My Not Very Ethical Christmas

Anyone else feeling the pressure with Christmas around the corner?

We hit an early peak in this house, as we try to get presents posted in time for them to wing their way round the earth to our family. I spent too much time standing in packed shops full of Christmas themed housewares nobody truly needs, listening to Mariah Carey and waving my bankcards around with abandon as I spot just one more perfect little Christmassy thing, just a wafer thin one. Go on. ‘I can make room for that in my life’ I cry as my shopping bags begin to erupt in a slow tinsel-lahar.

It’s not just the pressure to have a good Christmas though is it? There is also the pressure to have the right Christmas. The ethical Christmas. The one that is a perfectly festive celebration which by necessity involves consumption but at the same time not excessive consumption.

I’m not having a particularly ethical Christmas this year.

Yes, I have read THAT George Monbiot article where he terrifies us all over how we are killing the planet with our excessive consumption.

And do you know what? I don’t really care.

I mean I do care. Obviously, I do care. I’m just not going to let caring take away my Christmas.

Putting up the Christmas tree was so special and the kids loved it. Every mismatched ornament was hung with enthusiasm and a complete disregard for the overall aesthetic.

I’ve made a big rich fruit cake because I always do, and we’ll make Danish risengrød (rice pudding) for Christmas Eve because it is the law in Denmark and I think they’ll deport me if I don’t.

I’m going to buy my kids presents. I feel my son has had a hard year and I want to give him something good. Something he’ll love. Not a book about how we are all slowly destroying the rainforest with pictures of orangutans (Sad Face). Not a candle making kit because making your own candles is both environmentally friendly and Fun!

There’s going to be wrapping paper, and ribbons, and little gifts to be unwrapped and cooed over and hopefully used and not just chucked in the corner to moulder away until next year.

I want to have all these things.

More than that I want to have all these things without seeing a billion different articles telling parents that they are individually responsible for wiping out polar bears.

We’re not okay?

Okay. Maybe we are. But not any more than any other individual on any other day of the year.

Christmas – it isn’t just another day of the year. It is a special day for lots of people. It is a festive day. With that comes consumption. Any consumption is still consumption. Regardless of whether it is ethical or not.

Like it or not this is the society we live in. There are aspects of consumerism I find bleak. That doesn’t mean that every purchase is ultimately hollow. Giving gifts to those we love is an act deeply rooted in our minds. Humans have been giving their children toys for millenia.

There are a lot of families who are low consumers most of the year but for whom Christmas is the one time they splash out on their children. Who have toys on lay-by for months for this one day.

There are a lot of families who are grieving, or living with serious illnesses, or facing uncertainty in their futures, who just want to make this one day special. To forget their troubles and celebrate for just one day.

There are families like mine, scattered over the globe, far away from their grandchildren, or niblings, who don’t get to spend time together. The best they can do is wrap a little gift, take it to the post office and send it on its way, sealing some kisses in the box to say I think of you. I wish I could spend time with you. I love you.

If you’re feeling good and your needs are being met in life then yes, it can seem easy to simplify and minimalise. Maybe your family is super happy with Laura Ingalls Wilder-esque childhoods and a 100% biodegradable corn cob for a doll. I mean, great. You still don’t get to judge people for the ways they have of bringing joy into their lives.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Corn Cob Doll

Giving experiences rather than presents is a lovely idea. We’d love to go to the Christmas markets at the theme parks. But like many families that isn’t very accessible to us, and not just because of finances. My son loves to go out but he rarely has the energy for that at the moment. Last weekend we managed only a short trip to an outdoor museum we live only minutes from. It is always a lot of effort for minimal reward. Frankly, he is much better off having days at home playing with his Lego. I don’t want to give him experiences that exhaust him and stress us out. I want to give him that awesome present he has his heart set on and watch his face light up when he opens it.

Besides, there is a lot of unpaid labour going into these low-impact Christmases. It’s not good enough for a parent (Mum, 99% of the time it is Mum) to grab a roll of wrapping paper as they go through the checkout anyway. We’re supposed to find rolls of craft paper, and nice non-plastic-based-ribbon, and environmentally friendly dyes and a potato. Who is taking the time to sit with the kids while they decorate the paper? Who is tidying it up afterwards? Who is organising the cupboard to save the ribbon for next year? Yes. It is doable. It is all doable. But surely we are at the point now that we recognise we have got to stop putting the burden on individuals and change the structures everything is running on?

It is great if people find ways to incorporate ethical products or homemade presents, but if you don’t have the time or the space to do so then I don’t think that makes you lazy, or thoughtless.  I know we are so fortunate to be able to have the celebration we are having. We are keeping things pretty simple but it still takes time, and effort. Christmas might be a time of joy but it is a hard time for lots of people, and if that is you reading this, then I want to tell you that whatever you are doing is enough. Not being able to live up to some ethical ideal doesn’t make you a bad person. Buying presents doesn’t make you a shallow consumer.

Every year at Christmas I shed tears for my mother who isn’t alive to celebrate with us. No amount of Christmas Cake or wrapping paper can fill that void. However, creating Christmas, filling my home with the echoes of Christmas past, is important to me. I know my children are making memories they’ll hold close all their lives. A sense of family. A sense of celebration of the passing of time, and the rituals that accompany it. A sense of joy. That means something.

As a wise friend of mine once wrote

Celebration is why people love Christmas, even when they’re not Christian.

Celebration is a fundamental part of our human experience. It is something humans have done in every culture, in every part of the world, since prehistory. Celebrations add meaningfulness to our lives. They give us a sense of belonging within our communities and families. Let’s not use Christmas to shame each other, but as a time to celebrate each other.

Merry Christmas Everyone – however you choose to celebrate.

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