Friday, December 21, 2007

Not-So-Green Christmas

The environmentalist in me dreams of defying the Christmas monster, but for the second consecutive year I have caved and fed the beast. I want Christmas to be about family togetherness, not gift exchanges, but I can’t quite bring myself to risk being considered the Grinch.

Last year, when my siblings’ families and I gathered for a family Christmas at my parents’ place, I vowed to buy one gift apiece for my 1- and 2- year old nieces. But after seeing the piles of presents for the little ones under my parents’ Christmas tree, I feared being seen as the disinterested aunt. I rushed out to the mall for gifts to add to the piles.

Claire and Annika were too little to understand the concept of Christmas. The gift opening went on for hours; the girls became bored and stopped wanting to open presents. The toddlers had no clue about who had given what gift to them, and most of the presents were glanced at once, then thrown aside in the rush to open more.

So what were we adults competing for? To be seen as the most generous to the little girls? Instead of basking in reflected joy from the toddlers, as I had hoped, I felt dispirited with the pointless waste.

This year I vowed not to get caught up in Christmas consumerism. Then my husband booked a trip to Barbados as a way to spend time with his adult children. His daughter, 23, was thrilled at the gift of plane tickets to a tropical island. I hoped that being together for Christmas in an exotic location would be enough. But then I heard she was buying gifts for a gift exchange. Now the pressure was on again.

I considered a Heifer International donation for my stepson and his wife. As I perused the website, mulling buying a cow or a flock of chicks for a family in Africa, all I could think was Grinch, Grinch, Grinch. A recent New York Times article on green givers kept returning to mind.

The holidays have always been an emotionally combustible time for families, bringing together a sometimes volatile mix of siblings, crotchety grandparents and ill-behaved children. But in recent years, a new figure has joined the celebration, to complicate the proceedings even further: the green evangelist of the family — the impassioned activist bent on eradicating the wasteful materialism of the holidays.

Otherwise known, at least to skeptical traditionalists, as the new Grinch.

How dare I impose my values on others at Christmas? Wouldn’t these gifts to Heifer really be for me, an assuaging of my guilt for living in a materialist culture? So, instead of making a statement about my values, I gave in again to what I imagined were other's values. Everyone’s getting a gift, and some are expensive and trendy.

Apparently I want to be liked more than I want to avoid pointless buying. It’s in moments like this that I long to feel a part of a environmental movement.

It’s not enough to read on the Internet about others who say they are making sacrifices to live less materialistic lives. I long for the support of others in my community who also are trying to make the difficult decisions to avoid materialism. I dream of the day in which the standard post-Christmas question will be, “What did you do for Christmas?,” not “What did you get for Christmas?”