Has Christmas Jumped the Shark?


Photo credit: willc2 via flickr Creative Commons.

Last week, when I normally would've received dozens of Christmas cards and boxes filled with chocolates, paperweights, T-shirts, and other ephemera from business colleagues and friends, a funny thing happened. They didn't arrive. Or at least, not in their usual bulk. Instead, my email inbox started teeming with "Happy Holidays" subject headers announcing the senders' best wishes. Meanwhile, people like my mom--who's no environmental purist--announced that she had foregone gifts for her clients and in-laws in favor of donations to charity ("whether they like it or not," she noted). This sudden dematerialization of presents had me wondering: Could it be that Christmas as we know it has finally jumped the shark?Holiday e-cards, of course, are nothing new. But the messages within them are. "I'm doing my usual and foregoing Christmas cards," read one to a friend of mine, due to "of course, the environmental aspect." A donation had also been made to two earthy non-profits. Another from a TreeHugger staffer said that, "in lieu of cards I have bought a day of support for Architecture for Humanity." Sure, these notes came from green types whose M.O. is to save the planet. But the sentiment to green the holidays has spread well beyond the realm of environmental types.

This year, my mother also declared that my family would do a "grab"--each person bought for only one other and not the whole lot. (What a relief.) Another friend, who owns a children's shop, reported a remarkable spike in sales of heirloom-quality nontoxic wooden toys, no doubt due to the lead-paint scare. I'm sure there will always be shoppers lined up outside Best Buy's 4 a.m. holiday sales in hopes of finding that discounted flat-screen TV, but from my perspective, the quality-over-quantity revolution has definitely begun.

Homes, businesses, and cities across the U.S. have made the switch to energy-efficient holiday LED string lights--and when Rockefeller Center goes green for Christmas, you know something big is happening. Everywhere around me this season, people were discussing the merits of live versus fake trees. And green gift guides--from expected sources such as TreeHugger and Yahoo! Green along with less obvious ones from places such as Barneys New York--were practically de rigueur this season. One friend announced, much to my surprise, that all of her purchases would be green this year. And even Santa Claus himself has made a strategic move away from coal-based plastics (wink, wink).

While MSM giants like the New York Times questioned whether such green gifting tactics are preachy and grinch-like, the documentary film "What Would Jesus Buy"-- produced by Super Size Me superstar Morgan Spurlock--explores our cultural love affair with rampant, if meaningless, consumerism, making a solid case for this new cultural shift. Meanwhile, a TreeHugger post pointed to Hannukuh as the original green holiday: Though gentile kids around the world have long jealously perceived the holiday as an eight-day stretch of gift-giving, TH contributor Karin Kloosterman declares that it's really all about resource efficiency--making one day's worth of oil last for more than a week.

I imagine there will always be people on my list who won't appreciate a carbon credit gift card or having a wild animal adopted in their honor and I'll probably always buy presents for little ones (and a few kids-at-heart, too) whose faces light up at the sight of unknown joys wrapped in shiny packages under the tree. But if our overactive shopping habits are on the downswing for the long haul, that would be just fine by me.

Tags: Consumerism | Dematerialization

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