Many of us use the holidays or vacations as an excuse to disregard what we would normally do in everyday life. We eat and drink too much, indulge in the excesses of the season and then spend our New Year’s resolutions trying to make up for it. We give ourselves permission to let go of the rules that we live by most of the year.
But does the same apply to our values? Do the things we believe in and fight for all year get put to the side during the holidays, using the holiday excuse to dismiss any guilt we might feel?
Cheating on your Eco-Diet
For many, environmental consciousness is like a diet, something that we work hard at most of the year – avoiding plastics, reducing fossil fuel consumption, trimming our environmental waistline. But this culture of indulging at the holidays can have a long-term impact on the environment, increasing our waste and carbon footprint in ways that can’t be negated by a New Year’s eco-diet. The locavore’s diet might give way to the temptations of imported mandarin oranges and wines, the vegetarian to the factory-farmed turkey and stuffing, the minimalist to the gift-giving expectations, and the eco-warrior knuckles under the pressure not to “talk about that stuff during the holidays.” In the same way of the dieter, we try to ignore our own guilt, saying it’s the holidays, and we’ll get back to our normal routine in the new year.
But our values shape the way that we see the world, and the guilt is sometimes much more difficult to shake off.
Solutions may take many years to implement, because it is often not just about changing yourself, but also changing those around you, and as any eco-warrior will tell you, hounding your family members during the holidays about their bad eco-habits will get you nowhere. Holidays often have a family focus, and without any change from others, it can be difficult to maintain change for yourself. But there are some simple things that you can do to start towards a more eco-friendly, and less guilty, holiday season:
- Request no wrapping paper. Simple, and usually relatively easy for everyone to get on board. Instead, wrap items in recycled materials like newspaper or home-decorated recycled paper, or in usable items like tea towels and shopping bags. Consider having a set of gift bags that are used each year.
- Suggest that family gifts be consumable or experience-based, because most people will appreciate good wine, cheese, homemade goods, or tickets to a local concert, game or event.
- Buy the kind of food you want to eat, don’t rely on what others provide. If you want a free-range, organic turkey on the table (even if you’re not going to eat it!), buy it yourself. Offer to make locally sourced desserts like apple or pumpkin (from an actual pumpkin) pie. Bring fair trade, organic chocolates and coffee. Support local businesses with local wines and beers.
- Plan Boxing Day activities, to encourage alternatives to excessive consumerism. A day full of food and fun will often be more tempting that battling the crowds at the mall.
- Offer to wash dishes so the host does not need to use paper plates and plastic forks, and as the host, don’t feel pressured to clean up too quickly – a disappeared glass just means someone will use another one, which then needs to be washed.
- Give back. Many charities depend on donations received during the holidays, so consider donating to a favourite charity on someone’s behalf (choose their favourite charity, not yours). This works as a stocking stuffer, host/ess gift, office secret santa, or any other kind of gift.
Taking a much needed break during the holidays doesn’t mean you need to take a break from your values. Find ways to infuse them into your traditions, and by making changes manageable over time, you may find others changing too.