Christmas 2020 will forever be remembered as the Covid Christmas. That means Judy and I, our three children and 7 grandchildren will most likely forgo our Christmas days together. A bitter pill to swallow but not without reason.
I must say, however, that my Christmas was slowly evolving long before the pandemic made its way on stage. Climate change and environmental degradation were chipping away at our holiday behavior. Some time ago we realized that our habits must be altered to lessen the lethal fever we have given Mother Nature. The preponderance of waste generated by Christmas simply couldn't go on forever. We thought we should do our part. So, we tinkered with our tradition.
Colorful and expensive wrapping paper was a mainstay of the gift opening ritual. It really added to the festivity of the season. As gifts were opened the wrappings would be crushed into a ball and thrown across the room into a 50 gallon black plastic bag. Everyone cheered when the toss found its target and hooted when it missed. By the end of the gift opening two or three bulging bags of glossy shreddings were dumped in the garage to await the recycling truck.
It wasn't just the paper but the wrapping of dozens of gifts late into the night that fell by the wayside. There was nothing like Andy Williams singing Happy Holidays in the background, a cup of hot cocoa, a couple pair of scissors, a twenty-four-pack of scotch tape and to get you in the Christmas mood.
Not so any longer. Reusable bags, newspaper and cloth are the norm. Sometimes the container or bag became part of the gift (at times the best part) to be used next year or the year after. There was an upside. We saved money and I found "wrapping" easier and faster. I guess that's an upside - right?
Fewer Better Gifts
The emphasis on giving is slowly shifting from "quantity" to "quality". Shunning "fast fashion" for more robust clothing and buying items that may be a bit more expensive but last longer now seems to make sense. You have to do your homework so it will take a bit more time to find them but that's OK. Fewer quality gifts reduces carbon emissions from production and premature obsolescence. Do your homework. We aren't going to totally eliminate those little crafty gag gifts though. A laugh is a gift in itself.
Let's face it, consuming more helps the economy and consuming less helps the environment. There is a middle ground. Put the money into services rather than goods. Both pay people and increase the GDP. How about a week at a nature camp or tickets to stage play or concert instead of a hot air cooker? This takes a little getting used to. There just isn't the same 'pop' opening an envelope with a gift certificate than a four pound box of 'something'. 'Experience gifting' pushes the 'buzz' down the road so to speak, but can have real staying power. The memory of a good experience holds its luster longer than the martini mixing set that eventually ends up on some basement shelf. A word of caution: The 4 to 12-year-olds are totally disdainful of these thoughtful gifts. You might as well give them an enema than a certificate for a week at a summer environmental camp.
Give environmentally friendly gifts
Wood and bamboo is in, plastic out. Puzzles, wooden board games and books bubble to the top of the gift lists. The internet is populated with dozens of other environmentally friendly gift ideas. Here's the thing about environmentally friendly gifts. They build awareness and coax us to consider the environmental impact of the 'things' we give. Not only that, but they are the "in" thing. Not as trendy as the "pet rock" was but still considered thoughtful and contemporary. Also, read the labels and inspect the packaging. It is sometimes difficult to find gifts that aren't mummified in plastic or full of toxic chemicals. It's impossible to avoid all of it but it's a worthwhile exercise to give it a try. Remember, each consumer decision we make sends a message to all those corporate marketing teams.
Miles of lights and extension cords crawl the front yards of the neighborhood. We certainly are a contributor. We are not doing as well as we should with external lighting. We love the pizzaz of it all. We've tried to use LED lights and maybe soon we'll try fiber optics. We are careful to find the Energy Star when we buy. Nothing, of course, would be as useful as reducing or eliminating lights. It will be hard to get that done.
There is an insidious aspect to all these red, blue, and green lights. Each year we inspect the lights and invariably a string or two has gone bad. This mystery of Christmas lights going dark for no apparent reason has been plaguing humankind for decades. They worked when you put them away last winter. Perhaps it's one of those little fuses in the plug that went bad. Maybe it was a broken bulb somewhere that took down the strand. Whatever, it was far easier to just toss the whole thing out and get a new one. We have to stop that - somehow.
Send Digital Christmas Cards
We do still send Christmas cards but they are 'mostly' digital. They are usually animated and really quite beautiful but difficult to hang around the door frame. We use American Greetings website for birthdays as well as holidays. Of course, even a digital card or e-card has a carbon footprint but is a substantial improvement over that of the paper card and envelope. You'll be glad to know there is a significant savings as well. There's nothing quite like getting a personal and musical holiday greeting from Donny Osmond.
Food and Drink
The amount of food wasted and the number people getting wasted on holidays like Christmas conjures up truly prodigious numbers. The internet is full of ideas for you to cut back and reduce the excess. Honestly, we haven't worked hard enough on this one. We do give it lip service but more effort on our part will be required. I think its because Christmas seems to center on the dining room table for us. I can tell you that I have switched to buying booze in glass bottles rather than a plastic ones. I hope you can do better.
The Christmas Tree
That brings us to the great Christmas tree debate. We purchased an artificial tree 13 years ago that was bejeweled with 1,500 lights. That's right - 1500 lights. After 13 years about 750 still work although the tree still looks ablaze. Chevy would be proud. Our tree, however, has seen its day and we are reading up on which is more environmentally friendly - the real tree or the artificial tree. Maybe we can go without a tree? Probably not. How many lights do we need? How much energy is being used? What is the carbon footprint of each? Asking the right questions is what this is really about - right? As for which is better, the artificial or the real tree you'll have to figure that out yourself. There are a thousand articles to help you. We haven't decided yet but a leaning to the real thing.
Indeed we can do more, but tradition and culture are not easily discarded. After thinking about it, it occurs to me that these are 'our' traditions not necessarily those of our parents and grandparents and certainly won't be those of our children and grandchildren. They belong to Judy and me. So, it isn't like we are changing the coarse of history to change our behavior.
Willingness to change tradition to protect the environment is a teaching moment. This is a time we can point the next generation in the right direction, to express what is important and what is not, to encourage them to establish traditions in tune with the environment. It may well be the best gift we can give.
I would also submit that it is quite easy to establish new traditions. The younger generations take to them like a six-year-old to digital gaming. In time they will develop their own traditions just as our parents and grandparents did. Holiday traditions are created and discarded generation by generation. What really is passed on are the memories, photos and stories of it all.
I am a bit nostalgic about some of the stuff we are trying to do, but its not a great price to pay for a better future. In essence I would trade all, and more, for those few days together this year. Time to laugh and sing and remember and feast with family. Those are the traditions I'll hang on to and never let go.