By Lynn Fitz-Hugh

All of us are going to experience the holidays differently this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. From Thanksgiving, to Christmas and New Year’s, big family gatherings may be trimmed down or not happening at all.  There will be no office Holiday parties or even Christmas parties. Concerts and plays and other special events…so many traditional gatherings are not happening or are happening over the internet.   For those who take joy in these kinds of events this will be another way COVID-19 has negatively impacted 2020.

However, as we are rethinking how we attempt to celebrate the holidays season this year, it also gives us a chance to rethink how we reduce our carbon footprint around the holidays every year. Traditionally, retail has, of course, a big bump in sales during the holiday season. Influenced by the dominance of Christmas in US culture, those following faiths other than Christian have created some sort of gift giving during this period, that would not have traditionally occurred.  For many people a lot of material things are purchased in November and December of each year. Stocking traditions often involve cheap little do-das that would have not otherwise been purchased. 

And yet underneath it, this is supposed to be a celebration first in November of Giving Thanks, and in December of love, miracles, and a vision for peace. So how can we return to some of those values, while thinking about reducing greenhouse gases?  Certainly, a trend in the last few years is to give experiences and services over objects.  Examples, pre COVID-19, would be: pay for a massage, a weekend at a B&B, classes (art, dance, music, etc.), tickets to a local sports game, a pedicure, several hours of handyman services, show tickets, a ski pass, trips to local museums and amusement parks, and so forth. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, some of these experiences are not available at the moment, and some of them like massage for example, while happening may not feel safe to you and your loved one. 

In some cases you may have to handcraft your own gift certificate that says “Good for 1 concert of your choice once they are happening” because there are no current listings for which you can buy tickets.  You can also look into services that are now available online; for example, one of my friends is learning to play the piano over Zoom. Giving restaurant gift certificates is certainly a good way to help keep restaurants in business and can be redeemed after the pandemic if your loved one does not feel comfortable getting takeout.   For the most part this kind of giving can even be done for family and friends in other cities if you research the local museums, restaurants, or know their favorites.

If you must give an object as a present, then there are low-end GHG gifts you can purchase, like a gift certificate to a nursery, books, special foods and drinks (hopefully grown in earth friendly ways), or pieces of art. Things to especially avoid would be plastic items (100% fossil fuels) and items that you know require a lot of energy in their production.

And then there is the option of giving a service yourself.  When my kids were young and did not have money they would often give me a gift certificate “booklet” that included things like “will clear the dishes without complaining;”  “will do a chore that is not mine;” “will shovel the snow when it snows,” etc. These certainly were welcome gifts. Do you have a talent for crafting? Most of us have more time with the pandemic nowadays, so this can become a possibility. 

Then there is the question of how to make this holiday fun when we cannot do the things we usually do. Both my parents grew up in the Great Depression, so they had traditions for holidays that were low on money and high on engagement. So, for example there was often a lot of baking done during this time, so that a variety of cookies and bars could fill plates that were given to neighbors, friends and even the mail carrier! In my family every year since my daughter was born we have made gingerbread cookies with elaborate decorations.  We spend hours upon hours working on this, while listening to Christmas music.

Many families make a field trip out of getting a Christmas tree and the decorating of it, or decorating the house during other solstice traditions. Have you ever made ornaments? If you have to do the lights, they now make LED ones – consider switching, this is the one time throwing something out actually saves more for the planet. What if you use some of your “vacation time” to reach out to old friends that you don’t normally talk to and spend more time connecting?

Lastly, there is the issue of connecting with family members that normally fly to be together during this time, but are choosing not to take a risk this year. We have all been learning how many things we can watch each other do on Zoom. For example, grandparents could actually watch grandchildren open their presents. But some folks have been experimenting with parallel play. Did you know that if you have access to your favorite holiday movie on a streaming service, you can screen share it during a Zoom call, so you are “watching the movie together”? Just make sure to not overlook the button for the sound sharing when you are sharing your screen. A creative millennial I know created a family “jeopardy” game with categories connected to family history, jokes and quirks.  She carefully crafted 4 questions in each category.  The family divided into two teams and played this game for an hour with howls of laughter.  Charades is also possible on Zoom, and there are a precious few board games that can be creatively played on zoom. Regardless of the route your family chooses to take, this holiday season will be different than those in the past, but that does not mean you can’t enjoy a creative, unique, and love filled holiday season. 

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