For those of us who care about our Earth, this season presents a conundrum: How do we navigate this most commercial and consumeristic of seasons and remain true to our values? Well, here are some thoughts. I hope they help.
First of all, the tree. Buy a real one. Artificial trees create three times the carbon impact of a real tree, and they’re made of plastic that lasts for thousands or even millions of years. The best option is a live tree you can plant outside after the holidays, but short of that, get a live tree cut…you can save the trunk for next year’s Yule log.
When it comes to giving, for kids it’s obvious: give them presents. They expect no less and it can be really hurtful to do anything else. But make them count! Here are some cool toys and games that teach science, cooperation, and curiosity.
I’m not a parent, so I can’t speak to the wisdom of promoting the Santa Claus myth versus not, but if you do, I think this is a great way to “initiate” older children into the Mystery of the Fat Man. Particularly, if you have multiple children, you can recruit them to be “Santa Claus” for younger ones starting at the age of 7 or so.
For adults, my environmental conscience says: don’t give things. Unless they really need something, give experiences instead of gifts. Make a dinner date. Plan an outing to the beach or lake, or a hike, or drinks, or a game night, or a sex date. There is so much stuff in the world, and we’re killing the planet generating it; please consider the possibility of alternative approaches to Yule gifting. You can put little notes describing your experiential gifts in boxes and wrap them with decorative paper so recipients still have something to open.
In my house—with two adults—we don’t do presents under the tree, but we do hang up stockings and fill them for one another. We buy sweets and savory luxuries, small and inexpensive gifts, and make little certificates for dates and experiences to tuck in them.
Finally, here’s what I think is really the best thing to do: give the gift of a better world.
Our world is currently beset by ignorance, malice, bigotry and greed. There are organizations that are fighting this wave of cold mean-spiritedness and destruction. They are doing essential work and they deserve our support. Make a contribution in the name of your gift-list recipients this year, and you’ll be doing some real good. Here are links to their websites, where you can donate:
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Human Rights Campaign
Medicins Sans Frontieres (MCF)
National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL)
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
…and don’t forget your local organizations: food pantries, homeless shelters, women’s shelters, land trusts. All are doing essential work, and they need your help.
I feel GREAT when I get a notification that a donation has been made in my name to an organization doing good work. I suspect most people feel relief when they get such a notice, instead of yet another thing they don’t really have any use for.
Of course, if you have people who expect gifts and don’t agree with your vision for the world, you may not want to go this route. Better to offer the experiences.
Yule is a time when it is traditional to show our love with gifts. Atheopagans can do that without damaging the Sacred Earth; rather, let us deepen our connections with those we love, build community, and serve the greater good.