Monday, December 10, 2007

Green Grinchy Christmas

How does one be a good American consumer, enjoy Christmas and be good to the planet, all at the same time? I don't know but here are my Christmas suggestions for this year:
1. give everyone a twenty dollar bill scotch taped to a stick
2. drink a lot of eggnog and eat a lot of chocolate and otherwise numb yourself to the proceedings.

Just kidding. After reading my essays for the past year, it should come as no shock that I am not exactly the biggest fan of our consumer culture. Someone asked me today if I’d “done” Black Friday.” I can’t begin to convey how unlikely it would be to find me anywhere near a place of purchasing the day after Thanksgiving. I am severely allergic to traffic, lines of any sort, excess packaging, schlepping and any version of extra stuff coming into my house (my rule, not well followed, is if something comes in, something else has to go out.)

We are a people who want more. It used to be you would buy one television and if it broke, someone had an ongoing job of fixing it. Remember that 20 year old commercial about the MayTag repair guy sitting glumly around because the MayTag appliances never broke? The truth now is we don’t fix things; we throw them away (or stash them in our attics, garages and basements) and buy a new one. A good friend of mine said, “I just can’t wait for my dishwasher to break so I can have an excuse to buy a new one.” I can’t tell you how many hands free headsets I’ve gone through since getting a cell phone—I think maybe 32. We buy new things, like car seats, shoes, carrot peelers, coolers for our food, pedometers, little jackets for our cell phones, stuffed animals, exercise equipment, and forget about the fact that someday, that thing will no longer be welcome in our house. It will end up in a landfill somewhere where it will last for thousands of years; or else, in the case of plastics, it might end up as part of that great ever growing plastic raft floating in the Pacific Ocean.

So I am not crazy about the consumer aspect of Christmas. It reminds me of eating unhealthy food—fun for the anticipation and the first bite, and then not fun afterwards. Every once in awhile, I hit it just right and find the perfect present for someone I love; that makes it all worth while. Or, less commonly, I am truly surprised and delighted by something someone gives me, though more often, I get lovely things that I really didn’t need. Nevertheless, the holiday season can be the best time of the year, if I take everything with fifty thousand grains of salt and try to have fun, get in the spirit and all that. And my job as a blogger is to give you good ideas, not be a PC environmentalchik wet blanket.

My big truth about the holidays is that I only seem to get inspired, gift-wise, in the last few days of Sagittarius, when the clock is ticking down and all the best selling gifts have been sold. Christmas become Christmas when I personally get into the spirit, and that usually begins with the music. I have a box full of Christmas in my basement, and when I pull it up somewhere around Dec. 1, the first thing I do is put five Revels CDs on my CD changer ( (Revels is a yearly pageant, born in Cambridge, MA and now celebrated all over the country. It’s a combination of medieval music, ritual and ceremony performed mostly by a large chorus who act as citizens of a medieval Great Hall. It pure joy, as far as I am concerned.) We get a tree (yes, a real tree. Environmental sin #476); I put my holiday candles out and I take out the gift giving journal I keep (LCDP Weekly exercise number 45) and see what I’ve jotted down all year.

Some ideas for my loved ones that will help the earth and keep me out of the mall:
1. Sigg water bottles. I can’t say enough about this product! The water tastes delicious; you can wash them in the dishwasher; the cap is cool,a nd you can put stickers all over yours.
2. Homemade handkerchiefs. Now that was a great invention! Why waste paper when you can have your own soft cloth with your initials on it with which to blow your nose? Do what your granddad did—keep a couple of clean ones in your shirt pocket. With all that eating in the car that we Americans now do, you’ll always have a napkin.
3. Scrapbooks for other family members: this could be a great future gift: ask your sister for all those pieces of paper and photos and Bruce Springsteen tickets she’s been saving and make the scrapbook for her.
4. Homemade soaps. Why use plastic soap dispensers? Also, I didn’t say I was the maker of said soaps. But my friend, Pat makes fabulous homemade soaps, and I plan on supporting her buy buying a bunch.
5. I made my mother a version of the Day Planner last year, which she loved so much she insists I replicate it for her this year. It’s a weekly calendar with pictures from our family adventures plus quotations to go with the pictures and family members birthdays.
6. Dan Zanes CDs. Dan Zanes is the most innovative and restorative musician I can think of. Plus, our whole family loves him.
7. Anything hand knit.
8. A poem, story or song about a loved one, especially if you can perform it, read it or recite it to a crowd

Our family motto for Christmas is "take it down a thousand." My sisters and I have a deal to spend even less on each other this year than we did the year before (I think we’re down to an upper limit of $10.) I am planning to send an email to everyone in my family begging them not to give me anything, and to please, please not give Lila any plastic toys from China, or anywhere else. My husband and I will make a big batch of biscotti and put it in baskets for our friends, along with some Fair Trade coffee or tea. I am learning a few carols on the guitar. I might plan a party. I will take long walks in the low December sun. I will recite Luke 2: 10-15. I will find a photo of my daughter and make cheap black and white Xeroxed cards and send them to all my old friends. I will wrap presents in old newspaper and new ribbons. I will bake winter squash with cinnamon and cloves. I will frantically knit my husband’s scarf. I will sit with people who are intentionally silent and join them with my own silence. I will look around the Christmas table at the people I love most and give thanks for another year well lived.

Happy holidays to you and yours!