Upon the passing of October, we become bombarded with advertisements intended to convince us to buy holiday gifts. The message is the purchases will lead to holiday bliss. Of course, gift-giving is admirable, but to what extent when it is intertwined with consumerism? Older holiday movies offer a view into a modest level of holiday giving since these depict a time when children were delighted to receive a single gift. This simplicity might be viewed as a gentleness of heart, free of selfishness and materialism. Perhaps this can be put according to the beatitude “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” where meek is another word for gentle. In this upcoming season of constant messaging to convince consumers to buy stuff, maybe meekness should be part of holiday preparations and part of a common good path.
Data show that materialism in the U.S. continues to increase. According to the National Retail Federation, the amount of per person holiday spending (both gifts and non-gifts) in 2004 was $791 compared to $1048 in 2019 (inflation figured in). We hear that the holiday season is a successful one when there is a growth in spending. Shop, spend, and make the economy flow. The increase in purchasing almost always translates into more waste and environmental harm. Approximately 25% more garbage is thrown away during the holiday season, about a million extra tons of waste per week. In the big picture, the rising acquisition of goods requires resources from the earth (unless you are purchasing recycled or reused products) and creates stress on the planet in mining, waste, and manufacturing and transportation pollution.
In planning your gift-giving and other holiday purchases, there are many ways to steer clear of excess acquisitions and select options beneficial for both human and environmental health. Here are just a few suggestions/considerations to be more respectful and sustainable consumers.
· If you send holiday cards, choose those made from recycled paper and avoid shiny cards and those with glitter and other non-paper parts. Consider sending e-cards.
· Consider making or using nature-based decorations and do not create more garbage, especially the type that never decomposes (plastic). Also, use energy-efficient lighting if that is part of your holiday décor.
· Consider giving gifts of food and drink or donations to good causes.
· Reusable bags or recycled paper products are more sustainable options for gift wrap.
· Consider that less might be better; divert gift money for assisting those in need.
· Support businesses that are sustainable or working toward sustainability goals.
· Avoid merchandise that is over-packaged. Seek natural-based goods.
· Buy locally produced goods or those that are made nearby. Think about how much transportation is required.
The gifts of time, kindness, compassion, and love should never be underestimated and pose no harm to the earth and its inhabitants. At some point in my adult life, I finally understood why my dad always told me that he did not need a material gift for Christmas or his birthday. Every year, his message was that family and friends’ love and fellowship were the best of all gifts. It is an early wish to all for simplicity and gentleness for this upcoming, likely more stressful holiday season.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work