Saturday, December 24, 2022

Illuminating Christmas

It's that time of year again when I try to wrap my head around the meaning of a Christmas without all the commercial trimmings and trappings. 

In our quest to have a more sustainable lifestyle, our little family does what we can to cut back on our consumption of single-use plastic. We have gotten into the habit of toting our reusable water bottles on the bus and bringing our reusable grocery bags to the store (including canvas bulk bags and produce bags). Our son Jeremy is great at bringing reusable dishes to take home his leftovers when he eats out. Reduced Waste gets trickier at Christmas time. We no longer buy wrapping paper or gift bags. We started by using what we already had. (There are all kinds of articles on how to creatively wrap gifts without paper.) We already have more Christmas decorations than we can use. We enjoy using real plates, glasses, silverware and even cloth napkins at our family gatherings and backyard carol singing parties.  

I guess the biggest struggle for me was dealing with gift giving. Growing up poor, a big part of our family tradition was opening gifts on Christmas Eve. I would use my birthday money to buy cheap presents for my sisters. I loved  playing Santa - getting up in the middle of the night and putting soda flavored lip gloss in the stockings. Buying stuff was a way of expressing love. After years of struggling to find gifts for distant relatives, sending cheap plastic "thinking of you" presents, and collecting a houseful of knickknacks (that I hear are out of style), gift giving has lost much of its appeal to me. 

It's no secret how commercialized Christmas has become. I remember when I was a child my parents trying to put "Christ back in Christmas" by having a birthday cake for Jesus. The whole idea of surprising people with gifts is so profit driven. It encourages people to buy items that the recipient may not want or need. What happens to all those well-meaning, unwanted gifts? We don't have enough closet space for all of ours. Sometimes they get re-gifted, but often they ended up at the thrift store. Some of the toys got broken and end up in the trash. The landfill is full of broken toys. In Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, there is the Island of Misfit Toys. Santa finally gets them to children who will love them. Yep, buying presents has been ingrained in us since we were old enough to watch an animated Rankin/Bass Christmas special. How could we be happy at Christmas without that special gift? 

Now that our Christmas Eve celebrations no longer center around opening gifts, we have had to find new traditions like having family game night or bringing back old traditions like our Christmas Sing-a-long party. I've discovered that what I really care about is being with friends and family. The last few years, we weren't able to get together due to COVID, so we got creative and had a Christmas talent show on Zoom. My sister and I made a real effort to share our lives by calling more often - and sometimes including the whole family on conference calls. That effort has really paid off with a closer relationship. This year we were blessed with visits from both sides of the family. Since we didn't have to do Christmas shopping, we had more time to spend together! The highlight was hiking in our beautiful desert.  I hope that becomes a holiday tradition.

Wishing you and yours a joyous holiday season! 

More thoughts on sustainable holidays: 

Recreating Christmas Traditions: Harking Back to Simpler Times

Celebrating new traditions that represent our values

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