Darken Decorations and Brighten Hearts This Holiday Season

Now that Thanksgiving and Black Friday have come and gone, people and stores everywhere are gearing up for the next big holiday season: Christmas.

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.

Image credit: Infrogmation at Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Concetta

    Justin, you’re not as much of an Old Scrooge here.

    Its just not right how much power is being used to celebrate every holiday, not just Christmas, anymore.

    It was wonderful to get visited by children in my neighborhood handing out brochures to “please limit your decorations” this year – and they listed the amount of power that could be saved by changing Xmas lights to LEDs, putting lights/inflatables on a timer, and limiting the time inflatables are up in the yard (personally, I think those things are an abomination, but if people have to have them…).

    Its good to know that the kids care, and hopefully they’ll change some parents minds.

    I remember my parents house being the brightest one on the block…with four trees in the yard with one strand of lights on each. And that was in the 90s! Now I go to their place and its a sea of inflatables, lights, and lit statues. Its not as spirit warming as you would think – I get kinda sad to know that these people aren’t thinking of anything other than how to outdo their neighbors display at Xmas.

  2. Rayne

    With the holiday seasons coming fast and it already being December 3rd I have been giving alot of thought on how to balance having a great christmas and keeping things as green and eco friendly as possible. Like creating wrapping out of fabric that people can reuse to cutting down on the amounts of lights we usually have up.

    I’ve also started to try and buy all my gifts as green as possible. My friend sent me a great site that really helps with ideas that aren’t only green but totally interesting as well. http://www.sweetguides.ca is a total helpful resource for me this christmas! Between picky people and keeping things sustainable it HAS been a chore.

  3. Justin Van Kleeck

    Concetta, I am glad we share the same “spirit” (Scrooge-ish or not!). Your anecdote about the eco-friendly children is really heartwarming. I hope that more examples of that sort of thing get shared in the future.

    And Rayne, it sounds like you have been doing your “chores” in great ways. Amidst the many saddening cases of unsustainable holiday celebrations, I try to remember that folks such as you are working to right the balance.

  4. Bobby B.

    Concetta – The kids would not care were it not for the indoctrination going on via the media and the school systems. Christmas is about the Hope of Christianity, so it is no wonder that liberals (and greens) try to alter its traditional observance a little more each year.

    Rayne – Rather than using reusable fabric wrapping materials that probably originated in some third world sweatshop, why not recycle the comics from your local newspaper as wrapping paper? In fact, what would be more appropriate that using newsprint to wrap up some of those little blue boxes and enclosing instructions on how to recycle that “fancy” wrapping paper?

    Justin – I do a little lawn decorating to celebrate Christmas, and as you could probably guess, my primary outdoor light is the old C9. I like the retro look that the big bulbs provide, and the fact that if one burns out the rest of the strand continues to work. As far as worrying “that all the dreams of a white Christmas will soon become only dreams…when it is too warm for snow”, I would not be too concerned. The global temperature readings have been in decline for about a decade and this year the record snowfalls began in October; even though Dr. Hansen and GISS got caught cooking the numbers (again) to force the data to show that it was the warmest October on record. Put the “www” in front of the following URL to read the story:


  5. A.E. Sabo

    Coming from a long line of family artists and outdoorzies folk, Christmas was all about decorating as bold and as natural as possible. Fresh garland of fir, florals and fruit and a tree full of homemade ornaments were commonplace and my mother’s famous bay window mural recreation of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ was our grand gesture to the neighborhood (Mom always new how to gather a crowd.)

    I don’t get all the plastic, electronic, coldness of it all today. If it’s fire retardant, can’t melt on the sun or needs a million volts to operate, it’s seems to be a ‘must have’ by every impulse shopper with a coupon and a inch of yard to fill.

    Many thanks to Justin for this article.

  6. Justin Van Kleeck

    Thank you, A.E., for your comments. I am right with you. Decorations are a fine COMPLIMENT to holiday spirit, but nowadays it just seems to have become a farce. And I am only 29 years old! I can only imagine what some older folks think of the glitz, glamor, and egregiousness of today’s decorating trends.

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