Push back against the holiday shop-a-thon

Elizabeth May
Christmas and Hanukah are around the corner. Even for those who do not celebrate a religious tradition as this time of year, the season cannot go unnoticed! As someone who tries to “walk the talk” of reducing my impact on the planet, the holiday season poses particular challenges. The central message of the mass media (starting some time last month) is “shop till you drop” --- Max out those credit cards and buys everyone you care about something -- anything! [inline:01] And, as someone who actually celebrates Christmas as the birth of the Lord, the rampant consumerism, and, yes, greed, that has crept in to the holiday is abhorrent. Advent season (December 1-24) is supposed to be a time of reflection and anticipation. Christmas itself (December 25-January 6) is a time of joy, but in the context of a profound religious event. So, what can you do to make this holiday different? Think consciously about shopping your values. A trip to the local UNICEF store, or using a UNICEF catalogue, can give you a lovely selection of gifts for everyone on your list. (I love the block puzzles for children and candles for the grown-ups.) Gift memberships in worth-while organizations, like the Sierra Club of Canada, are a great choice and can be managed over the web (www.sierraclub.ca). Decide to support a child or a village through one of the many great organizations committed to ending poverty and to fighting HIV/AIDs. (Oxfam is a first rate group, as is Stephen Lewis’s Foundation. My church works through a tiny NGO called Help Lesotho, helping children orphaned by AIDs). Companies that source their ingredients from organic and fairly traded sources are also great choices. Body Shop does for much of its product line. Chocolate is a big holiday treat, but not if picked by children in slavery. Stock up on ethical (and yummy) chocolate for treats and gifts. Go for energy efficient gifts: compact florescent light bulbs. Each one will reduce one tonne of carbon over its lifetime (if the source of electricity is coal.) Help an older relative with window stripping and getting up storm windows. Decorate your tress with LED bulbs and don’t go crazy wasting electricity on over the top decorations! If you have a young family, instill in your children the real meaning of the holidays. Give gifts of love. Hand-make presents and ornaments. Popcorn (organic and popped at home) strung with dried cranberries is still a classic for the tree, and after Christmas, can adorn the outside while feeding the birds. My family has always made egg decorations for the tree, by using manicuring scissors to cut an oval out of the egg and decorating. (no need to blow out the egg first. Just save your free range organic contents for baking!) If you are short on time to make things with your children, suggest they hand make some Christmas or Hanukah cards and include coupons for gifts of love throughout the year. Gifts can range from promises of yard work, dog walking or baby sitting for older kids to visits and hugs for the little ones. The big debate over Christmas trees always comes up... real or artificial? Which has the lowest ecological impact? I go with a real tree, organically grown. The artificial tree is made from petrochemicals, reflects a lot of embodied energy and will eventually end up in a land fill. The real tree was rapidly sequestering carbon, helped someone local in your community (at least in most of Canada you can buy a local tree), and was not from virgin forest. Most Christmas tree plantations are on old farm fields. But do make an effort to find one that did not involved herbicide or insecticide spraying. There are hundreds of other little ways to push back against the horrors of the commercialized holidays. Just remember. The best gift you can give your family is time. Unplug for awhile. Cocoon. Slow down. Put on an old tape of carols and fall asleep, drifting off thinking about when you were little and waiting for Santa. Happy Holidays!