"If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate." -Nikka, age 6
Imagine if there were more young girls like Nikka in this world? The one in particular that always stayed with me, was this one:
"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen." - Bobby, age 7
That was always my take on Christmas. It's the love in the air, the shared laughter, joy and smiles with family and loved ones. I remember telling my first love (when I was fourteen) that Christmas was special to me because it was the only day of the year that my mother kept smiling. After having said that out loud, I continued to think of Christmas being special for that reason.
When I was ten years old I saved up every dollar I came by all year long, and kept them all in a washed out yogurt tub. When the time came around I had saved up a little over one hundred dollars. Nearly twenty dollars worth of it was in change, and roughly forty dollars worth were in single dollar bills. I bought one barbie doll for myself and spent the rest on gifts for others. I tried to find the most unique and interesting things that I could. I wanted others to smile and laugh and be delighted when they opened my presents.
I wrapped the gifts myself from my mother's vast collection of wrapping papers, ribbons and bows. I considered what colors of bows and ribbons would look best together. It was special and important to me. It meant a lot that I had the power to bring others smiles and joy.
That was my understanding of Christmas at ten. Now I understand that I have more than just the power to bring my friends and family joy.
Everyone talks about how it's "the right thing to do" to donate to charities. Maybe it is. Have you done the research yourself on individual charities to discover which one is the most worthy of your dollar? Probably not.
Instead of spending your time researching charities, instead, research the products you're planning on buying for yourself and friends. If you spend $12 on a notebook made by a company that employs handicapped people, uses bamboo instead of trees to make their paper, and crafts a quality product, you've just done a good deed -- and you know it. You also still get to have the added joy of giving this notebook to a friend or loved one to write in, and you can do so with pride because you've already done one good deed by buying it, and now a second by giving it.
When you buy a $7 notebook that uses bleached paper made from trees, employs people in China at minimum wage under conditions you'd balk at working in, that was shipped all around the world using hundreds of gallons of gasoline... Yeah, you saved $5. But how much did the world suffer for you to have that extra $5? And how does donating that $5 to charity somehow make it all better? If you have not done the research, it's possible that the charity you gave your $5 to is mostly for the purpose of lining the pockets of the owner and doesn't do what it claims to do.
For years now, as a method of saving money and reducing personal waste, I have reused the wrapping paper of every gift I have received. I have only actually bought five rolls of wrapping paper in my life, and while none of my current wrapping paper exists on a roll, I still have more than five rolls worth of paper today in many different varieties.
Many of my bits of wrapping paper have been used six or seven times.
I save ribbons and bows too, of course. Also, I save any decorative papers that come with other products I buy, as well as the brown stuffing paper they send with boxes in the mail. I keep all of it, and reuse it.
If someone is going to throw away their wrapping paper, I rescue it and use it again.
This used to just be a matter of saving money and being practical, but now that I've learned more about economics and the environment, it's now just one small part of doing the right thing all the time, not just some of the time.
This picture is from this entry about alternative wrapping.
In one short blog entry I read recently, the author talks about using banana paper, which is made from the discards stalks of a banana tree. I've seen paper made from ground stone, hemp, cotton, bamboo... It doesn't need to be made from trees, so why support the destruction of forests?
• Use environmentally friendly wrapping paper made using fibers such as hemp. Look for paper using recycled content.
• Avoid buying glossy foil or metallic wrapping paper - this kind of material is difficult to recycle.
• Reuse gift wrap - large wrapped presents usually have large enough uncreased sections to be reused for wrapping small gifts. If you open all of your gifts carefully, almost any gift has reusable paper.
• Use tape sparingly, or not at all - if you're going to use ribbon to finish off your wrapping, you may not need to use tape. By not using tape, more of the wrapping paper can be reclaimed, and it's easier for the recipient to save the wrapping for reuse.
• Choose alternatives to commercial gift wrap - there are many options which are cost-free, attractive solutions. Gift bags can be made using fabric scraps, or wrapping can be made using comic strips from the paper, old calendars, maps, posters and more.
Here is a nifty page with many different alternative gift-wrapping options.
If you want to decorate a live tree, why not go back to the original tradition?
"The tradition used to exist whereby we would string berries and popcorn and other types of food and place them as offerings on the trees outside to feed the fauna during the food scarcity of winter. Now, however, we cut down baby and adolescent trees, bring them into our homes and dress them up with all manner of metal, plastic, glass, etc... How many countless trees are killed every year in celebration of Christmas?" ~ Nikki Scott
Plant a live evergreen in your back yard or front yard, and decorate that instead.
Although plastic Christmas trees are reusable from year to year, real trees are the more sustainable choice.
Plastic trees are made of petroleum products (PVC), and use up resources in both the manufacture and shipping. While artificial trees theoretically last forever, research shows that they are typically discarded when repeated use makes them less attractive. Discarded artificial trees are then sent to landfills, where their plastic content makes them last forever.
Live trees, on the other hand, are a renewable resource grown on tree farms, that are replanted regularly. They contribute to air quality while growing, and almost ninety percent are recycled into mulch. Live trees are usually locally grown and sold, saving both transportation costs and added air pollution.
When buying a live tree, consider these environment supporting options:
• Live potted trees - if you buy a small tree in a large pot, you may be able to reuse the tree for 2- 3 years without having to plant or re-pot the tree.
• Re-pot the tree - if the tree is root-bound, you can replant it in a larger pot for several years' use.
• Replant the tree - if you have the space, of course, replanting the tree outdoors is an option. Be sure to anticipate the full-grown size of the tree, and avoid planting near foundations or underground services.
• Chip and mulch the tree - many communities now have a free chipping service for trees. If you can keep the chipped material, it makes excellent mulch for your shrub beds.
It's the season of giving. It's not the season of competing with your neighbors for who can use up the most electricity in lights.
Consider using one string of lights, and not ten strings. Perhaps just one elegant lining around the windows, or "icicle lights" around the top of your porch.
Who are you gifting your money to when you decide to light up the bushes, the balcony, the windows, the banisters and the snow-covered lawn? The electrical company. I seriously doubt that's where you want to spend your Christmas spirit.
Also, remember to use LED lights for your one modest string of decoration. LED (Light Emitting Diode) holiday lights use up to 95% less energy than larger, traditional holiday bulbs and last up to 100,000 hours when used indoors. LED holiday lights use .04 watts per bulb, 10 times less than mini bulbs and 100 times less than traditional holiday bulbs. Over a 30-day period, lighting 500 traditional holiday lights will cost you about $18.00 while the same number of LED lights costs only $0.19. As an added bonus, if one of the LED lights burns out the rest of the strand will stay lit.
Instead of giving to charities, give to the manufacturers of products you believe in.
If you're anti-consumerism, make your own gifts and cards. The amount of cards sold in the US during the holiday season would fill a football field 10 stories high, and requires the harvesting of nearly 300,000 trees.
If you're a feminist, look for companies that emphasize employing women. I've seen products advertising this before right on the label of a product.
If you want to help fight cancer... Well, then you should ignore labels that advertise donating to cancer-research. The cure for cancer is already known to a growing body of people, but the corporations making so much money off of killing us and then medicating us don't want you to know. Here are some folks who know about the cure.
A gift doesn't need to be a physical item. Give an experience to someone:
Tickets to a show or concert can offer lasting value with minimal impact on resources. Sports events, local attractions, rock-climbing centers, ice-rink memberships, and museum memberships are other examples. Experiences can be other than 'entertainment' - for example, a membership to a car-sharing club in your city, or a garden plot in a local community garden.
Give a service: Massage, music lessons, childcare, car wash, dogwalk, lawncare, tutoring, food preparation, gardening, a book of coupons for household chores...
Give someone something of sentimental value: Appeal doesn't always mean 'new and shiny'. Antiques and collectibles have time-earned intrinsic value as well as the added appeal of history and sentimental value.
Personal gifts are appreciated and remembered because they tell a story. And because they're "re-used", there's no impact on the environment.
Give someone something special you've found: An unusual shell, crystal, wood burl, arrowhead, bone, shark tooth, etc. Or flowers you've grown - if you live somewhere where there are flowers at this time of year.
Give someone something used: Might sound offensive to some, but to anyone with a heart, it's not offensive at all.
Dan Taylor writes: I was having a garage sale last Fall. I remember one family in particular who seemed to be having so much fun. When we remarked on this they said they were Christmas shopping. I was impressed by their being so organized (this was in August) but was also intrigued that they would be going to garage sales to do their Christmas shopping. So in the ensuing conversation they told us that their family had some years ago made a rule that all gifts must be under $20.00 and either hand-made or used. This has provided so much enjoyment for them that we're going to suggest this same idea to our family for next year. -Dan Taylor, Alberta Canada
Make something: My all time favorite gifts were hand-made, if not by the giver, then by someone the giver knew. A hand-knitted scarf, a hand-sewn rice bag (much appreciated in the winter for keeping warm!), a hand-crocheted hat, a carefully crafted card, a baked clay figurine, a hand-made leather pouch -- these were all gifts given to me by different people in different years, but I remember each of them clearly, and still have them. With a little research you can discover how to make your own soap, candles, accessories, and countless things that will enrich your life and the lives of others without being a drain on the planet.
Buying organic products, recycled products, and especially products made by individuals or small companies is a top priority. It's much more important than donating to charities. It's much more important than saving fifty cents.
The best gift you can give anyone, of course, is the gift of health. Instead of going crazy for cheap candies, or unhealthy home-made desserts made from white flour, white sugar and canned fruit, spring for something that won't make you or your family sick.