This guest column is by Winona LaDuke, an activist who lives and works on the White Earth reservation.
I want my Christmas back. Now that’s a lot to say for someone like me who isn’t even a Christian. Let’s say I celebrate throughout this season the Solstice, the miracle of the Maccabees at Hanukkah, and the time of reflection brought by the new year. Somewhere in that, there’s always Christmas, and the idea of generosity, kindness, warming together, creating light in the darkest time of the year, hope and promise. I’m all about that. I just don’t like all the stuff.
Let me put it this way, the stores make me panic. I feel like I’m walking into a major trash crisis in the making. I know all that plastic stuff is going to be let out of the store. A bunch of it will come to my house, and a bunch of it is going to make garbage at landfills. I’ve self diagnosed myself with Materials Economy Anxiety, we call it MEA.
Here’s my thinking: There’s just too much shopping and stuff. Amazon and Walmart are gobbling up the world as retail Wiindigoos, and there’s going to be a big chunk of waste after this Christmas. A bunch of that is going to be plastic, and a bunch of that is never going to go away, that’s wrong and un-Christmaslike. That’s my call.
“More often than not, after a short useful life, plastic objects embark on what’s likely to be a centuries long afterlife as trash,” according to the December issue of National Geographic. For just our daily hauls, we’re doing about a million plastic bottles a minute in this world of ours and tossing about 24 million pairs of plastic shoes annually into the landfill. The happy consumeristic Americans we are, make about seven pounds of municipal landfill garbage, that’s daily, each of us.
Christmas is consumerism on steroids. And, it’s a funny thing, but we don’t talk about it much in the U.S. We just shop. Other countries talk about their consumption problems openly: England will slog through 227,000 miles of wrapping paper, 4,500 tons of tin foil and 125,000 tons of plastic packaging in the Christmas season. Australia will do something similar: spending around $11 billion a year on Christmas gifts, with an estimated over 20 million unwanted gifts, and a lot of stress from shopping finances.
My own hypocrisy: I am a sucker for the lights. I’ve got to admit. I really like the white ones and the blue ones. All cool. Really, but the crazy thing is that America’s light bill for our Christmas lights may top the entire national electrical consumption of El Salvador or Ethiopia. Just for Christmas lights. That’s according to a study in 2008, 11 years ago.
It really seems like Whoville needs to chill out.
Honest, I’m not a Grinch. I’m a grandmother. And those 60 winters mean I should have some street credibility in evaluating Christmas. So, here’s my thinking: Let’s dial it back a bit. Let’s be the people who cook more, make more things ourselves, upscale or maybe just be generous. Let’s quit hoarding. And maybe even cut back on the big eating. I am sure not going to get into my ski bunny outfit if I eat many more Christmas cookies.
For my therapy session, I am going to take a few more deep breaths and walk into those stores as little as possible. I’m going to sew, bead, and generally be as thoughtful as I can, because I don’t want to waste anything in this life. And, after I’ve been inundated by Christmas songs in every establishment I patronize, I’m going home to listen to Steve Earle’s "Jerusalem" and Matisyahu’s song of the same name. Then the sounds of silence, or maybe the wind in the trees. That’s a good soundtrack as well.
Then I take another few breaths. This week I am going to practice with a horse and prepare for that one-horse open sleigh. I think I’ve got all the parts for it. Now I need the time, some nerves, and maybe some fine tuning on those shanks …. This is the year to let her rock.
May the Creator watch over us all in these times, and we return our gratitude to her. Greetings my relatives for this season, let us be warm and have peace on Earth.