Sunday, December 18, 2011

philosophy of a smaller christmas

Let’s face it, from an environmental perspective, the month of December is something akin to a natural disaster:  lights, wrapping paper, cards, envelopes, junk mail/catalogues, plastic crap (gifts), plastic crap (packaging), plastic crap (decorations i.e. those horrible blow up yard things), and of course, time/fuel spent producing, selling, shipping and shopping for all that plastic crap.  Christmas has cornered the market on waste.

Bah humbug.

Yes, but what are we bah humbugging?

I think the answer is me.


The creation of so much trash just seems counter to the spirit of the holiday to me. A celebration of hope for the future should not discard concerns about landfills and climate change, right? From Christmas to Hanukkah to the Solstice and Kwanza, there are lots of reasons to celebrate this time of year.  Couldn’t that just mean we splurge by breaking open an extra squash?! (OK, a little extreme I know, maybe a bottle of wine to go with it wouldn't be out of order).  

I dutifully read my Laura Ingalls as a child.  Apparently, it only took a stick of peppermint and a homemade doll to make the holiday bright.  What’s wrong with us?    

I think too much stuff at Christmas is like too much water in your chicken broth (I just made 30 cups of that stuff yesterday, so I assure you, it's a perfectly reasonable analogy).  The more water you add, the more broth you make, the less flavor you get.  See?

So here’s my “holiday wish list” (not the kind I usually make):

●Everyone gets one gift—or maybe one stocking.

●Wrap our gifts in recycled paper or reusable packaging.  Maybe the kids could decorate their own fabric Christmas bag then reuse it every year? (yikes…that sounds like a craft– I’d have to put my sister on that one).

●Trash those trashy Christmas lights—they burn electricity, they're made of plastic, and they break every year.  Instead, decorate the house with garlands and ribbons, then light luminaries on Christmas eve and on the solstice. Steve and I have 1 big holiday fight every year, and we can always trace its insidious roots back to the lights. This year, he hung all the tree lights then discovered he’d hung them upside down (with the plug at the top).  The kids and I fled the scene, so I don't know exactly what happened next.  If a man throws a Christmas tree out the livingroom window and nobody's there to hear it crash, did it happen? 

●Listen to holiday music in moderation to avoid side-effects of overexposure that might include: chest pain; confusion; hallucinations; panic attacks, aggressiveness, irritability, hostility, inability to sit still; persistent or severe ringing in the ears; vomiting, diarrhea, or headache; suicidal thoughts or attempts; worsening of depression, and excessive sweating.  I've had some of these.  Have you?

●Only send cards to people I didn't see over the past year. Write personal notes to these people.

● Decorate the house with natural stuff like evergreens (tree, wreath), pinecones, strung cranberries or popcorn, candles (instead of lights) and a variety of crafts/artwork (saved school projects, items purchased from craftspeople, projects developed and executed by crafty sister). 

●Bake with the kids instead of shopping for the kids.

●Use the extra time and money to adopt a needy family, providing them with much the same: 1 gift a piece, a few homemade decorations, and food for a holiday meal. 

Surely these elements of a smaller Christmas would lead inevitably to a bigger  Christmas. 

Wouldn't it be great!?


  1. I love the idea of reusable fabric gift bags! I will have to get crafty and figure that one out... As a somewhat shameful lover of the lights, I have to admit my total excitement last winter in finding solar powered LED lights..but strangely, I haven't seen any this year.

  2. So true, Deb. What great ideas. ...Seems like we, as a culture, didn't learn the anti-commercialism moral of Charlie Brown's Christmas. If anything, consumerism seems to have gotten worse. Now you can even BUY the "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree"! It's cute, but... doesn't the plastic reproduction somehow miss the point?

    Anyway it's hard not to succumb to the excess at this time of year, but I'm trying. I feel guilty when I add to the waste stream! One thing I decided to stop was buying those candy-filled plastic canes. It had become an unspoken tradition to have a couple of those poking out of the stockings on Christmas mornings... the M&M's with the plastic train cars on top, the canes filled with peanut butter cups, the chocolate kisses. But not this year. I resisted buying them-- even when I found them on sale yesterday. It's just too much unnecessary crap. ...I'm doubting my daughter will miss these on Christmas morning. We'll soon find out... then I'll try to reduce some more next year. :)

  3. Thalassa, let me know if you figure out the bags! Solar powered lights is a great idea! I just googled them. You can get them from Amazon, but they're expensive - $30 for 35 ft. Maybe I could buy 1 string a year and collect them. Every little bit counts!

    Jennifer, I'm so sad someone is selling the charlie brown xmas tree! yes, i'd say that is missing the point! I've always loved that show for its anti-materialist msg. How ironic to sell a plastic version of the tree Charlie bought precisely because it wasn't fake! I'm with you on trying to reduce something every year. It's important to value the little steps--otherwise we'd never get anywhere!

  4. Good ideas Deb, I just hate it when I see old Christmas paper trash flying by my window on a windy January day! Our family likes giving "coupons" to help family members or close friends. For example, my brother lives alone and doesn't get homeade food very much. I gave him a "coupon" for lazagna, (made by yours truly) which he can freeze and enjoy at his leisure. I gave my mom a salvaged wrought iron cafe set (circa 1950s) with a "coupon" that we will work to restore it in the spring when the weather is warm. Family members can help each other out with their strenghts and weaknesses. My husband has tons of energy to do stuff (strength) but does not understand technology (weakness)so my son gave him a "coupon" to help him set up something on the computer. My high energy husband will no doubt, get the task of scraping off the rust on that cafe set. Our extended families are like a little community, so why not organize the "coupon" system this time of year to help each other out while conserving in just about every category.

  5. love the idea of coupons at xmas - exchanging services within the family instead of plastic stuff! i will keep that in mind for next year. i bake all of our family's bread, and I know my mom would love to have more of it than she gets. I could give her coupons for bread loaves throughout the year.

  6. such great ideas to not get taken over by a consumer culture.

    i read recently someone said her kids get 3 gifts at christmas - if it is good enough for jesus, it's good enough for them!