Friday, December 12, 2008

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Holiday bleatings from EnviRambo.

As all the Christmas decorations lay before me I see the bells that hung on my Grandmother's stairs, the ceramic teddy bears she made that adorned her tree, the handmade fabric mice that scattered the fireplace mantle, the kissing ball none of kids wanted to be caught under, and the nativity we all gathered around. All the memories of Christmases past flooded my mind. I have always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with my Father's family; my Father's whole family. My Grandparents had six children (as many farmers did then), who went on to have multiple children of their own, who now also have children and even some of those children have begun having children. The entire family, five generations, get together every year to celebrate Christmas. Needless to say it's a full house!

The feast was magnificent! Christmas goose and duck, which later when playing outside we made the horrific discovery of where they came from by stumbling across their heads(!); Grandma's sinful potatoes made with a pound of butter and heavy cream, she was always trying to fatten us up; fresh vegetables from the garden that summer; salads, sides and sweet potatoes; meatballs and those slimy little fish all us kids steered clear of; and then, the things all us kids loved, cookies: Oh the cookies! rosettes, no-bake chocolate oatmeal, fudge, sugar cookies, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin -- excuse me while I have a moment. Oh, I almost forgot about the pie with homemade whipping cream!

Forty plus people was too much to all sit at one table, so the men usually congregated in the front room with the television, the women sat in the formal living room near the fireplace, and us kids had our own spot in the greenhouse where we could feed our veggies to the dog and eat all the cookies we wanted without getting caught. We all ate off real plates, with real silverware and drank from glass glasses. There was no dishwasher in the house. All those dirty dishes had to be washed by hand at the end of the night.

After dinner the women chatted over hot apple cider while the men emptied the change from their pockets and started up a round of poker. We kids always ended up in a wrestling match over a game of spoons in the greenhouse. After a couple of knocks on the head, black eyes and bloody noses it was time to nag the parents into letting us open the presents. Everyone bought for everyone. There were a lot of presents. And, a lot of wrapping paper! Although for some reason Grandma always wrapped all her gifts in tissue paper, still does. Put forty people in one room with a bunch of kids hopped up on sugar cookies and loads of wadded up wrapping paper laying around and something is bound to happen. So goes the tradition of the wrapping paper fight. It starts with a single anonymous ball streaming through the air. Followed by another and another. Within minutes it's a virtual wrapping paper blizzard! Not even grandmothers are safe from being whacked up side the head with a paper ball.

Once the hailstorm ends, all the paper and ribbons are gathered up and tossed into the fireplace to burn. All the children gather round to stare in wonder at the rainbow of color given off by the burning paper. This has been a cherished childhood memory of mine. But after a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Present a year ago, when I decided to live a more sustainable life, this memory comes with regret.

When the Ghost of Christmas Present appeared to Scrooge he revealed two children within his robe. A boy whom he called Ignorance and a girl called Want. The spirit warns Scrooge, "Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

If only I had known then what I know now. If only. The wrapping paper fight continues today, minus the burning -- thank heavens. As I think of Christmases Yet to Come, I hope to start a new tradition. One without wrapping paper. I generally wrap gifts in whatever I have on hand: newspaper, coloring book pages, children's art, brown kraft paper, last year's holiday cards. But that does not mean I can avoid my husband buying the stuff. This is our last year with wrapping paper of any kind. I have scribed it on the "forbidden list". Once it's gone, it's gone! When you stop to think about it, as with all disposables, it seems silly to buy something, use it once, and throw it away!

Americans are paper gluttons. According to the Worldwatch Institute, the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes 30 percent of the world’s paper. Paper and cardboard make up over 40% of the solid waste buried in North American landfills.

And as much waste as Americans produce the rest of the year, it only gets worse during the holidays. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans throw away more than a million tons of additional garbage. Care to think about how many of those hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage are holiday wrapping paper?

The manufacture of wrapping paper requires energy. That energy most likely comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere. And the raw material for paper is wood. Millions of trees are cut down just to make the holiday wrapping paper that looks good on your presents but that quickly gets ripped off and thrown away.

By wrapping six gifts with found materials, you will reduce CO2 emissions by two pounds and save a few bucks, too!

Give the people on your list their gift in a reusable shopping bag this year, hint hint. I also love the tip of using a CFL instead of a bow. Love shiny packages under your tree? Wrap with recycled aluminum foil. Use last year's holiday cards as this year's gift tags. While you are at it, skip the tape. It is made from petroleum. Use string or fabric strips instead, like this. Want more inspiration? Check out GAIAM life's Top 10 Green Gift Wrap Ideas. And if you cannot bear the thought of giving up all those pretty paper wrapped presents think of using sustainable wrapping, like these beauties from Paper mojo.

As the world becomes more sensitive to sustainability I hope that a visit from the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come does not bring with it all gloom and doom.

I believe we are on the cusp of a great movement. If only we heed the warning of the Ghost of Christmas Present. "Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy [Ignorance], for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased." If only.


Joyce said...

Are you sure we aren't related? Your Christmases past sound so much like mine!

Green Bean said...

Great tips for avoiding the paper waste. Don't forget gift bags and tins - I just reuse stuff that I've been given and then drift on to the boys' art work. I need to try the latter without tape though.

Also, alot of waste, I suspect is from packaging. Every buy your kid a new toy? It's encased in plastic, held tight with tape and twist ties and tucked neatly into a paper box. All that makes a lot of garbage. Buying used avoids all that.

Great post.

Jen from CleanBin said...

Great post. I love the imagery of your Christmases past. I know you were burning paper, but at least you were using real silverware!

Thanks for putting out all those interesting stats about paper consumption in America. It makes me think twice about excess cardboard packaging - even if it is recyclable.

Maybe you can change your wrapping paper fight into cloth bag fight.. . ... .


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