By Aaron Cooper and the staff of Lutherans Restoring Creation
As we embark on the Advent season in November, we await not only the birth of the Christ child but also the onset of a new creation.
Jesus’ whole life bore witness to this. His announcement of the arrival of God’s kingdom inaugurated the restoration of all creation. His death served to reconcile all things in heaven and Earth. His resurrection marked the renewal of all things.
So, at Christmas, we celebrate the birth of one whose appearance showed that God so loved the “whole world.”
And it was a simple birth: Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus swaddled, lying in a manger without fanfare or excess. So before you find yourself caught up in another countdown to Christmas when there is less and less time to evaluate your priorities, take time now to think about how you can simplify your Christmas and celebrate the blessed birth in a more Earth-friendly and responsible manner.
Here are suggestions on how you can incorporate a simpler, greener approach to Christmas this year:
Instead of each person in your family or gift circle exchanging individual gifts with each other, draw names and let each one give to one person only. Reduce plastic and paper by shopping with reusable bags. Purchase eco-friendly gifts. Buy gently used books, toys and other gifts instead of new ones. Give someone a park pass or an event ticket rather than material items. Offer a service such as childcare or a massage. Give the gift of time: an experience or a trip with your family.
If you are good at making crafts, consider making gifts for your loved ones. Or shop at a local fair-trade store. If you buy traditional gifts, minimize your carbon footprint by purchasing local and energy-efficient gifts that are minimally packaged.
And consider reusable or recycled gift wrap this year. Plan ahead by recycling this year’s paper, bows and ribbon for use next year. Purchase Christmas cards made from recycled paper or send electronic Christmas greetings.
A growing trend of recent years is alternative giving, which many congregations support by holding an alternative giving fair. Alternative gifts in the ELCA include a donation to an ELCA ministry, such as ELCA World Hunger. Visit ELCA Good Gifts for many such options where you can make a donation and even have a card sent to the recipient in his or her honor.
Save and reuse decorations from year to year. Make your own decorations. This can become a wonderful family tradition. Use recycled materials or natural materials like pine cones, leaves and vines. Making your own Christmas wreath out of materials you collected is carbon neutral and positively fun!
Lights: Minimize or eliminate lighting decorations. Use LED lights, which use around 90 percent less energy than incandescent Christmas lights. Look for lights that are Energy Star approved. Remember to conserve energy and not to leave lights on all day or overnight.
Trees: Purchase potted trees, so they can be replanted. Or plant a tree that you could use later for many years outside. In some places, one can even rent a living tree. If you need to dispose of a tree, compost it rather than burning it.
Christmas dinner: Eat local, eat organic and eat low on the food chain. Most grocery stores carry a wide selection of organic products. Consider a subscription to a Community Supported Agriculture program as a source for Christmas dinner or as a gift for the year.
Congregational ideas: Have a thoughtful discussion about meaningful ways to celebrate the birth of Christ. Promote Christmas celebrations that are joyous and yet minimize your congregation’s carbon footprint. Since many congregations decorate with planted poinsettias, try to obtain them from a local farm with fair ecological practices. Hold a Bible study on the implications of the meaning of Christmas and how that ties into being good stewards of our time, money and creation.
According to “Green Christmas: How to Have a Joyous, Eco-Friendly Holiday Season” by Jennifer Sander, Peter Sander and Anne Basye, “Every year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans generate 25 million extra tons of garbage (about 25 percent more than during the rest of the year) and spend billions of dollars on purchases that may trigger an uptick on Wall Street but leave consumers burdened with more debt.”
What can we do to minimize that disproportionate “holiday effect” on God’s creation and spend money, time and energy in a more responsible manner? A lot! And in so doing, we will be giving the greatest honor to God by celebrating Christmas in ways that resonate deeply with the most precious gift of God’s son.