1001 Water- and waste-wise ways: The Great Christmas Conundrum
I am notorious for being a Grinch about what I call “Excessmess”. Over 30 years ago, I did my first Black Christmas (for political reasons, boycotting everything except the four Fs: family, friends, faith and food). However, once you’ve eschewed presents, decorations, cards, frenzied shopping-malls, that hissing sense of collective insanity that translates into Russian roulette on the roads and domestic mayhem when alcohol is mixed in — it’s hard to go back.
I’ve written about this fairly often — here’s one of my “well, if you MUST do gifts…” posts from Christmases Past. Look, there is no way to say this that doesn’t sound scoldy or slappably virtuous — but the holiday season is an absolute orgy of waste. Wasted food, tons of paper, packaging, single-use trinkets into landfills — you don’t need me to spell it out. But there are alternatives that don’t necessitate ruining family rituals — from tiny things, like wrapping gifts in your children’s drawings, or making gifts (time-consuming but satisfying, especially if it’s food), to the simple, like just sommer donating the gift budget to charity. Instead of presents for distant cousins, why not grocery vouchers for the service staff who’ve made your life a bit easier this year?
I’ve been decluttering for Christmas, which has done the planet, the beneficiaries and me the world of good. I now have LESS STUFF, and NPOs I care about have goods that fit their purposes and needs. (A little old lady in the Oasis charity shop SEIZED my twelve-year-old blender, and I had to chase after her to explain it didn’t handle pestos or grind nuts anymore. All good: she wanted it for salad dressings and soups. She was SO delighted. And right there, on the spot: my festive glow.)
But I’ve been thinking about kindness, and how we have not been kind to our home, Planet Earth. A good place to start is by actively cultivating kindness to everyone and everything — hopefully, the ripples will spread out. Here’s something I put on my Facebook page after a rather disastrous year:
’Usually at this time of year, I advise people to rest, to give to charities instead of doling out prezzies, to squeeze the people and four-leggits they love. Also to acknowledge that the collective madness about families, impossible myths of happiness and love, can make this an agonisingly difficult time of year. Many face the place at the dinner table that will never be filled again.
‘I hope that advice hasn't been patronising or saccharine. I still want to say the same, but with the kind of resonance that comes from thrashing with one's own mortality: something to be grateful for is that we're still here. Each year presents us with loss, often grievous, sometimes crippling. But we're still breathing, and we have work to do. We have a planet to safeguard, wars to prevent or ameliorate, and a thousand small gestures of kindness to make in our immediate circle.
‘How to be kind? Do unto others. How do we do that? The trouble with the advice of the man whose birth we're celebrating is that it's too radical for most: "Go sell all that ye have and give it to the poor." Here's the gentler version: use your imagination. That person is missing her dead mother; that man is tempted to drown his demons in drink; that woman feels sad that she isn't happy just because "it's Christmas!" Tell them you know things are difficult, you're there if they want to talk. If you’re not the talky type, distraction works wonders for the unhappy. Give them something useful to do and then thank them for doing it. Praise wherever praise is due. If you like something someone says or does or creates, TELL THEM.
‘If you need to creep away from people at this time of year, do it. If you have the heart and stamina for it, invite the isolated in.
‘And so many have pressing practical needs: they're hungry, they're unemployed, they're homeless. What the poor must think of the spectacle of middle-class consumption at this time of year makes me shudder. So give as generously as you possibly can, of your time, goods and money, to charities and non-profits. You can have enormous fun fitting projects to people: donate to an animal shelter or pay for a spay for your animal-loving aunt, plant trees or give to food garden projects for the gardening enthusiast, support child literary projects like Book Dash in honour of your booky pals — the list is endless. Google and even Facebook is a great help in finding perfect projects in your own backyard.
‘A friend recently mourned, "Why can't people be kind?" and got the response: "For many, this means giving up power." That is a terrible indictment of where we are now as a species. Kindness makes us vulnerable, but it is the most potent form of agency there is. It can change lives. In the end, it might recreate a habitable planet for all the life still on it.’
I wish all readers of this blog, of whatever faith tradition (or none), a safe and tranquil time over the next week.
PS: I said I didn’t do presents. I lied. Here’s one for my friends.