December 24, 2012
Christmas means carnage – this is the great insight of Ferdinand the duck in the 1995 movie, Babe.
Christmas is a time of consumption, and for many of us in the West, over-consumption. That may mean too much to eat and drink (including foie gras and caviar), too many gifts we don’t need or want (decorated in senseless wrapping paper to hide their significant resource depletion) and long trips to spend a day with people we would rather not see during the other 364 days in the year. We chop down trees to put in our homes, lighting them up with senseless trinkets that announce our stupidity to our neighbours (whose only ambition, it seems, is to out-stupid us for the 12 days of augmented electricity consumption).
Only a moron would try to defend Christmas as a sustainable time of the year, and there is no point being cute trying to tweak traditions around the edges to make it a little less environmentally devastating – if we want to do our bit to save the planet, we must stop this madness called Christmas. The religion of consumerism has revoked Christian symbolism with some story of a jolly man in a red coat. The eco-religious have reverted to pagan seasonal traditions so, without religious relevance, it should be easy and quite rational to banish Christmas once and for all. It is a politically incorrect myth that is unsustainable and unwanted. If we stop Christmas, we’ll stop the rampant consumerism, environmental destruction, unhealthy consumption and mistreatment of animals.
So why don’t we?
People have tried. I sometimes find myself in unpleasant conversations with people who use these arguments to underline their distaste of Christmas traditions, religion, and frankly, their distaste of other people. They have been personified in caricatures like Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch: people with cold hearts and little human spirit. It would take a very brave environmentalist to assume this persona and stand up to the lean, mean marketing machine known as the Christmas Industrial Complex. In brief, they don’t dare stick our unsustainable tradition in our faces. A quick scan of the international websites of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF finds not a single word mentioned this year about Christmas – no campaigns to beg supporters to make it more sustainable, no hints on how to avoid the carnage (like PeTA or Gaia have done so well) – it seems like they have already banished Christmas (or maybe they are too busy fundraising just before the tax-deductable “giving” season deadline). I understand that positioning yourself as the Grinch does not attract fiscal donations, but this still bothers me. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF should at least be trying to advise us on how to celebrate Christmas more sustainably. Can they just pretend it away?
The Risk-Monger, however, does not believe that Christmas is merely the season of environmental devastation. The shopping that he is finishing up, last minute as usual, is not seen as rampant consumerism gone mad, but a symbolic time-point that focuses his thoughts towards the needs or interests of those he cares about. The celebrations are part of a long tradition of inserting joy and music into the coldest, darkest point of the year; infusing hope and love in a time of desolation and depression. Christmas is a time to reach out and try to help those less fortunate. Hope, faith, charity and love are not rational arguments (I’ll give environmentalists the win there), but they are very human arguments that culminate in this concept called Christmas.
Yes, there are opportunists that use Christmas to move goods they could not sell during the year and many of us succumb to the “obligatory consumerism” of the season. But can we do anything to make Christmas more sustainable? Do we really need a real tree with lights inside our homes? Do we need to eat so much rich (unethical) food? Do we need to give so many cheap and useless gifts?
The answer, of course, is: No. We don’t need these unsustainable traditions, but the challenge is one of authenticity. Christmas is a celebration we received from our ancestors and we pass on to our children. Adapting our traditions to follow our present eco-narratives can cause some “spiritual” friction so any changes would have to be nearly imperceptible (the animal rights group, Gaia, has done something interesting with the introduction of faux gras – environmental NGOs have done nothing similar).
Authenticity is a challenge and an obstacle for changing our traditions. My sister once gave me a certificate for Christmas saying that she had donated on my behalf to an NGO she liked (while the idea seemed noble, she was thinking of herself rather than me … which hit me kind of like a lump of coal). Potted Christmas trees always die when I try to replant them and artificial trees do not reflect a genuine Christmas (… too, well, artificial). We could just send out for pizza on Christmas Eve, but that would not be an authentic way to celebrate a special occasion (and honour our ancestors). Authenticity of tradition underlies the spirit of Christmas. Rational arguments do not always, and should not always, displace feelings and traditions of the heart.
Some might argue: But Risk-Monger, you are always arguing that we need to lay low on emotional influences that obstruct our rational, evidence-based decision-making, but now, on Christmas Eve, you are getting all soft and gooey and ignoring the obvious errors in our traditions in favour of tales and empty tidings. True, but I usually get hot and bothered by environmental lobbyists with baseless emotive arguments that do more harm than good. I feel that sterilising Christmas to make those who have lost this tradition feel better about themselves would do more harm than good to the season of good will. I suspect the main environmental NGOs understand this and have decided to remain silent about trying to advise us to celebrate Christmas more sustainably.
This Christmas, I will spend a quiet moment at night, sitting by the fire, watching the lights on my real tree, thinking of gifts I still need to buy my loved ones while I sip a wine and enjoy fine food. I will not be thinking of how unsustainable I am. My thoughts, guided by the seasonal carols, will be directed towards faith, hope, love and charity. Until those more rational can strip me of these traditions, I would like to wish everyone the very best for the holiday season. Adeste fideles.