I once saw a banner on a festive city centre street that read: ‘When you stuff the turkey, you stuff Christmas’. It was a rather clunky message, but it made its point. It wasn’t held by a vegan anti-meat protestor, but a church group. At the time I thought it was a bit overblown, but it resonates more with me now than it ever has.
In the last few years, I’ve found that Christmas actually makes me feel a wealth of negative emotions and not the warm, sentimental, convivial feelings I should be having. I dislike the lies we tell ourselves and our children, the excess, the waste, the self-reproach. A festival of consumption cast adrift from its traditional and religious roots, Christmas is turning empty, hollow and meaningless.
Scrooge or scourge?
The season of goodwill has become a mere excuse to carry out to the extreme unnecessary, toxic and destructive practices that damage both our bodies and our planet. A licence to eat our way through mountains of food, of flesh, plastics, natural resources, fossil fuels, trees, alcohol. Using it all up under the pretence that we are honouring our religion, our culture, our tradition; telling ourselves the same stories and giving ourselves the same excuses.
Organic turkeys, sustainably sourced spruce trees, recycled wrapping paper, charity cards, post-Crimbo detox; all a mere sop to the wider issues.
Christmas is a holiday from normal life, but also from common sense. It fills a hole, celebrates the end of a year and ushers in a new one, it raises hopes with full glasses. But do we need to believe in Christmas and all its empty promises? Or should we celebrate our planet and take a break from our destruction of it? Are the two mutually exclusive? After all, Christmas is not supposed to be about shopping.
What does Christmas mean to you?
For many people, it is a time to create warmth in our houses and in our hearts, to hibernate from winter, to retreat to our families, to make time and space for loved ones, to care for those in need. It brings to mind rich colours, sparkle, spicy scents, open fires, connotations of merriment and frivolity. Culturally, Christmas has taken up such a special place in our social calendar that, like the hand-me-down festive sweater, we just can’t seem to part with it.
Retailers feed on this. Our obsession with the ‘perfect’, self-indulgent Christmas gives them the opportunity to push for those end-of-year sales targets and record-breaking profit margins. By early November, they are rearranging their shelves and piling them high with shiny, purpose-made ‘treats’, heavily packaged and utterly unnecessary ‘gift ideas’, ready to dazzle the desperate festive shopper.
And haven’t we all been there? Alone, under pressure and afraid of unseemly social etiquette we buy that notelet set/ tin of biscuits/ hilarious drinking game/ set of novelty coasters just in case an unexpected guest pops by, or turns up at a social function. We may even wrap them up, only to unwrap them when said friend, relative or colleague fails to materialise. Such is the power that this quasi-religious, consumer-driven spectacle wields over us.
Instead of ‘doing without’, the Christmas mantra seems to be ‘well, just in case’. In this way, the overall Christmas message is insidious, destructive and sickening.
Unpacking Christmas excess
The utterly unneccessary overuse of resources in the run up to Christmas and the desperate push of the January sales after it makes a complete mockery of any attempts to live more sustainably and reduce waste. Our planet cannot sustain our obsession with this version of Christmas. We have to pare it back.
Historically, humans have always needed festivals. Times when tools are downed, families are reunited, and rest, relaxation, and appreciation of life and the earth and sun that sustain it, become the focus of the day. Like our ancestors, we don’t need anything to make this happen. We just need to stop. Stop working. Stop striving. Stop wanting. Stop shopping.
Are you interested in trying to introduce minimalism at Christmas? Please comment below with your thoughts and/or struggles. Take a look at my post Things I No Longer Use for decluttering ideas.