This Christmas, We Should Take a Lesson From the Germans

©. K Martinko – Christmas market in Zurich, Switzerland

Stand around a fire and sip mulled wine. Skip the last-minute shopping. Give time, not stuff.

No one experiences the fallout from rampant consumerism at Christmastime quite like the garbage collectors do. They are the ones who have to stop at every house and pick up the heaps of non-recyclable wrapping paper, boxes, ribbons, cards, and even unwanted gifts in the days following the holidays. As a result, they get a front-row seat in the absurdity of it all.

Berlin's waste collection service, BSR, is speaking out against this, urging people to give "time, not stuff" this year. It suggests that the holiday season might be more meaningful if people obsessed less over physical gifts and focused more on spending quality time with each other:

"People squeeze into shopping temples and package couriers can hardly keep up with the deliveries... is that really what this joyful day is all about? One of our most precious commodities is our time, so that’s what you should gift. How about an evening of cooking with someone, or a trip to a concert or cinema? Everyone likes to have nice memories."

But Germans aren't even the worst when it comes to shopping. In a delightful op-ed for the Globe and Mail this past weekend, staff writer Elizabeth Renzetti, who is based in Berlin, described the slow pace of life amid the famous German Christmas markets and suggests that we could all learn something from this custom. She wrote,

"They came, maybe they bought an ornament or a balloon for their kids, and then they stood around eating sausages and drinking gluehwein... They stared into the fire, or chatted with friends. Almost no one had their phones out. It felt as though there was a life lesson on display: Here was a way to be quiet, communal and generally purposeless, even in the middle of the most frenzied season of the most frenzied year at the end of a truly bonkers decade."

The Germans, Renzetti says, could teach us to relax. They are famously productive, despite working fewer total hours than most Western countries. They honor Sunday quiet time, frown upon shopping seven days a week, and commonly use the expression "I'm loafing" as a respectable reason not to go out.

And yet, BSR must still think there's room for improvement, that Germans should pare back the Christmas consumerism to allow for even more downtime. Imagine what BSR would say about us Americans and Canadians, with our extravagant shopping habits and piles of presents under the tree. For us, their message is even more relevant. We could all benefit from less time at the shopping mall, and more at the Christmas market.

Keep that in mind before you rush out to do some last-minute shopping. Maybe baking a batch of homemade cookies and mulling a pot of wine to share would have a more lasting effect on a friend than a hastily wrapped present. And there wouldn't be any trash to put out, either.