A Responsible Christmas

by Chandra Blackwell

Ahhh, Christmas.  Songs rejoice in it.  Poems revere it.  Stories, movies, and television specials allegorize its spiritual lessons.  It’s the season of faith, cheer, and goodwill toward all.

Unfortunately, it can sometimes also be the season of irony, because by the third week in December, our goodwill has often been sapped by the stress of the season, and we pass the favor on by making less-than-responsible choices about how to celebrate this most spiritual of holidays.  With a little thought and advance planning, however, you can find your way back to the true meaning of Christmas by celebrating in ways that nurture your own spirit and extend social and global goodwill.

Celebrate With Goodwill Toward The Earth

The Problem: Our culture of consumption results in toxic waste.

Think about how much plastic gets used and discarded on an average day.  From apple sauce to yogurt, so much of what we buy is packaged in plastic or, just as often, made of plastic.  And that plastic doesn’t go away.  Instead it winds up in places like the North Pacific, where an oceanic gyre has trapped seven million tons of plastic waste in an area twice the size of Texas.  With that in mind, think about how much more we buy at Christmas—decorations, presents, and food and beverages—and the amount of plastic that ends up as waste increases exponentially.

What You Can Do:

Chances are, you won’t be able to avoid plastic altogether this holiday season, but there are certainly ways that you can cut down on plastic waste.  Shop for environmentally friendly gifts made of wood, metal, or fabric (check out pristineplanet.com), or give gifts that can be experienced, like tickets to a play, or dinner for two.  Even bringing your own eco-friendly shopping bags on that pantry-stocking grocery shopping trip before the holiday guests arrive can go a long way toward reducing waste and showing our Earth a little Christmas love.

Celebrate With Goodwill Toward Our Global Community

The Problem: Our “bargain” is sometimes another person’s exploitation.

Our nation’s trade policies with still-developing nations often exploit an underpaid (and sometimes underage) work force.  In addition, poor inspections on goods made in exploitative overseas labor markets hurt people on both sides of the trade.  One need only think back a couple of years to the infamous lead paint issue with Thomas the Tank engine toys to see how underpaid labor affects the entire global community.

What You Can Do:

Buy locally made and/or fair trade items as gifts.  Fair trade items can range from food items to clothing to home décor, and are available here in Kansas City via merchants such as Ten Thousand Villages (visit tenthousandvillages.com for locations).  But who says a gift has to be new to be wonderful?  My friend Jennifer’s family has an annual tradition of exchanging books that they’ve loved.

“It’s nice,” she says, “because you don’t have to buy anything—you can just pass along a great read.  I get some of my favorite books this way.”

Another option for socially responsible gift-giving is to make gifts by hand: if you’re a cook, make delicious treats for everyone on your list; if you’re a knitter, a little advance planning can have your loved ones warm and cozy come January.  If you want to make someone’s heart feel warm and cozy, giving the gift of a donation in that person’s name to a cause they hold dear is another fantastic way to show love to people in your inner circle, and in the global community.

Celebrate With Goodwill Toward Yourself and Those You Love

The Problem: Your Christmas Spirit got lost at the mall.

We’ve all been there; it’s 7:17 p.m., you’ve worked a full day in the office, and you’ve been in a checkout line for the past 20 minutes, waiting to purchase this season’s hottest electronic gewgaw for your brother, and simultaneously nursing the black eye that you incurred while elbowing and diving your way toward the last one on the shelf.  (Well, OK, maybe we haven’t all been there, but admit it—it’s not a wholly alien scenario, is it?)  You despair of making it home in time for dinner, let alone in time to wrap your white elephant gift and bake two dozen Santa-shaped cookies for tomorrow’s office Christmas party before you collapse with exhaustion, wanting only for this holiday season to end already.

What You Can Do:

Four simple words: Learn to let go.  Easier said than done, I know, but remember this one simple thing: People love you not for the toys or electronic gewgaws you buy for them, or even for your famous Santa-shaped cookies.  What’s really valuable to anyone who cares about you is your well-being, and spending time with Happy You. So remember this season to show yourself a little goodwill.  Take time to relax, practice your faith, and engage in happy-making activities that celebrate the season.  My cousin, Camille, who grew up in a large family, shares a simple Christmas tradition that focuses on company, not commodities:  “We decorate our Christmas tree, turn on the tree lights, turn out the house lights, and play Musical Chairs in the dark with Christmas music until we collapse from laughter!” And isn’t laughter a better cause for collapse than holiday stress and exhaustion? With a little thought and planning, you can make sure that this holiday season is truly a reason to celebrate not only our Savior, but our friends and family, our global community, and our Earth.

Chandra Blackwell is a writer and editor who lives in Olathe, Kansas with her husband and 20-month old son, both of whom make her life a little bit like Christmas every day.

Editor’s Note:  There are many agencies and organizations offering fair trade products.  Two other sites you may want to visit are SERRV at www.serrv.org and Heifer International at www.Heifer.org.   Organizations such as Lutheran World Relief and Catholic Relief Services collaborate with SERRV in bringing fair trade products to the U.S.


1 Comment »

  1. Emily said

    This is a great perspective on so many facets of “responsibility” at Christmas. Thank you for this! I especially love the notion of Happy You. Such an important lesson! At the holidays and always.

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