ADORE CHRISTMAS. I’M CHARMED BY THE FAMILIAR SONGS, THE holiday lights, the greeting cards, the decorated trees. I enjoy shopping for gifts and wrapping them, and while it’s not politically correct, I admit I look forward to receiving presents too. In spite of myself, I fancy all the glitter and flash that makes Christmas so materialistic, so unspiritual, and so bad for the environment.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Americans create 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than at any other time during the year. One has only to picture the living room late Christmas morning to see the problem.
What’s a greenie to do? Fortunately, you don’t have to become the Grinch to be environmentally conscious. You might find, as I have, that a green holiday is charmingly old-fashioned. Below are some tips to being more earth-friendly.
Start small: I keep several cloth bags in the trunk of my car. I can comfortably carry my groceries home without worrying about the handles breaking. I also bring my own bag when I go to the drug store, Target, or the shopping mall. It’s a simple change and an important one. Plastic bags are made from petrochemicals, and when they disintegrate they release toxic petropolymers. Cloth bags, on the other hand, are attractive and comfortable. They make lovely Christmas presents or can be used to creatively wrap gifts.
Give green: Christmas has become synonymous with materialism. We feel obligated to get those we love something, anything. Some of those gifts will be cherished, others will be met with secret consternation, and most will carry environmental footprints. You can, however, soften those footprints.
If you have a large family, consider drawing names of the adults and only purchasing that person a gift. Another option is to limit spending to $20 per person or hand-making (or baking) all your presents. You might also consider giving the gift of experience (tickets to a play, concert, or aquarium), the gift of philanthropy (see ADRA’s Really Useful Gift Catalog at www.adra.org), the gift of learning (knitting or rock climbing classes), or the gift of time (a family trip). If you purchase something concrete, consider the durability of an item. Is this something that’s going to be useful for many years?
Recycle/reuse: If you send out Christmas cards, look for cards printed on recycled paper. You could also send out e-cards. I like the less conventional museum e-cards or wildlife e-cards.
When you wrap presents, consider using old newspapers, magazines, and Christmas cards, as well as twine, ribbon, and cloth. My mother used to do this because it looked interesting. Even as teenagers, my sister and I thought it was pretty cool. If you prefer wrapping paper, buy recycled.
Seek spirituality: The trappings of Christmas might be fun, but they’re also superficial. The heart of the season isn’t materialism, food, or even family. Christmas is a spiritual holiday. Let’s simplify our celebration. As we strip down the excesses, we will have more space for God—for prayer and meditation. This holiday season, take a walk, read the book of Luke, seek out stillness and quiet.
I wish you a very blessed Christmas.
Sari Fordham an assistant professor at La Sierra University in Riverside, California. She teaches in the Department of English and Communication.