At possibly no other time of the year does irresponsible and flagrant consumerism raise an uglier head than it does at the Christmas holiday. Influenced by a vague sense of tradition (or habit) and impelled by emotions ranging from euphoria to panic, otherwise sensible people are capable of embarking upon shopping sprees which at other times of the year would bé disgraceful. What should be a peaceful celebration of brotherhood and good will is quickly lost in the shuffle as shoppers vie with one another for merchandise and parking space, and buy with few guidelines other than fulfillment of obligation. The madness starts inconspicuously enough in early September (July in some parts) with a small but ominous trickle of bulk mail Christmas catalogs. The number of living trees lost to the process of generating junk mail to advertise everything from children's war toys to high-priced cheese wheels is unconscionable. In retail stores, synthetic evergreens (and evergolds, everpinks, etc.) sprout up as if by magie, decorated with plastic and nylon ornaments, and illuminated by truly weird and wasteful light displays. Paper products line the aisles, making a brief appearance on the continuüm from tree to landfïll as greeting cards, wrapping paper, and gift bdxes. As the season progresses, the pace becomes more frantic. Stores' halls are decked with flashy arrays of energy-consuming Christmas lights, while incongruous combina tions of nativity scènes, Santas, angels, and elves glut the eye and befuddle the mind. Wreaths, garlands, arrangements of fruit, and other holiday decorations are set out for sale, some looking fairly natural from a distance, but immortalized in every type of plastic and synthetic substance known to the human race. Shopping is accompanied by bouncy Christmas tunes and an occasional sédate carol, with an underlying, but perceptible, mantra of "Buy. Spend. Charge It." Glitzy ads promising sales and values lure shoppers into areas where they otherwise would not dare to tread. Sadly , the hype and pressure seem to work. The amount of common sense consumers employ during this time appears to be inversely proportional to the "Number of Shópping Days Left 'Til Christmas." Trips to the mails become more hurried and less planned, resulting in inefficiënt use of time and fuel, not to mention wear and tear on feet and nerves. So what has become of the true spirit of Christmas? Of celebrating life and the love of fam ily and friends? Of giving from the heart? As the contents of many dumpsters will attest to on the days immediately following Christmas, many gifts are purchased with little thought for the needs or preferences of the recipients. A gift is a token of shared feelings of friendship; its meaning lies in its simple statement of fondness and mutual regard. A gift's worth is not determined by the number of dollars exchanged for it, butratherby the thoughtand feeling invested in it. Your gift might be something you could make yourself; a natural handmadc wreath, ajar of jam made from last summer's berries, a carefully wrought piece of craftwork all make elegant gifts. Consider the special interests and concerns of friends and family members. Send a contribution to a worthy organization in the recipient's name, or give a membership or subscription. This gift will help support the organization (there are literally hundreds of groups from which to choose, from political parties to nature preservation groups to alternative newspapers), and will benefit the recipiënt as well. Spend some time together cultivating a mutual interest, whether it's cross-country skiing,wine-making,orplayingwithfïngerpaints. If you sincerely enjoy the act of shopping, whether it's in-store or mail order, extract yourself from the mainstream and seek out socially andor environmentallyresponsiblebusinessesandshops. Farmers' markets and people's co-ops, for example, offer items made by local craftspeople, along with fresh, in-season, locally grown fixings for holiday meals and parties. Some mail-order coops offer green items such as greeting cards and gift wrap made of recycled paper, compact fluorescent light bulbs and other household essentials (not festive but extremely useful), and books with a conscience, as well as beautiful items handmade by people of World countries. Dealing with businesses that are mindful of their obligations to a sustainable market is a refreshing experience in any case, and should not be overlooked. In regard to Christmas trees, do not be hesitant to cut down and buy a real evergreen from a reputable tree farm. On these farms, evergreens are grown sustainably and harvested as a erop. Do not, however, buy from a tree lot if you suspect the trees have been harvested illegally from private or public land. Better yet, buy a living tree (with roots potted or burlapped) from a nursery, and plant it for Christmas. Trees indoors and out can be decorated with strings of popcorn and cranberries; add candy canes, cookies, and handmade paper ornaments to the tree kept inside. After Christmas, a cut tree can be set outside and used as welcome winter cover for birds and small mammals, or chipped up for next spring's mulch. Offer the strings of cranberries and popcorn to the backyard wildlife; they will judge whether or not they need the extra food. This year, treat yourself to a serene and meaningful holiday season. Allow yourself the time to enjoy the get-togethers with people you care about. Permit yourself to feel reverence for our beautiful earth and the life it engenders, including your own. Be creative in making and choosing gifts; buy sensibly and with concern for our partners on this planet, human and otherwise. Peace on earth and good will to us all.
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