It’s that time of year again. Christmas music, sales beginning at 3am, cookie swaps, Secret Santas, elves on shelves, and incredible cat sweaters.
People are so happy during the winter holiday season that I almost find it difficult to be critical. Don’t worry. I said “almost.” I can absolutely still be a little critical of the wastefulness that comes with this time of year. Between gift giving, traveling, and serving delicious holiday feasts, we go through so many resources that it’s almost difficult for me to think about.
Last year, I wrote a blog post about green gift giving for the winter holiday season. I’m still proud of this post, but I may as well have titled it “How to Use Up A Lot of Your Time During Finals and Also Give Your Friends and Family Things They Don’t Need.” In an effort to make everyone happy (a common urge that I wish I could ignore), I decided to make/bake gifts for 35 people last year. To be fair, 26 of those people were my staff members and I desperately wanted them all to like me. So, I baked tons of treats and crafted cutesie little cards and gifts for some of my closer friends. I love giving gifts and filling people’s bellies with sugar-coma-inducing treats. But did I need to do all of that gift giving last year? I’m undecided.
So, now I need to figure out how Christmahanakwanzika will fit into my green lifestyle. The delicious food that comes with the holiday season is excessive, mostly non-vegetarian, and quite unhealthy. But I can’t dwell on that. I fill my plate up with as many veggies as possible, eat my once-a-year-Christmas-deer-burger, and make no apologies for the winter weight I gain from a little overindulgence. The travel is inevitable. I have friends and family spread across the globe and I love them too much to avoid seeing them if it’s possible. So I travel or have people come to me and the carbon footprint may be massive, but nothing beats hugging a friend who you’ve only seen on Skype for two years.
I’m essentially saying that I’m a hypocrite and that I make large exceptions to my green values during the holiday season because I love my friends and family and, if eating were a sport, I would be the captain of the varsity team. However, there is one aspect of the holiday season that I’ve become increasingly skeptical of: presents.
Who doesn’t love presents? The rush of unwrapping a mystery item. The excitement of reading a sweet or funny card. The joy of getting something you really wanted. The look of satisfaction on the gift-giver’s face. The kiss that immediately follows (If and only if you are in a Kay Jewelry Commercial; I’ve heard that’s how every kiss begins).
It’s all wonderful! And I’m no grinch. I love presents as much as anyone else. I also love giving presents. I just don’t know if I am fully on board with the exchange of stuff. What if we exchanged experiences instead? Or kind words? Or just started spending more quality time together? I am clearly toward the beginning of opinion development here. I’m teeter-tottering between loving the exchange of material objects during the winter holiday season and loathing the very idea of showing I care by giving someone a thing. I suppose my opinion doesn’t matter right now. My lifestyle lends itself to potlucks and white elephant exchanges and crafting small tokens of appreciation for staff members and co-workers. I don’t have to do it, but it shows that I care and it brings joy to people who I truly appreciate and love. It’s more about how I can build toward the future that I want for myself.
I always think about what I want my future to be like. The future that will inevitably happen one day, after I’m done being a professional student and perhaps when I decide it’s time to settle down with another human and find some baby humans to love. I want to have a life and a family that is in no way centered around things. I want my life to be centered around joy and fun and adventure and love.
I know my future baby humans will want material objects. They will likely want a television and a video game system and whatever form of communication will replace a cell phone in the future (re: Zenon’s Facetime device that quite accurately predicted the future). I want my family to know that they can have all the things they need, but that anything extraneous won’t make them happier. I won’t be able to force this opinion on anyone, so I can spend the next [insert number of years it will take me to want to settle down and start a family] coming up with fun ways I can raise these hypothetical children to value things like family trips or volunteering at a local nature center together over material objects. It may not be possible, but I have time to figure it out and hopefully I’ll have a partner who wants the same kind of future I do.
But what can I do about it now?
- Craft, craft, craft. I crafted a gift for two lovely ladies in my life and they were a hit!
- Thrift for presents. I found a sweet gift for my bearded gentleman at a great vintage/thrift shop in town (I hope it fits!).
- Buy local. For both white elephant gift exchanges I’ve been a part of, I bought trinkets at local stores.
- Wrap with brown paper bags or newspaper. It’s super trendy and no one actually cares what their gift is wrapped in.
- Buy experiences rather than objects. I have a friend who loves trying new restaurants and local shops, so I got her this awesome gift card that works at about 100 places in town and she and I can go enjoy a night out together on me.
- Don’t overdo it. In other words, don’t give gifts to people just to make them like you more.
- Donate. It’s kind of like giving a gift, but mostly I just included this because it’s awesome to donate unneeded or unwanted items to any individual or organization in need. Spend a couple of days going through your home to select items to donate.
- Ask family and friends to only give me things I need. I dropped the ball on this one this year. I could have asked friends and family to do this, but I kind of forgot. Plus, I still feel like it would be mean to ask this of my loved ones. Note to self: work on actually asking for what you want instead of being a little girl about this.
- Ignore the urge to “buy a present for yourself.” I’m super guilty of saying things like, “Oh, this one’s a birthday present to myself!” Instead of rewarding myself with things, I am going to make a huge effort to reward myself with experiences. Instead of purchasing birthday presents for myself each year, I have started a tradition of running in a 5K. I can apply a similar concept to the winter holiday season.
- Ask people what they want/need. People will appreciate the thought it took you to come up with a ‘surprise” gift, but it will be just as sweet if it is an item they have wanted for quite some time or an experience that they haven’t had yet. And along those same lines, ask people if you are exchanging gifts. It’s a simple conversation and, I promise, they were wondering too.
Now, if only I could find a way to avoid all the damn cookies. Why do people want to eat so many cookies this time of year?