Its beginning to feel a lot less like Christmas.
As ecological considerations remain high on the agenda, its goodbye to pointless presents and gift wrap, a lighter touch on the table groaning with food, a new set of rules for the blazing log fire, and a carefully considered decision to go without the traditional tree.
The equation is simple: Christmas is the time of maximum consumption each year. The environment is being damaged by overconsumption. Therefore Christmas should be about consuming less.
“The big opportunity this holiday” said Graham Hill founder of Treehugger.com a leading green web site, is “to get together as a family, talk to each other about what Christmas means to us, and then design our own holiday.”
If that is a stretch for most, even the high priests of capitalism agree that consumption, whether at Christmas or any other time of the year, has gone too far: “The continual manufacture and disposal of electronic items like the iPod, sometimes used for little more than a year, is placing a burden on the environment that it is not able to bear,” Sir Martin Sorrell, boss of WPP, the global advertising and marketing agency, was quoted as saying on this web site some months ago. “It is fostering a mindset of super-consumption, where expensive items made at vast cost to the earth’s resources quickly become unfashionable and are not expected to last. This is no doubt profitable in the short term, but it is not sustainable and it is not responsible,” Sorrell told a seminar at Harvard Business School.
Now, says Sorrell in an interview for Reuters (where a shorter version of this story appears), “Christmas seems to have disappeared this year. There is a danger that the green agenda will be side-lined by economic difficulties and that’s not right, but one of the interesting things about this recession will be how it might encourage sustainable or responsible consumption.”
Re-using old wrapping paper, “regifting” unwanted presents, and making cards, decorations or presents together with the children are all traditional ways of saving money at Christmas which have taken on a new environmental significance.
But careless Christmas giving is not the only tradition under threat. Eco-Christians are being asked to forgo the traditional, heavily lubricated pre –Christmas parties .
“Reserve your celebration for the day itself and the 12 days afterwards,” advises Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, who speaks for the Church of England on environmental matters. Advent is a time to “reduce consumption and meditate on the themes of life , death, and judgment.”
Greeting Cards can be emailed, or for the adventurous, try Plant ME plantable cards – they look conventional and carry the seasons greetings, but instructions on the back tell the recipient what flower to expect if they bury the card in the garden (GBP9.99 per pack of 10 www.homgar.com in the UK; In the US $12 for a pack of four from www.uncommongoods.com
And at a time when many are pulling the Christmas lights down from the attic, the Bishop enjoins us to “Turn off some of the lights so you can actually see the darkness and the stars.
“Living in the city, we all suffer from light pollution – you can’t see the vastness of space. Experiencing darkness at Christmas is the surest way to see the light at midnight,” said the Bishop, referring to the star that led the three wise men to Jesus.
The warm glow of a log fire is of course still welcome, but for a Green Christmas the logs are not necessarily cut straight from the tree. In the Bay Area of California wood burning is illegal on “Spare the Air “ days this winter. The answer may be Java-logs made from coffee grounds and wax, and Pine logs, made from sawdust and wax. They cost $18.99 for a pack of six and burn for longer and at a higher heat than their natural wood equivalents say the makers (at Walmart, Home Depot, K Mart, Walgreens, and others).
Jim Ball, President of the Evangelical Environmental Network in Suwanee GA had a more tolerant approach to Christmas lighting, suggesting that we should “replace old Christmas lights with much more efficient LED Christmas lights,” available at places like Target.” He could have called for eco-perfect, solar powered LED light strings also at major stores and from www.solarsanta.com.
Over-consumption is the main enemy as Ball sees it: “From a Christian perspective, all things belong to Christ the Lord, and we are called to take care of them for His sake.
Taking care of food and drink is one of the critical areas of Yuletide consumption, and buying smaller amounts of more expensive and locally grown organic food is the green answer according to some experts. You can sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture scheme (CSA), where monthly subscribers fund the farmers cash flow and receive a regular delivery of fresh vegetables most of the year round. There are 2200 CSA schemes listed at www.localharvest.org. British organic box deliveries can be ordered from Abel & Cole which covers much of England, and offers some deep discounts for Christmas, or Woodfield Organics in the London area.
Eco-journalist Hannah Pearce has a suitably pared down approach to Christmas day: “We shall eat no more than usual, keep presents to a minimum, get outside as much as possible and spend time with our friends,” said Pearce. Her Christmas tree, kept planted in her London allotment until needed, is seven years old.
But that approach to tree-preservation does not work for dry areas. “We don’t ship live trees” said Mark Rohlfs, owner of Santa & Sons who sells thousands of trees each Christmas from a lot on Ventura Boulevard, los Angeles. “George Lopez was just here yesterday, Samuel L Jackson, and Danny de Vito buy our trees.” said Rohlfs.last week (NOTE TO ED 4 SEPT) He has been selling his own Christmas trees since 1983 and recently joined a group of environmentally conscious growers (www.christmastreecoalition.org) whose trees are strictly audited by a paid, independent firm. His trees are grown in Oregon. “Our noble firs get 60-70 inches of rain a year . They wouldn’t survive in the Southern United States,” Rohlfs said.
With such difficulty in choosing a green Christmas tree, Sophie Uliano, green adviser to stars such as Julia Roberts suggests buying a native plant, “I plan to buy a tree from my local nursery that I plant in my yard. I might go for an olive tree or a birch tree. I’ll keep it in its container and decorate the container with red fabric and then we’ll decorate the tree with a few ornaments,” said Uliano. If you have no roomto plant the tree, take the advice of “guerilla gardener” Richard Reynolds and secretly re-plant it on under-used, public, green space.
Trees can also be decorated with issue-oriented ornaments such as “Angels with Attitude.” These are “tree ornaments made out of used soda cans by Kenyan children whose parents have died of AIDS.” Whilst the poor children clearly deserve sympathy, the conjoining of the three causes: poverty, AIDS and recycling, is a green twist on the way Christmas is used by fund raisers to pull at our heart strings.
The final issue is what to do with the waste from Christmas – wrapping paper – packaging materials, waste food and unwanted gifts. Recycling is all very well – but with the current slump in commodity prices, much recycling simply ends up back in the landfill. One answer is to re-use the materials yourself. “Save the wrapping paper until next year. To avoid the wasteful packaging in the first place use newspaper or magazine pages to wrap presents and refuse to buy over-packaged goods,”said Uliano. Similarly there should be little or no waste food as vegetable scraps can be composted and a green shopping policy (using expandable shopping bags such as those from www.envirosax.com) limits purchasing to what is actually going to be eaten. Unwanted presents can be given away on Freecycle or sold on EBay.
The result is that by the end of Boxing Day there will be no mounds of uneaten food in the fridge, no bins overflowing with wrapping paper and you won’t be feeling like you need to spend the next month at the gym.
Not like Christmas at all, really.