Last week a friend sent me an e-mail containing “The Story of Stuff” video, a wonderful look at how consumerism shapes our worldview and the topic of Ian’s post below. After getting a major in environmental studies, I love to pretend that I’m enlightened in relation to consumerism, my eco-footprint, sustainability, and the like. While watching the video I realized that I, like most humans, need constant reminders to remember my environmental ethics. It’s the holiday season, and naturally I went out and bought stuff. Granted, I mostly bought eco-friendly gifts. I attempted to support local artists. I even tried to find things that would be useful for a long time after the holidays were over. (I’m sure my family will be sad not to receive reindeer sweaters from me this year. Who doesn’t love those?) But innately, even if I wrap things in the same cloth bags I use every year, consumption was at the center of my holiday traditions once again.
What is it about this season that can force a fanatical environmentalist like myself to buy my brother a belt buckle with a piece of a beer can embedded in it? Does my brother even wear belt buckles? (At least I know he drinks beer…) What is the part of the buckle that isn’t beer can made of? What happens to it when the little hinge breaks off? I can’t find a recycling symbol anywhere! In fact, there’s no recycling symbol on any of my gifts… and here I thought I was avoiding the holiday panic by shopping early.
Giving and receiving has been at the center of my family’s traditions for my whole life. I figured that I was officially mature when I started to get more pleasure out of the giving part than the getting. If I’m being honest with myself though, I think it’s probably more mature to not do either. It’s probably more mature to give where there is need… to give a micro-loan through Kiva, work at my local soup kitchen, donate 50 cans of tomato paste to the food pantry, to make scarves for the homeless shelter. How do we change traditions with the people we love? Can we do it without ruining the fundamental nature of the holiday that brings us all together? What is a valid way to replace those precious two hours where we all sit around a green tree and make each other happy?
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m mature enough to revamp my habits, and I don’t know if it’s possible (or even a great idea) to try and change those of my family. But I think this year we’ll have an honest dialogue about it. Maybe there’s a way to merge tradition with a new sort of giving. It would be amazing to leave the holidays feeling energized rather than exhausted. And I don’t just mean physically exhausted, I mean exhausting resources, exhausting the planet, exhausting other people in other countries so that I can get a cheap gift for my dad. All that depletion and chaos for my happy circle around the tree? Maybe I’m mature enough not to want that after all.