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The Facts:A tremendous amount of waste is created every year during the Christmas season.Reflect On:What is the meaning of Christmas to you? Are gifts the most important part or are you just following along with what has been ingrained in our consumer-driven society?Ahhh it’s that time of year again — everywhere you look decorations, shiny…

  • The Facts:

    A tremendous amount of waste is created every year during the Christmas season.

  • Reflect On:

    What is the meaning of Christmas to you? Are gifts the most important part or are you just following along with what has been ingrained in our consumer-driven society?

Ahhh it’s that time of year again — everywhere you look decorations, shiny lights, Christmas trees and of course, mass consumerism. Yes, it’s me again, some call me Scrooge, I’m here to bust through the notion that Christmas is not Christmas without presents. Because in all honesty, take away the presents and what are we left with? You’re right, it’s not nothing it’s something deeper and more meaningful than material goods; it’s love, connection and family, but it’s also important to recognize that for many it’s a time of grief sorrow and despair, with or without presents. I hate to break it to you, but…

It’ the most wasteful time of the year.

Zero Waste Canada, a Vancouver-based advocacy group, estimates each Canadian tosses about 50 kilograms of garbage over the holidays, 25 per cent more than the rest of the year, thanks to the purchase of 3,000 tonnes of foil, 2.6 billion Christmas cards and six millions rolls of tape.

Altogether, 540,000 tonnes of wrapping paper and gift bags are thrown out each year and many unwanted gifts will be packed into cupboards.

Because of this, many families are attempting to lighten their load, combat clutter and make the holidays much less stressful by cutting out presents completely and opting for experiences, homemade baking and virtual gifts.

Richard Clapman, who works on the Waste and Resource Action Program (WRAP) explains how the younger generations are having an “awakening” in regards to how they feel about the environment and why it may be important to shift away from conventional gift-giving.

“They’re increasingly looking for experiences rather than ‘stuff.’ I think this is partly driven by their concern for the planet, but also because they already have so much stuff.” he told the independent.

Families Going Gift Free

Alexa Tibbs, 35, mother of two children aged 3 years and 8 months decided to give up presents last year after being overwhelmed by the amount of plastic toys given to her children

“Some of the presents I got I used to hide in the cupboard and not even give them to the kids. They get so much,” she told the independent.

“My daughter Lyra was excited about Christmas but didn’t really understand it and completely lost interest in her presents. It was quite embarrassing because there were a few presents she didn’t even bother opening. She liked the wrapping paper more.

“Our family gets bigger and bigger each year and I hate to waste money on presents no one wants,” says Alexia, who added that she used to “panic buy” and spend far too much.

Alexa now donates chickens to a community in rural Africa through a charity called Send A Cow on behalf of her family.

“I love Christmas and it’s still really fun. This year we’re going to do up the shed like Santa’s grotto. He’s not going to be giving out Christmas crap but it’ll be fun, we’ll see friends and I’ll still have my Christmas playlist.

“My mum has such fond memories of Christmas. She was from a poor family and would get a tangerine, an orange, or a bag of nuts at Christmas and she has the most wonderful memories of those tiny little things at this time of year. I know society has completely moved on but I would like my kids to have an element of that – that Christmas is a treat.”

“For my extended family I think not giving presents is a bit of a relief. We can just enjoy spending time together,” she says.

David March, 59, who lives in Great Broughton near the North York Moors, stopped giving and receiving Christmas gifts 25 years ago.

“People look miserable before Christmas. People feel obliged to act in a certain way and it saddens me more than anything – they’re either drunk or stressed to hell,” he also told the independent.

“I have seven siblings and I remember when we were growing up the presents under the tree took up a quarter of the room. When I started working in 1977 I brought presents for all my nephews and nieces and it cost me a whole week’s wages.

“I used to be the same as anyone else. When I heard people talking about the environment, I thought they were just bloody hippies. But then in 1985 I heard about global warming and knew we were in trouble.”

“I decided I didn’t want to go along with this Christmas madness and the crap that comes along with it and I’ve never looked back,” he says.

“Since Christmas Day 2003 every year Natty Dread and me did a 20-mile walk from Tadcaster to York that took us all day. I packed cheese and pickle sandwiches, a couple of chocolate bars and a packet of sherbet lemons, which I could share with Natty Dread. I also used to give him a disgusting thing – a dried pig’s ear – as a once-a-year treat.

“When I first did it I never saw anybody but over the years I saw more and more people doing the same thing as me, I think they’d just had enough of Christmas.”

Stressful Times

Scientists even say that people are most likely to have heart attacks during the Christmas season because of increased emotional stress.

Personally, I stopped buying gifts a few years ago after realizing how meaningless it had become. I have several nieces and nephews, two of which are twins, who just happen to have 8 sets of grandparents! So, you can only imagine the amount of gifts they receive from their grandparents alone, and I can’t say for sure, but there is likely even some competition among all of these grandparents — who can out do the rest? I get it, many people from this generation lived in poverty or during a time when gifts were sparse, so they like to give the children everything they wish they could have received as children. But what I started to notice was that my niece and nephew received so many presents that they would just rip one open, look at it briefly, call out, “Next!” and just keep ripping open gifts, without a care of who it came from or what it even was. They couldn’t help that they were spoiled, but they were! My sister had a closet full of gifts that she would keep from Christmas and donate because they received more gifts than they had room for or would ever have the time to use. This is when I decided to stop buying gifts for them, and start having experiences with them instead.

I am not against Christmas — although in all honesty I’m not even remotely religious, however, I am against consumerism. I take my nieces and nephews sledding, or to the pool or do fun things with them at Christmas, because these are the things that they remember as they get older and they really appreciate the quality time spent with family and, you may have already guessed it — your presence.

Time To Reflect

In preparation for and while celebrating the holidays this year, you may want to ask yourself the following questions…

  • Are you going beyond your means to go all out and buy presents for those who may not even need them?
  • Are you being a conscious consumer and doing what feels right to you, or just following the status quo and what you may have been led to believe that Christmas is all about?
  • Are there other ways that you can celebrate the holidays without the main attraction being on gifts?It still can be fun to open up gifts, so perhaps a Secret Santa gift exchange is worth considering as this will drastically cut down on both waste and consumerism.What is really important to you? Think back to your childhood, and your own memories of Christmas, is it the specific gifts that you remember or other non-material things?

This is an excellent conversation to have with your children and see if they might be motivated to do something of service for those less fortunate during the holiday season. Or consider making or baking gifts instead.

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