For the ecologically mind, the modern Christmas is, of course, a horror show. It’s a whole season of death and destruction. Think floor-to-ceiling packaged plastic death at the toy store; death as glittering centrepiece in the form of a Christmas tree, plastic or real; death in the form of air miles, and of course good old-fashioned, bloody turkey death. Tis the season of death wrapped in tinsel and sentiment.
Think I’m being dramatic? Dystopian? Then begin with this cheery piece on where those lovely decorations come from, then proceed to the great George Monbiot on the hair-raising true cost of Christmas dinner. So far, my holiday season has come with an internal horror movie score. ‘Hilarious’ Christmas jumper? Cue ‘Psycho’ shower scene music.
However, I’m an ordinary person living in this consumerist society and slipping and out of denial for reasons for utility and convenience, just like most of us. We are a family of four. Avoiding most of the consumer trappings has been easy; the children are young so pre-loved toys are fine. Four excellent presents per child from our local charity shops have totalled €70. We’ve used a small plastic Christmas tree from back before we woke up to climate change and global inequality, a few strings of second-hand tinsel, and the other decorations were made with the kids, with great and real joy and creativity. There will of course be a dinner, featuring chestnut and cranberry falafel. This is a token gesture. I still eat some meat, as do my family, but it’s a way of setting a vegetarian intention for the year ahead. There is little extended family to rack up miles for. Easy.
But like a Trump soundbite that only sounds good on the most superficial, unthinking level, it’s not really easy or simple at all. I might not be buying into the industrial death machine by buying the kids new stuff, but they’re still getting lots of stuff, and I’m teaching them to be gross consumers – a more primal lesson than any eco-rationales I can add-on when they hit an age of reason.
So on balance, my eco-Christmas is a heartfelt yet token gesture. Which is ok, really. It’s a learning process; next year may be different. And of course, there is a constant tension between the value of individual actions and the relentless tsunami of plastics, denial and bullshit that’s only gathering speed right now.
But it’s not all bad. Christmas in the time of climate crisis makes you think about what has real value – and how we should gift? Monbiot says it well:
“Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care.”*