparison between the present state of the Christmas celebration and the willingness to substitute knock-offs.
Ripped off! I’d been ripped off! It took me a few months to confirm it but when I realized the truth I never forgot the feeling of being let down. At nineteen, I was living alone in a fast town. My loving parents agreed to an education, far from the protected mid-western community where I had grown up, and an education I would get! Sometime in the first few weeks of living in Miami, I became immersed to an entirely new culture. Fellow students, mostly from the east coast, tossed around names of designers I had never known like they were acquaintances. I quietly learned otherwise from the pages of glossy magazines, not admitting to ignorance of such prominent names. I adopted the dream of being successful enough to own something others would recognize by name or design.
While window shopping one day a seemingly honest guy on the streets, with an opened suitcase balanced atop a couple of milk crates, enticed me with the nice price of $19.95. Looking inside, I was astonished. “For a Cartier?” I asked naively, not knowing its exact value but I was sure it was more than what he was asking in his broken English. “Yep. What color do you want?”
I chose red, my favorite. Laying out a twenty, I eagerly strapped the watch to my wrist. I had proudly purchased my first designer wear and that twenty was like a hundred dollar bill to me. Living on a tight budget, I knew something else would have to give but I needed that watch if I was going to engage myself in the culture. I was sure it stood for prestige in a city where the lowly traded their good sense for some bit of status, vital in this city of glitz. Deep inside I knew it couldn’t be the real McCoy. I convinced myself that he must have obtained a good buy somewhere and was passing along the deal to young girls, knowing how important it was to have luxury at an affordable price. Walking away, I admired the beauty of the red leather band, white face with black Roman numerals surrounded by a shiny gold frame.
Each time I wore the watch I held my arm in a position where it would be noticed. Those who were ‘in the know’ recognized the shape and design of the watch without reading the insignia. “Is that a Cartier?”
“Yeah, yeah, it is”, I would respond, flipping my hair across my shoulder. Daily I looked at the watch, hoping the gold finish would stay brilliant. I’m not sure why I thought it would tarnish, maybe because that’s what I was used to, but within a couple of months it began to show a silver edge. The finish was wearing off, confirming my suspicions. It was a fake and that was the end of my newly found designer status. A shabby Cartier was a contradiction; that I knew for sure. My euphoria was short lived. Off the wrist and into a drawer it went, never to see the light of day again.
My next designer status symbol was indeed the real McCoy. It was a Dior. My roommate purchased a large duffle shaped handbag as a gift for me at Sax Fifth Avenue on Miami Beach. Oh, she wasn’t rollin’ in cash. She had landed the assistant buyer position in accessories and handbags. Talk about being immersed in the culture, she was headlong into it. The gift brought true satisfaction. The night she came home with it, she had two, a brown one for me and a navy one for her. She had splurged with her first paycheck, justifying the purchase because of her generous employee discount. Grinning from ear to ear, she didn’t need to say a word. We both knew their value, in money and in endurance. I never questioned whether the straps would break or if the fabric would soon wear out. I knew it wouldn’t disappoint me like the Cartier watch because it was the genuine article. And I was right. It lasted long after it went out of style.
Years later, I discovered the motivation behind the proliferation of knock-off designer bags being peddled. When making a fast buck became paramount in our society, a friend invited me to go to New York City on a ‘hunting expedition’. Her goal was to accomplish a business deal with a guy who bootlegged ‘designer bags’. Her friends had promised to purchase bags and host purse parties with their circle of friends. It sounded like a fun get away but I was about to learn a lesson on authenticity. Upon checking into our hotel, I inquired about the time of her business meeting. Sheepishly she admitted that there was no official meeting and more reluctantly admitted she only had an address. The arrangement was made by a friend of a friend who promised this guy had ‘good stuff’ at great prices. She was given directions and a password for entrance into this back alley, up the fire escape, down a hall, into a living room, through the bedroom and into the back of the closet directions. She was promised amazing buys. She told me her instructions were to bring cash.
“Did you bring a gun, too?” I joked. It sounded shady but she assured me it would be okay.
We wheeled our empty jumbo-sized luggage down the streets following directions to the tee. Sure enough, it all went as promised and we left with our luggage crammed full. Each item was ten dollars with no tax, making the bookkeeping easy and their authenticity questionable. On the way back to our room, we stopped into a chic handbag boutique to check out their prices then later examined her goods to see if they would pass for the real thing. “As long as they have the same colors and patterns as this year’s, that’s all anyone cares about”, said my friend, “and the price. They’re a steal for what I’ll be selling them at.”
She was right. She made fifty dollars on each bag. What a return on the investment. Funny thing is, I attended three of those purse parties with her and not one person questioned their authenticity. She unpacked the Double C’s and LV’s from cardboard boxes and laid them on kitchen tables. They were grabbed up in a frenzy. It was a far cry from the slick boutique on Fifth Avenue but these ladies knew they needed to keep up, just like me when I purchased the Cartier. I understood.
So, what does all that all have to do with Christmas? It is to prompt questions. Is Christmas about settling for the appearance of the real thing or should we question what’s offered so we can celebrate authentically? Are we willing to buy into the knock off of Christmas offered by the retailers? Do they genuinely help us celebrate or are they only trying to get us to overspend by using the emotions attached to Christmas? Are we so desperate to “buy” Christmas that we forget it’s not about keeping up with what’s expected?
If we truly celebrate then we celebrate with the sights, sounds and aromas that form this tradition. Those things leave their satisfying and lasting impression on us. And if we celebrate by helping those less fortunate, purposely being kinder, and making peace with those around us it brings a richer meaning to Christmas. Authentically celebrating Christmas brings deep satisfaction because it continues in our hearts long after the season, not leaving us disappointed like the short life of the knock off. Celebrating in this way may just hook you on the real thing. You might not ever settle for a knock off again, no matter what time of year.