Christmas Decorations Waste the Earth

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Christmas trees waste land, water, and energy. Why not walk among the snow-draped evergreens and meditate on life instead of cutting one prematurely, cheapening it with tinsel and other carcinogenic materials, then dragging it to the trash on January 4th?

Every year, it's the same. Or worse. The houses in my neighborhood are suddenly trellised with enough lights to illuminate a small island. The trees on Main Street are outlined with colored LEDs. The bars and restaurants and strip malls hang sheets of lights on their facades and adorn their windows with garland and glittery snowflakes. "It's so beautiful," people say.  My grandfather takes a professional approach, maneuvering deep blue lights into his hedges, placing each tiny bulb exactly one and a half inches from the bulb before and after it. The result is a complicated matrix surrounding a sculpture garden of glowing snowmen. Is it beautiful? Yes. Is it worth the drain on Earth's natural resources? No.

Food, family, parties, presents and vacations from work are all reasons to look forward to the final weeks of the year. For me, those weeks are maddening because I hate how we permit ourselves -- in the name of so-called "Christmas spirit" -- to pollute the world with plastic decorations and ostentatious displays of blinking colored lights. This spectacle is an unfortunate shroud to what is honest and good about the holiday season.

There's no doubt honorable intentions are present to some degree: Maybe you contributed to a poor family, the homeless, or deposited cash into the Salvation Army bucket. But did you then go home and spend four hours stringing lights on your rain gutters, around every door and flower box and up and around the mailbox? Is there a gigantic Santa and reindeer inflated into two-thirds of your front lawn?  Although it may be fun to look at and laugh at the mise en scéne of Christmas, for me and many others the kitsch is tainted with a sense that the earth has been taxed unnecessarily.

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Christmas trees waste land, water, and energy. Why not walk among the snow-draped evergreens and meditate on life instead of cutting one prematurely, cheapening it with tinsel and other carcinogenic materials, then dragging it to the trash on January 4th? And have you noticed that the decorations dangling from tree branches are more ironic than festive? Was that football insignia of yours made in a third-world country by an underpaid, exploited worker?  Did the mini-frame holding your family photo originate through the hands of child labor? The money spent on holiday trees and their decorations could be better spent building roads, reconstructing bridges, and helping recent college graduates  pay their educational loans. With some redirection, the concept of holiday joy could be developed into tangible resources to support us through the year.

Confession: It's easy to complain about holiday excess, but not as easy to practice restraint. Although I understand the hypocrisy behind seasonal fanfare, I sometimes give in to it because sustaining the earth is not always my first motivation. I'm guilty of holding a tree hostage in my house and dumping it on the curb just like my neighbors do.  I adore those holiday lights filled with pretty bubbling fluid. And like most everyone else at the mall, I weave through the blinking trees, faux snowscapes and Santalands while thinking only of the presents I must buy, wrap in expensive paper, and tie with disposable ribbon. I'm less of an environmentalist than a conformist, and that's hard to admit. But admitting it is the first step to change.

In our DIY culture, there are countless ways to draw upon our resourcefulness. Instead of toxic tinsel, for example, outfit an upcycled tree from the thrift store with strings of cranberries, popcorn, and beads. Fabric scraps cut into retro shapes and sewn together make fun and colorful garland. A set of simple white lights can inspire a room as much as a frenzy of colored bubbles. Make your tree decorations from paper maché instead of buying manufactured ornaments. I had a friend -- a terrific artist -- who gave me a tiny Santa made from bread dough and food coloring. I still keep it in my jewelry box even though it's broken and yellowed because it reminds me of what a special person she is. There's nothing at Crate & Barrel that can do that, no matter how much I pay.

There's an adage that reminds us to "think globally, act locally," that can guide us through the indulgences of Christmas. Understanding how a single act affects the world is the first step toward progress. Look at the the locality of your Christmas and find the goodness in it. Go there, and you will not go wrong.

 

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