How in the heck did the winter solstice celebration- historically held on the shortest day of the year in December- get hijacked into Christmas? Or I should say, how did we allow a celebration that embraced nature and the coming of light to evolve into a consumer holiday stuffed with gifts that none of us really need? Every year, as Christmas draws near, I struggle with the needless buy, buy, buying that I see happening all around me. While I do agree with the efforts to help those that are truly in need at this time of year, most of us are not in real need. We certainly don't need a flat screen TV, a new sweater, or a gift certificate to Toys R Us.
Before you dismiss this as being written by a grumpy Christmas hating Scrooge, think again. I don' t hate giving, or helping, or caring. I just wish we could GIVE to the earth by not wasting its resources, HELP clean up the part of the environment that we have destroyed by our carelessness, and CARE enough to not buy things we don't really need.
Need- what does it mean to really need something? That can be a really hard question to answer and it means different things to different people I suppose. I wish all people would spend more time thinking about what need means and determine that they really don't need all they think they need. I can be really good at convincing myself that I need a new pair of jeans when really, I don't. I understand that cultural influences encourage me to buy so I try to counteract those impulses and do everything I can to not buy. Many people are less apt to think about why they buy and if they really need something. For them, buying becomes a mindless act.
This buying without thinking becomes ever more rampant at this time of year when Christmas tends to open the buying floodgates. We are forced to buy stuff or make stuff for those on our list and for what reason? Because the Wise Men brought gifts to Bethlehem and we want to be seen as good ourselves? Because buying gifts for everyone on our list is expected? How many times have you purchased a gift, knowing full well that the person didn't need the gift you were buying, but it meant fulfilling your obligation to get them a gift? Why does it have to be that way?
Well it doesn't. While it can be near impossible to change the way things have always been done, change needs to begin to take place in the way we celebrate Christmas. Our planet can not handle this indiscriminate wasting of its resources in this manner. I am not proposing we cut out Christmas altogether, but we do need to cut way back.
Here are some of my suggestions for a more Eco-friendly Christmas:
1) Spend time in nature throughout the year and begin to understand that we are not the only animals on the planet that need to use the earth's resources. Come to understand our waste is destroying the habitats of many plants and animals and that this destruction ultimately affects us.
2) Fall in love with some part of the natural world. Become connected to it, learn about it, and begin to know that every action (such as buying lots of stuff) negatively impacts nature. Hopefully, before long, it will pain you to buy goods because you will come to understand that your gain, is nature's loss.
3) Join an organization that does work to help protect the environment. You will find the people you meet to be intelligent, amazing, thoughtful people. Through this organization, you will find a sense of community that may be lacking in your life.
4) Spend time with your children and think about the world you will be leaving for them and their children. In my lifetime, I can already see the skies are not as clear as when I was a child. What will it be like for my grandchildren?
5) Get to know yourself. Spend time with yourself and develop some passions. The time spent on these passions will reduce the amount of time you think about spending time in the stores buying junk. Fill yourself with knowledge, not stuff.
6) While I think it would be great to have Christmas move toward becoming a non-material gift giving holiday, until then we need to figure out a new way to buy gifts for one another. How about starting a tradition where the people you buy for send you a list of what they need and will use? That way you can get them the cookbook they want instead of the sweater they will never wear. Every year, each member of my family makes up a list of the items they want for Christmas and we share it with each other. These items are wants but are they true needs? Needs that we can't live without? No, but they are perceived needs and these items will be loved and used by those that receive them and not just take up space in the closet. Hopefully, as time goes on, we can chip away at what we think we need and get better in touch with our real needs, thus reducing what we buy, which will reduce our environmental impact even more. This reducing of our needs is a process and it takes time, like all changes.
7) There are many low impact gift options such as food, museum memberships, writing love letters, restaurant gift cards, movie tickets, or spending time together. Making handmade items can be a thoughtful gift option, just make sure the recipient really needs what you make for them. Knitting a scarf for your grandma who already has three scarfs wastes resources in the same way buying her an unneeded scarf would.
Maybe you have some other ideas of what we can do to reduce our holiday impact, yet still make this time of year joyful. Rather than joy being felt by having a tree surrounded with gifts and the stockings brimming with trinkets, joy can be felt just in the being. Being surrounded by those you love and spending time in nature. Maybe the real meaning of Christmas is giving to the planet we call home.
O our Mother the Earth,
O our Father the Sky,
Your children are we, and with tired backs we bring you the gifts you love.
Then weave for us a garment of brightness;
May the warp be the white light of morning,
May the weft be the red light of evening,
May the fringes be the falling rain,
May the border be the standing rainbow.
Thus weave for us a garment of brightness,
That we may walk fittingly where birds sing,
That we may walk fittingly where grass is green,
O our Mother the Earth,
O our Father the Sky.
~From the Tewa Indians of North America