Not Evangelism

Friday, December 17, 2010

An Environmentalist at Christmas

Don't worry.  This isn't another of those ghastly "How to Have a Greener Christmas" articles.  No, that's your business.  I'm just sharing a few thoughts on how the so-called festive season poses a few challenges for those with environmental interests.  For me, it's about hanging on to my environmental principles in a holiday season that seems to be encouraging me to do quite the opposite.

The major part of my objection is to the waste. Christmas is not inherently wasteful any more than environmentalism is inherently frugal. but this time of year does seem to go hand in hand with indulgence, over-indulgence and excess. And Christmas waste - where value is somehow diluted or removed all together, from my perspective at least, comes in many forms.

Unnecessary presents (often over-packaged)

There's all those presents that people buy because they feel they ought to, but don't really know the person well enough to know what to get.  So we end up with "smellies" and bath sets - all boxed and be-ribboned and festooned with all sorts of "festive" packaging. Which is just so much waste.

And I don't really get those "Buy a Goat for a Village"-type presents, either.  Charity is a good and laudable thing, but it's becoming a commodity.  Buying a goat for a village as a present for someone is being charitable on their behalf. As if they can't do it themselves. You're giving someone your own feel-good factor. I don't understand it.

Vast Amounts of Food

Looking at the bulging cupboards at Christmas, it sometimes seems like we try and cram all our food treats into a few days, buying loads of different treats and stuffing ourselves with them.  Surely it's better to spread it out over a longer period; winter has a few weeks left in her after Christmas. And all that food - you know it - comes in a variety of distinctive seasonal packaging - even more unnecessary than usual, and adding no actual value; it's the same biscuits inside that festive wrapper.

Piles of Paper

All that wrapping! All those cards! Yes, I like shiny presents and brightly coloured packages as much as the next person.  But I deplore the piles of paper that are left after the festival of unwrapping.  And much as I love getting letters and cards, there's quite a lot of usually-not-recycled cards and envelopes.  I'm happy to receive what comes and make sure that I do recycle it when the time comes. But I'm left with a feeling of disquiet, a sense that there's a better way.

Recycled wrapping paper is hard to find. Oh, I've tried wrapping paper alternatives, attempting to be arty with brown kraft paper and string.  One year I saved my Sunday newspapers for weeks, choosing sheets by matching the article to the present and person.  With a bit of cunning visual association, I didn't need to use tags either.  It wasn't as much fun.

These days I've come to think of my presents as something to put under the tree and enjoy looking at for a week or two; a temporary art installation, as it were.  Wrapping at the eleventh hour on Christmas Eve somehow doesn't get as much value out of the wrapping paper. It's certainly less enjoyable.

And speaking of trees...

Christmas Trees

I love Christmas trees.  And I'm completely convinced of the benefits of a living tree rather than some plastic fabricated monstrosity.  I mean buying a locally-grown real tree - something with a root ball rather than a cut tree. But I'm quite aware of the arguments against planting non-native species, and the land set aside for it.

And even buying trees with rootballs I struggle to keep them alive for more than a couple of years. But when I see the discarded trees piled up in January I wonder that we couldn't do something better than chucking out so much over-priced firewood.

My Environmental Christmas

I'm no killjoy.  We all need some joy and celebration in these darker months.  I want to enjoy my Christmas, and live my principles at the same time. I'm going to keep doing the small things, shifting my Christmas gradually towards something more satisfying to my pragmatic environmentalist principles.

Last year, we bought a little wooden advent calendar that we can re-use from year to year, filling it with personalised treats.  I hope it becomes a family tradition. I'm going to keep trying to find locally-produced turkey, and make home-made crackers.

I like home-made presents too; jams and chutneys were honestly among some of the more delightful presents I've received in recent years.

For me Christmas is about spending time, slowing down a little and enjoying things a little more (or a lot more). It's about the personal touch; being with people because we want to, not because we ought to.

Step by baby step. Making Christmas what I want it to be. What will you be doing for your holiday season? Leave me a comment and let me know.

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