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GREENINGS: Avoid the stress of stuff at Xmas (Dec. 2021)

December 17th, 2021 · No Comments

Do it for the planet, and for yourself

By Terri Chu

As an environmentalist, few things make me cringe quite like Christmas does. We are heading into the season when Canadians will each discard a staggering 50 kg of trash over the holidays. 

Experts with the waste electrical and electronic equipment forum estimate that in 2021 alone, the world will discard a mass of e-waste equivalent to that of the Great Wall of China, the world’s heaviest human made object. 

This is a gentle reminder that most of us don’t need more stuff.  Uncle Joe definitely does not need another “Best Uncle Ever” mug and the grandkids really don’t need another battery-operated Jeep. 

Christmas has become an event in consumerism and barely resembles the religious roots it came from – which may be perfectly fine in a secular society. Only, it’s not making us any happier and it certainly isn’t making us any healthier.

The politics and stress of gift giving over the holiday season has gotten out of control. 

The holidays are a source of so much stress that CAMH has created a guide for managing Christmas anxiety.  Last year, COVID-19 was a great excuse to give us a nice reprieve from the usual holiday anxiety. The Omicron variant may give some of us a similar excuse this year, but we shouldn’t be using the pandemic to get us through traditions that seem to have a stranglehold on us. 

Here are some tips that I use in order to create a more manageable and meaningful holiday season.

Draw Boundaries 

Years ago, I loudly opted out of Christmas. I told my mom she can either have her 80 person Church-filled  house party or she can have me home for the holidays, but not both. Dorm was closed for the season, but I would couch surf if that’s what it took. My dad and brother both hated the event. 

It was a costly and time intensive undertaking that nobody in our household wanted except my mother in the name of showing “face.” 

Under no circumstances was I going to spend the holidays at home if that party was happening again. What seemed like a harsh and unloving move on my part saved my dad, brother, and extended family a lot of grief and as a result, we all started to enjoy the holidays together after that. 

Drawing boundaries, especially with your own family can be very difficult but can be well worth the initial blow up. 

Even if you can’t draw such a harsh line as I did, it’s okay to draw your own boundaries around the holidays. Let the parents or in-laws know that you will do this, but not that. 

Opting out can be as simple as not participating in the gift exchange. 

Gently (or not so gently, your call) tell whomever you need to that you won’t be doing gifts this year or hint loudly that gifts need to follow certain guidelines. 

Cite climate change as a reason or a house overflowing with useless stuff as a reason, give whatever excuse you need. You’ve got one more year of using COVID-19 as an excuse. 

Food Gifts

Though nearly 60% of food is wasted, giving gifts of food is still better than electronics or anything made of plastic over the holidays. If you make it yourself, all the better. There’s something about homemade food that feels very special to the receiver. 

It’s more intimate because you put time and energy into making something instead of shelling out, even for expensive packaged goods. Takeout and delivery have been on fire since the start of COVID-19 and almost everyone I know is sitting on a pile of black plastic food containers. Reuse those for gift giving this season. I promise, no matter how disastrous you think the batch of cookies turned out, it will be better received than anything you can buy. For those of you not into baking, try your hand at something simple like making your own hot chocolate mix. I’ve been in love with Karma co-op since I discovered their bulk section. You can buy hot chocolate mix or the ingredients to make your own using your own containers. Last year’s spiced hot chocolate in reused jelly jars were a big hit for me. 

Pillowcase/Newspaper Wraps

And lastly, if you really can’t do away with gifts, the lowest hanging fruit would be to at least wrap with newsprint or get pillowcases for the task. Either reuse some old ones or make a big song and dance about getting some festive pillowcases you can reuse year after year. Whatever it takes to get the rest of the family on board. 

Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels also means reducing our reliance and addiction to stuff. It takes an incredible amount of fossil fuel to mine for the materials, to produce, and finally to transport our gadgets and gizmos over to us. We tend to think about climate change only in terms of the fossil fuels we see burning (driving being the main one). The fossil fuels that went into making our stuff is what engineers refer to as “embodied energy.” It might not seem like much, but if we all opted out of Christmas, we would do immense damage to a system that keeps us hooked on fossil fuels.


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