It is surely ironic that Christmas, the celebration of a child born to a homeless couple, has become one of the biggest consumer festivals of our culture. As a result Christmas has become associated with the pressures of finding “the perfect gift,” and the anxiety that comes with spending more money than we have. And, of course, there is the strain that all the “stuff” that comes with the season puts on our already fragile earth.
So what are a few things that we can do to make Christmas a time of generosity and love not just for each other, but for the earth? Here are a few suggestions.
A real Christmas tree has many advantages.
While it might seem like a shame to cut down a tree just for a few weeks, Christmas trees are grown specifically for this purpose with minimal environmental impact. While they are growing they absorb carbon, and after their use they decompose in the earth. Plastic trees, on the other hand, are made of oil that destroys ecosystems in its production, and when discarded they contaminate our land and our groundwater.
After Christmas you can prop your used Christmas tree in a corner of your yard and decorate it with tasty snacks for the birds in your area. Hang suet (you can make your own by putting animal fat from the butcher in an onion bag), and pine cones rolled in peanut butter and bird seed on the tree. You will be providing both food and shelter.
Christmas tree branches also make excellent mulch for your flower beds. If there is not too much snow cover yet, cut the branches off the tree and place them in a thick layer over your perennial bed. This will protect from the unpredictable freeze/thaw cycles that can so easily damage plants.
Cloth gift bags are often available at winter bazaars. They are also easy to make from scrap fabric found at the Salvation Army, using shoelaces as drawstrings. And they are reusable many times. When my children were little, sewing gift bags became a way to teach them some basic sewing skills. Even though wrapping paper and gift bags are recyclable, many trees go into their production.
Purchase ‘toys’ that encourage creative play, rather than single use items. For instance, a dress-up box filled with odd items from the Salvation Army can provide hours of interesting play. When possible buy items that are not made of plastic. Puzzles are often made from wood or cardboard and recipes for home-made play dough can easily be found online. Both of these toys can be used again and again. For older kids or adults, old fashioned board and card games are experiencing a revival. Many are perfect for large family gatherings.
Shop Fair Trade. Fair Trade items ensure that a fair wage is paid to farmers and producers around the world. Fair trade chocolate and coffee are available at most health food stores in the city, and some local shops such as the Village Shop in Fenelon Falls, sell Fair Trade clothing.
Give experiences rather than gifts. Our children still love to give and receive “coupons” for various experiences with us. Coupons could include a trip to the Peterborough Observatory or the Canoe Museum, a camping trip, a movie, an offer to babysit, a home-cooked meal for two, an offer to paint a painting or repair a porch, or a game of bowling. Consider your skill set and offer the gift of yourself.
Make your Christmas gift a donation. Christmas is traditionally a time for remembering those in need, but why not up the ante and replace your gift giving with a donation? Local organizations that would welcome donations of food, toys and money are the Salvation Army, A Place Called Home, Women’s Resources and Kawartha Lakes Foodsource. Many faith communities also have programs where you can buy seeds, education, a well, a goat, or chickens for communities in the majority world. If you are not part of a faith community with such a program, one reputable organization is World Vision.
Give the gift of friendship. Look around the community for someone who might otherwise be alone and invite them along to your family gathering. This could be a student from overseas, someone with no family near by, or an old friend you haven’t seen for awhile. Or consider helping bring Christmas to others by volunteering at the hospital or at a church that hosts a Christmas dinner on Christmas day.
Join the Christmas bird count. During the annual Audubon Christmas bird count, experienced birders and amateurs across North America spend a day outside counting every bird that they see. Contact Dan Bone (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information on the Fenelon Bird Count on Friday December 28; see this link for information on the Lindsay and Carden counts. Could there be a better way to give thanks for the gift of creation than to spend a day engaging in awe with some of the smallest and most beautiful creatures?
This Christmas consider how you can be a part of bringing peace on, and for, the earth.