The holiday season is now in its full flurry of excess, and I can no longer avoid the unease it brings me. I often hear talk about the cost of holiday excess on my health and my budget. There’s another cost that I seldom hear mentioned, and it’s the source of my unease.
Living in a city, where I’m disconnected from the source of things I buy, it’s easy for me to forget that everything I buy and consume during the holidays has a creation story. These stories are found by tracing an object back to its origin. Trace a few objects, and you’ll discover they all begin in the resources of this planet. Every paper plate I’m handed at a holiday gathering started as a tree was cut from the landscape. Each plastic decoration began life as oil in the ground. Mountains were excavated for the holiday jewelry I wear. Holiday clothing requires an amazing amount of water to make. The gifts I give and receive were manufactured using all these resources, and fossil fuels transport these things to me. Each holiday item is the culmination of multiple takings from the planet. It leaves me with the question, is what I receive from the items worth what I’ve taken?
The answer is not necessarily, “no.” My struggle is with the expanse of gray between the extremes of survival and excess. I think my unease with the holidays is a sign that within the gray, I’m living too close to the excess. As a person of faith, where I fall in the gray area says something about my response to God’s gift of creation and God’s command to care for it. I’ve forgotten my place within God’s Great Economy, as Wendell Berry calls it in his essay Two Economies. Berry states, “Now the ideal must be ‘the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption,’ which both defines and requires neighborly love.”
This year I’m working on loving my neighbor by right-sizing my holidays. It starts with being intentional in what I do and buy. It means asking, is what I’m about to do or buy worth what I’ll be taking from the planet? When I reflect on the joy and pleasure of past holidays, I don’t much remember the gifts, decorations, or food. What I really remember is who I was with, where I was, and how I felt. With that in mind, my goal for this holiday season is to take less from the planet’s resources and give more of my own resources: my presence, my time, and my love.
I don’t yet know all the ways I might do this. I welcome your suggestions. Maybe I’ll propose a board game party instead of a white elephant or secret Santa exchange, or make it a white elephant swap of things already owned. The gifts I give may be concerts, plays, walks, and other activities shared with friends and family. I hope to decorate my house with smiles and laughter, instead of lights and figurines. Maybe we’ll spend our time bringing the smiles and laughter to others; or better yet, working to change the systems that take away the smiles and laughter from others. It’ll be counter-cultural and a bit rebellious – just like baby Jesus who came to upset the status quo. Now that’s something to celebrate!