Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

Post Christmas Rant

I was able to suppress my strong anti-Christmas-consumerism feelings for most of the holiday season. We had a few simple decorations, bought very few presents, and sent out no cards this year (mostly because of time demanded by my classes last semester). We celebrated the holiday quietly, with a feeling of gratitude and abundance.Then I saw the trash collection notice in our local paper. My general antipathy for the entire holiday season, as celebrated in the US, is summarized in the phrase “extra Christmas garbage.”

I hate extra Christmas garbage. I hate that we associate Christmas with extra garbage. This is worse than taking the Christ out of Christmas. It is making the entire holiday, both its holy and secular aspects, one more thing to be bought and sold, consumed and thrown away.

How can we possibly call ourselves Christian and still justify the extra trash, waste, greed, gluttony, consumption that we indulge in during these short dark days at the end of the year? How can our behavior justified by the very story we claim to be celebrating?

I do like the Christmas tree. The tree reminds me of yggdrasil, asherah, totems, the cross, sacred trees and groves, holy places, evergreen in winter, light and life in the darkest days, the longest nights of the year.

I enjoy the ornaments, carefully unpacking them, remembering our children’s younger years at school, the nice ornaments that have been gifted to us, and the few we stretched our budget to pay for as a poor graduate student family.

I love telling the story of the nativity to my children through the tree, handling stars and angels and candy canes as we sing snatches of songs, pulling the narrative finally around to sacrifice and death on the cross with the ever green promise of resurrection.

And the tree gets composted at the end.

And I’ll admit that the gift giving is not all bad.

The kids pick out gifts for each other. The older two have finally gotten the idea of thinking of what someone else would enjoy, not just what gift they personally would like to have. Now we have to impose a new limit on them; they can’t get everything they think their brother or sister would like to have, they have to chose what they most want to give. We have the annual lecture on the law of diminishing returns. They must wait to open their gifts, and to see their siblings open the gifts chosen for them, which is a lovely little exercise in delayed gratification.

We prefer to have Christmas away from extended family so our kids can be happy with the few presents they get, which is much harder when they see cousins getting so much more. Today my oldest told me that everyone in his class at school got more presents than he did. He felt a little bad about it. During the break, though, he was completely happy with two books on poisonous plants and Magic card decks he’d received.
We had a good, meaningful holiday without creating any extra Christmas garbage. We did have an extra box’s worth of recycling, but as it fit into our bin with our normal recycling maybe it shouldn’t count as extra. I am able to guide my family’s holiday experience to be less consumerist-centered and less wasteful. I just wish there were also a way I could protect my kids from the emotional garbage that is the post-Christmas gift tally competition.

Note: I deliberately did not write an anti-consumerist rant during the holidays to avoid making anyone feel guilty during their celebrations. Celebration is good. Profligacy is not.

  • Holly

    I completely agree.  One of my own personal bugbears is wrapping paper–it makes me CRAZY.  I make cloth bags to accommodate the gifts I give. It makes me happy to see them under a tree, being reused year after year. 

    • Chris

      Love the idea of cloth bags!  Thanks for sharing this.

    • Anonymous

      Claire made a tessellated pattern wrapping paper for the gifts she made at school. When we were packing up the ornaments, we carefully folded it and slipped it in the side of the box. I let the kids tuck any artwork or papers they want to save into the box because that way we can pull it out and look at it every year, and it won’t get lost.

  • Chris

    Your description of the rich symbolism of the tree was perfect.  Light and Life.  Thank you for sharing.  There is something truly un-nerving that we, the people of Christ have given in to celebrating Christmas with waste and greed and gluttony.  As always, you have hit the nail on the head and given me more to ponder.   Thank you.