a peek inside the fishbowl

07 Dec, 2016

Christmas shopping, gifts, and alcoholism*

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

* I know this is a weird title for a blog post but really, there is no other way to summarize what I’m about to write about. Here goes!

Sooooo, the recent snowfall has filled me with All The Holiday Feelings. I had a free day yesterday so I put my boots on and walked down to Westboro for a bit of window shopping. It was sunny, fairly warm for December, and I was feeling pretty good. I think this is a record for me. It’s probably the earliest I’ve started my Christmas shopping and wasn’t dreading it like one would a plague of locusts or the stomach flu. ;)

One of the things I don’t like about this time of year is the pressure to buy stuff. You can TRY to avoid the message to BUY BUY BUY but it’s hard to do, even at home. Our household has been inundated with Christmassy flyers and circulars. I’m sure yours has too. There’s no escaping it, really. I toss most of the flyers in the recycle bin because I know that if I flip through them I am more likely to overspend, but I broke my rule this morning. I found myself leafing through a glossy mini-catalogue that arrived in our mailbox today when I spotted these:

Do these kinds of items promote drinking?

What do you guys think of this kind of stuff?

Maybe I’m getting old and crabby but it makes me cringe every time I see something that glorifies drinking alcohol use in this way. This stuff is everywhere right now but there seems to be a big influx at Christmas as we struggle to buy gifts for everyone on our list. There are wine-themed glasses, aprons, throw pillows, oven mitts, coffee mugs… you name it, there’s a version with a wine or booze theme. Have you noticed that most are usually aimed at women? Wine-related gifts are a huge category on Amazon. (This is apparently a best seller! Ugh.)

I can see how the conversations around holiday giving unfold:

“What can we buy Auntie Mae?”
“WELL, she loves alcohol! So let’s get her a wall plaque that says “All you need is love and a bottle of wine” in big letters so she can hang it in her kitchen and look at it every day!”

Am I humourless? Too politically correct? I don’t know. I only know that as the parents of two teenagers we do our darndest to explain the perils of alcohol abuse and this kind of branded messaging flies in the face of everything we’re trying to do. These kinds of products make alcohol consumption seem fun and encourage drinking to excess. These messages normalize binge drinking. They also make it seem like we NEED alcohol to get through a hard day… which I think is possibly the most damaging to teenagers who can find life kinda tough, even at the best of times.

I know these products are meant to be funny, but you might have a different point of view if you know anyone who drinks too much. Or how about this? Substitute the text on every alcohol-related gag item with the equivalent about smoking and cigarettes. Try it. It sounds weird. Imagine a throw pillow, apron, or T-shirt with one of the following phrases printed on it:

Any time is SMOKE TIME!
Smile, there’s always cigarettes!
Smoke a little, you’ll feel better!
My book club only reads cigarette labels.
Keep calm and have a cigarette.

Most of us would probably think items like that are pretty tasteless and possibly encouraging an unhealthy addiction.

I’ve also tried to be a bit more mindful of how I refer to drinking around my kids. I used to catch myself coming home from a long day and asking Mark to pour me a glass of something. “Make it a double,” I’d joke. (Because, obviously, this was to convey that it was an especially tough day at work.) It might be subtle, but what kind of message was I sending to my children when I said this? Is it hypocritical of me to tell them drinking too much is unhealthy and that we should never look to alcohol to solve a problem or change a tough situation… and then make a comment like “make mine a double honey!”

We tell them alcohol is to be savoured like a piece of cheese or chocolate cake, and that one or two servings is usually enough. So what does it mean when products that are available everywhere are telling us that we should make cocktails “when all else fails”?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

11 Responses to "Christmas shopping, gifts, and alcoholism*"

1 | Katie

December 7th, 2016 at 2:24 pm


My mum’s book group recently read “Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol”…when she recommended that I read it too, I rolled my eyes. But, I dutifully started it and it is compelling.
The author delves in to how drinking/alcoholism has relatively recently become a massive health problem for women, and the HUGE marketing push that has targeted women drinkers.
Would highly recommend it. (And now, like you, these kind of observations occur to me all the time.)

2 | Misty Pratt

December 7th, 2016 at 3:10 pm


I’ve written about this before too, but have focused more on the wine-drinking mom culture. And hey, I’m no innocent, because I partake and crack jokes too (#wineoclock) But I agree it’s gotten out of hand. About a year or so ago I took a hard look at my drinking and realized I was definitely drinking to cope with life, and not for the pleasure of it. I’ve now cut back big time, and truly savour the glass of wine I pour myself on the weekends. And I hope my kids see that we can cope with life’s challenges without NEEDING that glass. I agree we have to be teaching our kids moderation!!

3 | Cath in Ottawa

December 8th, 2016 at 8:14 am


I’m really glad you wrote about this – I’ve been really conscious of this trend the last few months and have been trying to sort out my feelings about it.

4 | Tudor Robins

December 8th, 2016 at 8:27 am


As a non-drinker, this type of merchandise seems a little baffling, somewhat sad, even a bit tacky; never cute, or cool, or particularly funny. But I guess somebody out there thinks it’s sufficiently cute or funny to buy enough of these products that companies keep making them …

5 | Lynn

December 8th, 2016 at 9:10 am


I also think it’s crossed a line somewhere. It used to be you’d think about an evening out with your girlfriends, and having a glass of wine there marked it as an adult evening, away from the kids, something special. But now I find products like these are encouraging women to thing of alcohol as their “little helper” to get through each day, which I agree, sets a bad example at the least, and may lead to actual problems at worst. I read a good article about this recently – can’t remember where, maybe it was Misty’s! – and it really changed my thinking from this-is-fun-and-innocent to this-is-potentially-dangerous, especially for women.

6 | Marguerite

December 8th, 2016 at 2:00 pm


Your post rings for me. I worked as a psychotherapist in varous treatment centers in Ottawa for 20+ years, mostly in women only facilities and I have seen the damage alcohol does to women and families in general. I cringe when I see “jokes” about overdrinking and curing a hangover – Alcohol destroys families and it also damages the physical health. Alcohol is a poison – I keep on reading how younger women are diagnosed with breast cancer and finally saw some research studies that link drinking to breast cancer – even more than one glass a week increases the risk of breast cancer. Keep on sharing your thoughts about it – even if we only reach one person, it won’t be in vain

7 | andrea tomkins

December 8th, 2016 at 2:18 pm


Thanks all. It’s a tough issue for sure. And it’s not like I don’t drink wine, I do (and beer, probably more beer) but I agree that a line has been crossed in terms of the rise of “funny” wine merchandise. And that stuff is EVERYWHERE. Even my kids have picked up on it. (“What’s with moms and wine?”) Sigh.

I’d also like to share the link to Misty’s post about because it’s really good AND I was happy to be reminded of it and give it another read. You should read it too. Here it is: http://www.kidsinthecapital.ca/blog/2015/10/22/mommy-needs-a-drink

8 | 4,258 deaths

December 8th, 2016 at 2:33 pm


As a society we MUST talk about this. It’s bad and getting worse.
The C in LCBO is Control and yet their mandate seems to now be HEAVY PROMOTION of drinking and booze-filled lives. Do we really as a society need a weekly brochure or booze catalogue to entice us to have yet another drink or night of binging? The LCBO tells us that every day and every occasion calls for booze. Lots and lots of booze.

I have two friends who used to laugh at my worrying about the LCBO. They are now members of AA. They have destroyed their families and their lives.

Do we really need to encourage and promote this…

A snapshot of alcohol’s impacts on Canadians:

•In 2002, 4,258 deaths in Canada were related to alcohol abuse, representing 1.9% of all deaths.

•Costs related to alcohol in Canada equalled approximately $14.6 billion in 2002.

•From April 2013 to March 2014, $20.5 billion worth of alcohol was sold in Canada.

•In 2008, impaired driving was the leading cause of criminal death in Canada.

•Among psychoactive drugs, alcohol-related disorders were the top cause of hospitalizations in Canada in 2011.

9 | Carla

December 10th, 2016 at 8:44 pm


This is something that has bothered me A Lot since my mat leave with kid #2, who is now 8. this idea that parenting is so hard, we can only make it through with the aid of alcohol. Really, it is hard yes but alcohol doesn’t make it better, it just allows for escape and well occasionally that’s not a bad thing. But it irks me that it has become normalized. I’ve seen this increase over time, and my theory is that more and more professional white-collar working women are taking time off for mat-leave, stepping off the treadmill for a bit, what have you, and it’s not quite The Feminine Mystique but the drinking became the way to battle the mind-numbing drudgery of the never-ending poop-milk-train, a cute one but still. Not sure, but I think there is something there.
I like a drink yes, we have a solid liquor cabinet for entertaining, but I am weary of drinking without an occasion. It is a dangerous thing.

10 | Tarah

December 21st, 2016 at 5:28 am


I totally agree. I’m not really someone who drinks very often (I pretty much only drink socially and even then it’s usually just 1 serving). I’ve disturbed by the recent societal push; which seems to be particularly aimed at mothers; to drink our problems away. Maybe the lines should be switched out for exercise!

11 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Drinking and not drinking - a peek inside the fishbowl

February 1st, 2019 at 8:05 pm


[…] been on my mind, but I’m seeing more alcohol-related marketing and products everywhere. I’ve written about it before. There are fundraisers that focus on wine, social events that revolve around drinking, etc […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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