Archive for Sustainability and Society

Spreading Christmas out all year long?

Ok, this is my last post about reflections on Christmas! I started out by thinking of people who are sad or feel let down around the holidays.  Some of the kids I’ve worked with have major melt downs around Christmas because of family or health dysfunction.  Everyone around them is building up to this huge “celebration” and their pain just multiplies as they feel it’s impossible to have that shiny ball that the world dangles out there in front of them.  Some hurt themselves to try to make the pain go away.  People give presents to them or have parties for them, but the perfect family Christmas can’t be obtained.  And that may be true for a lot of people, especially in America, where we advertise prosperity and perfection as available to all.  Our culture would be way more sustainable if we gave up our fantasies of having it all and stopped billing things as creating more happiness than they really do.   It’s ok to make choices, to say no to things, to make due with less than the Jones have.  Even if we can afford to have it all, maybe we don’t need to.

One more thought….I’ve heard of people who only go to church on holidays like Christmas and Easter, packing in all their time with God into some intense rush, similar to the way we eat so much and celebrate so much in a few short days.  What if we made a conscious effort to make holidays less of a fuss, to spread our celebrating out in a longer, much less intense manner?   Might we then give more gifts during the rest of the year?  Send more letters?  Get our good dishes out for more Sunday dinners?  Spend more quiet time alone with God?  Hmmm, I wonder…..


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Changing Christmas Idea #3

I am proposing some radical ideas to make Christmas more sustainable and also to make it make more sense.  Some of the things we do in the name of Christmas just DO NOT make sense.  I heard a story at school the other day of a mother who bought her daughter three things for Christmas (even though she had just had her birthday) and the daughter returned all three things, and the mother was not even that upset about it.

I know I already posted this photo, but it is a good depiction of what I am thinking about tonight.

Lots of times, we want to give presents at Christmas time, but I think, if we are being truthful, lots of times we don’t, because we can’t think of a great gift, and we wind up getting something that people will take back, or wish they could take back.  I’ve never experienced hurt feelings over a Christmas present, but I hear it happens.  So, what to do?  How awful would it be if we just decided we weren’t going to do the presents part of Christmas?  Would every one think we are a scrooge?  But so often, it doesn’t make sense, the money we spend, sometimes going into debt, trying to prove we care about someone with a thing.

I know a lot of people have made changes in their gift giving,  donating to charity for example.  Some good ideas can be found here at ISU’s Live Green Dec 2011 newsletter.  The article on Greening the Holidays makes good suggestions about how to find thoughtful and recycled gifts.  The college students here also suggest that giving your time and just being together with others is a valued and sensible gift. If intelligent college students can embrace this, can’t we?

But what about the children?  A lot of people I know have given up adult gift giving but still have Christmas presents for the children.  At first, I thought this was quite sensible, but you know, what are we teaching the kids here?  The sociologist in me would say, we are perpetuating an unsustainable lifestyle by indoctrinating the future generation.  What if kids just never learned to expect gobs of toys or expensive gifts on Christmas or every other American holiday?

If you disagree with me on all of the above, maybe at least you could think about this idea.

Idea #3:

You know how every one tears open their presents on Christmas eve or Christmas morning, and then usually it’s the mom who goes around wadding up tons of wrapping paper and putting it in the trash?  And I LOVE wrapping paper.  I have way more fun buying wrapping paper and bows and ribbon and gift tags than I do buying gifts, but it’s all just really totally useless and wasteful.  Maybe we could at least give up the wrapping paper!  Reusable cloth gift bags anyone?!

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Christmas tree alternative and what do we do with the decorations?

  I’ve been reflecting on Christmas and how, just from a cultural perspective, it promotes a way of thinking that is not very sustainable, from excess spending to blowing all of our energy and creativity and desire to give in one big event that often exhausts us and leaves us feeling let down, like all the effort wasn’t really worth it.  I always used to try to find ways to force the feeling of “being worth it”.  An alternative might be just to put less energy into it.  My idea #1 for reformulating Christmas into something more sustainable was giving up personal outdoor light displays in favor of supporting and enjoying public displays instead.  My next idea has to do with the tree.

Idea #2

I’ve always been somewhat uncomfortable with the Christmas tree as it just seems related to those in the Bible that worshiped trees or worshiped in groves of trees, etc.  But if you don’t have a tree or you decided to give that up, what do you do with all the decorations?  I am not advocating being a grinch, I just think we could be smarter and more sustainable in our thinking here.  It really hit me this year when I saw a photo of Rockefeller Center’s giant tree.  That tree had probably been growing somewhere for years, and we cut it down, basically killing it, for what?  So we can have twinkly lights while we skate?  Some people do artificial trees and some go with a living tree, but if we really wanted to change our thinking, why not design some other way to display cherished decorations?  You know, those ones that kids made at school or something that was a gift from gramma.  Any ideas here?  Could someone design a Christmas mobile, efficient, easy to store?  We could also let some of the decorations go, like the ones where the glue disintegrated years ago, take some photos of them and maybe display the photos in a collage.

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Reasons to Curb Christmas Excess and Cure Christmas Letdown (and save the planet?)

Today is the last day of 2011 and I’ve been reflecting on Christmas and a new way of thinking that I am excited to catch glimpses of around the web.  I realized that one of the reasons I am drawn to DO Christmas is the buildup and engaging in something out of the ordinary of daily life.  It can also draw me closer to family that I have built up these traditions with and is part of my identity.  But it seems like  a lot of Christmas excess, or just consumer excess in general, happens when we let the market tell us who we should be, what we should do and what we should buy.  But come on, we are smarter than that, aren’t we?  And we don’t have to be humbugs about it and totally destroy capitalism in the process (tongue in cheek here!).

  Idea #1

What if we decided to stop doing personal Christmas light displays and agreed to just enjoy community displays instead?

I love Christmas lights, especially the white icicles that people hang around their overhangs.  Driving around looking at Christmas lights was something enjoyable we did as a family, often on Thanksgiving night.  But as I was indulging myself this year, the sustainability researcher in me kept whispering, “this is not sustainable”.  But the Joey part of me answered back, “but they are so pretty”.  What to do?  I wondered how much electricity and therefore carbon was was being spewed out to meet my and others’ need for “pretty”.  Is there any way we could agree as a community to give up personal Christmas light displays?  Aha!  Perhaps it would be better if we just focused on community  light displays instead.  And I could WALK to my community light display, like this one at Iowa State, or downtown to  Ames, and I might engage with other community members, sing a few favorite carols, bump into friends for hot chocolate at Cafe Diem.  We do this to a degree, as there are Snow Magic and other community celebrations, but it’s not enough somehow.  Could we learn how to let it be enough?

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Christmas Excess

So I was saying that part of the appeal of Christmas (or any holiday or event) might be the process of getting ready, doing and using things out of the ordinary, and repeating rituals that are part of our identity.  But I am sure that most of us have experienced what happens when any of those things happens in “excess”, like too much…..WAY too much.  I love the idea of sending and receiving Christmas cards, but I can get myself into a whole pile of excess here!

  I think we’ve all had grand ideas of a party or dinner that turns into a marathon of preparation, dirty dishes and exhaustion.  My dear mother used to quietly bemoan the fact that a dinner took almost an hour to prepare and yet people ate and left the table in about ten or fifteen minutes.  So do we skip the dinner, parties and Christmas?  We know we SHOULD be able to rein it all in, simplify our lives, yadda yadda yadda, but I think it is easier said than done.



But we are intelligent beings, right?  I believe we just need to spend more time thinking about it, reflecting, talking….let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room and invite him into the discussion!  There is a lot of excess in our society, and it’s not a good thing.  But  I am not of the “bah humbug” mindset.  I just think we could be a lot smarter, more creative, and wind up being more joyful as a result.  In my next post I am going to talk about my crazy idea for reducing excess Christmas lights while also enjoying the twinkles in the darkness too.  If you are experiencing Christmas letdown, or even if you aren’t, let’s spend some time together thinking about some creative solutions that lead to a life that makes more sense.


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Making Sense of Christmas

In my last post, I asked the question, partly from a researcher’s point of view, “Why do we DO Christmas?”  As I was driving around this year gawking at the pretty twinkle lights and singing along with Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire for the 5th time in one short drive, I realized that part of the attraction might just be the build up to something that is  out of our ordinary routine.

We listen to music we don’t ordinarily listen to.  We pull things out of storage boxes that we haven’t looked at all year.  We give and receive gifts, eat yummy treats, get together with family, friends and co-workers, send letters and photos and cards to people we’ve been out of touch with…..what’s not to like?  And there is a ritual to getting ready for Christmas, often a somewhat personal ritual that has grown with us over many years.  We have family traditions that help make us Simpsons or Chens or Johannsons.  It’s part of who we are, and every year we go through these motions to reinforce this part of our identity.  Or do we?

In my first post about this, I was thinking about Christmas letdown.  It’s kind of the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.  It’s an often overlooked sign that something might be “wrong with Christmas”.  My purpose here is not to ruin Christmas, but to just think out loud about it here for a few days, and see where it leads me.  I welcome all your thoughts and comments!

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Christmas Letdown

I had some interesting thoughts about Christmas this year, but I didn’t want to post them until after the holiday is over, you know, didn’t want to burst anyone’s bubble or anything.  But if you are feeling some Christmas letdown, or the holiday wasn’t what you’d hoped it would be, maybe these thoughts are for you! (and I am not let down, I just chose to observe Christmas this year for the most part, and do some strategic thinking about it!)

Why do we “do” Christmas anyway?  I loved driving around this year, looking at the Christmas lights, both downtown Ames and in Ogden, and around various neighborhoods.  I love getting out the Christmas CD’s, listening and singing along to old favorites, making Christmas cards (I just love snail mail in general), remembering decorating cookies with my family.  I LOVE color, and Christmas affords lots of that.  I don’t like shopping so much, and I am a terrible gift giver.

But oh I love the wrapping paper!

A lot of the reason we do Christmas is because it is expected, it’s the thing to do, everyone else is doing it, right?  But let’s be honest, there is a lot of stupidity to Christmas too.  I just pondered that a lot this year as I drove around looking at the signs of Christmas.  Maybe some of it has to do with being a “real” researcher now, at least I’ve graduated and written a thesis.  I am supposed to think about what we as a society and culture do, why we do it and whether or not we should be doing it.


So if we really looked at Christmas as a holiday celebrated and came to the conclusion that it isn’t a good thing for the world, could we give it up?  Should we?  I’m going to try to write about that this week as I reflect and get ready for a new year!  Are you with me on this mind journey?!  🙂

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