While kids are trying to be extra good to avoid coal in the stockings, many grown-ups are looking to deck the halls and display, in every way imaginable, that they have the spirit of the season. Thanks to technology, that expression of “spirit” nowadays means decorations that rival multi-million dollar movies in extravaganza, brilliance, complexity, dazzle…and expense.
I remember as a child my family’s annual ritual of visiting a neighborhood in which every single house and lawn (and tree and fence and shrubbery and…you get me) was covered, blanketed, buried in decorations. Lights, blinking or not, white or multicolor. Contraptions aplenty, such as the Santa with sled and reindeer troop that traveled around the roof on a track. I swear the place was so bright you could probably see it from space.
Now as an old Scrooge, I have watched with amazement and alarm how Christmas decorations have exploded in size, number, and power. Simple lights, wreaths, or even figurines in the yard have become virtually passé, too simple to be properly “spirited.” Once the weather turns cold and children’s thoughts turn to presents under the tree, you can count on seeing towering inflatable characters, animated setups, and lights so bright they blind hapless passersby.
For example, the Wal-Mart website lists this cheery array of outdoor lawn décor such as: Santa Crash in Tree, Santa Claus on Chopper [i.e., motorcycle], 7-Foot Ferris Wheel [yes, it spins], Animated Teeter-Totter–Santa and Reindeer [yes, it moves], Nativity Scene, etc., etc., etc. All inflatable, all highly bright, all under $100. Quite a steal for showing off all that holiday spirit, right?
As dazzling as these displays of holiday spirit may seem, they surely cannot be sustainable or eco-friendly. Lights that bright, contraptions so complex, require extensive electricity to keep them going and going and going…all the way through (and usually well past) New Year’s Day.
In the face of our voracious consumption of natural resources for meeting basic energy needs and the threats of global warming from this and other causes, I have to ask if we can justify going to such lengths in the name of “holiday cheer.” It now seems as if the traditional “Winter Wonderland” can only take the form of a veritable theme park if it is to be truly cheerful.
Instead, why not focus on living in an ecologically responsible manner no matter the season–and limit our exceptions to Christmas cookies? Why not use holidays as the times to cultivate qualities that truly enrich our lives, such as patience and understanding, rather than as reasons to go shopping? And why not brighten our hearts with kindness and generosity rather than light up our lawns with two-storey inflatable rubber snowmen or chopper-riding elves?
I truly fear that the taste for bigger decorations on more occasions needlessly adds to our resource consumption and pollution output. Will we see gargantuan inflatable groundhogs soon, specially priced and highly marketed as a “must have” for showing your spirit?
Of course, I recognize that those folks who put up seasonal decorations, on the small or large scale, probably have their hearts in the right place. It is a natural human trait to have a feeling and want to express it, in this case two feelings: the sacredness of particular times/festivals and bonding through shared values and practices.
But at the same time, this trend with decorations clearly, brightly, dazzlingly symbolizes the sort of myopic prioritizing that limits our ability to make positive changes. An even more poignant, disturbing incident of warped holiday “spirit” is the trampling to death–yes, trampling to death–of a Wal-Mart employee by frenzied Black Friday shoppers in New York. Holidays now seem to be all about what you can buy (cheaper), not what wonders you can give and receive and share.
Our Earth is such a beautiful but fragile place, which means that everything we do has some impact on its state and fate. As rational members of this global community, we must be wise and responsible, for all of our actions (no matter the season) have inevitable consequences–from the stability of ice at the poles (you know, like up where Santa lives) to the number of trees in the forests.
And so as extravagant decorations proliferate, home by home and heart by heart, I worry that all the dreams of a white Christmas will soon become only dreams…when it is too warm for snow.