Have you been naughty or nice this year? Have you been direct and to the point or have you beat around the bush? Have you done one of the toughest things one interested in reducing holiday consumption can do? Have you had "the talk" with family and friends?
There are several ways of talking to your family and friends about dropping out of the holiday shopping madness. The most obvious way is straight-forward and courageous.
The Dear John letter or the phone call that lays it all on the table. George Orwell once wrote: During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. I wish I could say that I took this approach this year. I didn't. My sister and brother-in-law, however, did (with his family - a collection of people who already care to different degrees about the environment). Here's the email they sent:
The recent oil spill [in San Francisco Bay] and the release of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 7-year study have us thinking about our carbon emission lifestyle. Also, did you know that between Thanksgiving and New Years Americans throw away 25% more trash than the rest of the year? We want [our children] and their children to grow up and be able to see the wonders of the California environment that we have all enjoyed. We are trying to reduce our carbon emission consumption and contributions to the land fill, including during this Holiday season.
Could you please buy the [children] toys that are not made out of plastic or are poorly made? You could also give them things that will not fill up the landfill such as tickets to an event that you would take them to or a voucher for an afternoon together. If we are doing stockings for the adults, please give us consumables (paper pads, edibles, etc.) or green items (locally made, organic, sustainable, handmade and/or products made from recycled material, etc.).
We see this as an opportunity to be creative and responsible, yet keep the good ole' Christmas spirit burning bright.
Way to go, sis! She reports that the email was well received and that everyone agreed it was the right thing to do.
Unlike my brave sister - who was also not brave enough to send it to my family ;-) - I didn't get up the guts to write a Dear John letter like this. Instead, I laid ground work early on. I discussed how important it is for children to have a few quality toys that encourage imagination. I wailed over how many material goods children have these days, how many of them are not played with and end up in the landfill and I played up the fear of "toxic toys". I worked up the courage to cite a few frightening statistics: Did you know that for every truckload of new product that goes to market, 32 truckloads go to the landfills? I asked for more tradition and fun and less stuff.
In addition, I persuaded my family to do away with an adult gift exchange (we used to draw names) and to limit gift giving to a white elephant (give an item you already have in your home). My reason: we are all so busy and all have more stuff than we need. I was less successful in implementing a limit on the number of kids' gifts from extended family - though, within our immediate family, we are limiting stockings and gifts. As far as my husband's family, all I worked up the nerve to do was to praise experiences over goods, to ask for quality items and to ensure that the few gifts we give are consumable.
Do I feel that, in terms of gifts, my family and extended family are going to a "greener" Christmas than seasons past? Yes, absolutely. I think we've made a lot of progress and hope to keep whittling away at the number of items exchanged as the years go by. Was my sister and brother-in-law's more direct approach more immediately effective? Probably. Maybe next year, I'll work up the courage to tell the truth about consumption. For now, I'll be happy with the Christmas we'll have. It will be one spent with dear family and will generate happy memories and traditions for years to come.