I wasn’t born into a religious family. Not one bit. When Christmas time rolled around each year I looked forward to Santa, the gifts and the idea there was something magical in the air.
As a family of six, our Christmas was what I would now describe as ‘humble’. A few stocking fillers and a gift or two under the tree. I don’t remember any twinkling fairy lights or a plastic tree, mostly kids handmade Christmas decorations like painted pinecones and some vintage tinsel that had been in circulation for the past 20 years. Dad would cut a branch off a pine tree from out in the bush or we would decorate a fallen branch off a gumtree and stick it in a flower pot.
Mum was always sweating away in the kitchen cooking up a hot roast as the Aussie sun beat down across the dry paddocks of our rural farm in NSW.
It wasn’t until around mid primary school that I began to realise that Christmas was a bit of a competition. Kids comparing what they received for Christmas and how many gifts they had to open. Even the lead up to Christmas saw a tally of how many Christmas cards you had to hand out or receive during recess and lunch. Slowly, I began to feel that maybe my Christmas wasn’t living up to what it should be. In lieu of my thoughtful yet modest Santa haul, I joined in with stories of just how many gifts I received. Even if they were a figment of my imagination in order to fit in with the school yard status quo.
As I reflect now, on the way I construct a Christmas celebration for my own children, I can’t help but acknowledge that part of the consumer driven Christmas starts right here, in the early years amongst peers in the schoolyard and alongside a collective view of what Christmas is about.
The way I view Christmas has evolved over the years. I’ve spent my share of days with Christmas anxiety, pondering if the price tag on the gifts I have chosen adequately expresses my love or appreciation for friends and family. I’ve pounded the pavement of shopping malls alongside a flurry of fellow pre- Christmas shoppers, scouring the shelves for the perfect gift, wrapping paper and cards to place under my plastic tree littered with plastic baubles and fairy lights.
I’ve also played the role of the Christmas grinch. Frustrated by Christmas Spirit and overwhelmed by the consumer driven holiday, forced family lunches and present buying.
I’ve had proper white Christmases, lonely Christmases, boozy Christmases and now, into my mid thirties I feel I am finally finding the right type of Christmas for me.
Over the years I’ve struggled to understand what the true meaning of Christmas is and why it has evolved into what it is today. One of the most unsustainable yet widely celebrated festive periods on earth. Statistics show that our global waste increases around 30% during the festive season. We also use enough gift wrap to wrap around the earth nearly four times. *
Like any historical records, there are various legends, myths and commonly accepted ‘truths’ that become ingrained into our culture.
Celebrating the birth of Christ on this day is one largely accepted truth. There is also historical evidence that suggests 25th December is the celebrated birthday of Sol Invictus, the Roman sun god or ‘Unconquered Sun,’ along with the celebration of the Winter solstice, marking the return of the sun and longer days.
It dawned on me that tradition, is open to interpretation and must evolve as we do as a species. It is up to us to understand what we are celebrating on an individual as well as a collective level and how we can begin to explore an antidote to what has become a hugely over consumed festive season.
Like any evolutionary steps it starts with our own practices, thoughts, beliefs and willingness to step into change, regardless of what the status quo will have you believe.
For children, our future generations as well as the future humans that will be cleaning up the mess we leave, there is a lovely simple gifting technique.
‘Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read’.
When we have the bases covered we ask family members to contribute the cost of a gift into the kids bank accounts instead. Pretty sure they will appreciate buying their own car as a teenager more than years worth of forgotten token gifts.
Supporting artisans, small businesses, op shops and handmade love.
To be frank, mass production of cheaply and poorly made goods is f$cked. They don’t last, they use valuable resources to be manufactured and for the most part they end up in landfill. Supporting independently owned businesses, your local community, recirculating pre-loved wares and even simply making things like jars of cookies, or ceramic Christmas decorations or mugs shows so much thought and love and brings a sense of connectedness to the businesses you are supporting and the people you are gifting to.
Try to avoid purchasing anything that comes in plastic. There is no need for a roll of wrapping paper or single greeting card to come in un-recyclable plastic.
If you are buying from sustainable brands and businesses, they should be on top of plastic free initiatives already.
Opt for recyclable or compostable gift wrap like butchers paper, up-cycled scarves, tea towels or beeswax wraps, twine, paper tape, and decorate with beautifully dried citrus rings, dried flowers or shells.
For a lot of people Christmas is a really lonely time. While many are celebrating there are just as many living in poverty, in abusive households, newly divorced or bereaved, homeless and hungry. You never know what is happening in someone’s life, particularly a stranger you pass on the street or a fellow shopper that stands before you at the checkout. Find a way to participate and educate others in extending loving kindness to those that may be less fortunate or going through a really difficult situation.
There are so many organisations that require volunteers for gift wrapping, meal delivery, food and blankets for homeless and fostering animals.
Christmas can be a really beautiful time of year, and the more you delve into the purpose and begin to unwrap your own beliefs, you too might see a celebration that honours life, kindness and community beyond a tale of credit card debt, waste and consumerism.
As for the Christmas I’ve finally settled on. You’ll find me out in the bush with people I love the most. There’ll be dips in the creek amongst the white gum trees, burnt campfire food, limited wi-fi but lots of memories.
Merry Christmas to all xo - Jane Deane