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This holiday season, focus on the little things

Consider your gifts’ environmental effects

Thoughts on Earth.    Erica Bjelland
Thoughts on Earth. Erica Bjelland

It’s beginning to feel a lot like the holiday season: Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas concerts are in full swing, decorations are up, the hot cocoa is brewing, there is snow on the ground and break is right around the corner. Maybe you have even started to write your Christmas list and buy gifts for friends and family. As much as we like to complain about the large amounts of snow, the high winds that leave your face numb and this stressful time of finals for college students, I think this time of year is incredibly exciting and cozy. In Norwegian, there’s a word that doesn’t translate to English for all of those indescribable feelings of warmth with the people you love: “koselig.” For me, the koselig feelings come when the coldness and the snow on the ground fosters more walks in the snow bundled up with friends and family and deep conversations while eating Christmas cookies. The end of the year and the semester reminds me of all that has happened the past year, good and bad, and the beautiful people and beings that I shared it with.

That’s the beauty: for some reason the end of lots of daylight and the beginning of the cold can make people bundle up with the warmth of each other. This can and does happen any time, but for me it is heightened at this time of year. Unfortunately, that is often masked by the incredible amount of consumption at this time of year. The massive amount of things that you might never use again furthers the cycle of mining the environment for selfish needs. I’m not trying to say all gifts are bad. There can be great value in giving a meaningful gift to show you love and care about someone. Gifts can be great, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t love receiving presents, but I also would be fine receiving no material gifts for Christmas.

Here comes the cliché you have probably heard, but it really rings true: often the real gifts are in the people and places around you. A capitalistic society teaches us that we need material things to live better and be happy. Just look at the commercials on TV right now saying you’ll be happier if you just buy one more sweater on sale or that the real way to show a loved one you care about them is to buy them a diamond necklace. That’s nice, but just not always true. My favorite moments with the people I love are the ones I can’t even express through words: when I’m walking down the street in the snow with my best friend or laughing about something that happened ten years ago. It’s the koselig moments of life I remember the most, not the necklace I was given that one time.

The shopping you do this year doesn’t have to include purchasing something super expensive. I also don’t think you’re hurting the economy or society by not giving in to buying “all the things” for people this year. Those diamonds in your necklace may come from a place where the people extracting them are not paid a fair wage, are treated unfairly and the environment is destroyed solely for profit. The sweater you are taught to feel like you need may come from far away and be made by someone you’ll never know and whose story you’ll never hear. You may have heard these things before — that you should know where your things come from and that the capitalist system is not sustainable, but what we’re taught tells us that buying another thing may also make us feel better. That doesn’t seem like more to me. That seems like a hollow way to comfort ourselves in trying to mend a societal system that just isn’t working. But there is hope in changing those hollow feelings temporarily plugged by buying something new. That hope lies in the simple, yet totally complex relationships and love we can share with one another. A Harvard-educated economist, Charles Eisenstein, sums this up better than I ever could: “I disagree with those environmentalists who say we are going to have to make do with less. In fact, we are going to have to make do with more: more beauty, more art, more music, and material objects that are fewer in number but superior in utility and aesthetics. The cheap stuff that fills our lives today, however great its quantity, can only cheapen life.”

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