AS I SEE IT: Ways to green the upcoming holidays
Originally posted in in the Princeton (NJ) Packet (http://bit.ly/sy6DlG)
By Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins
Dr. Dov Peretz Elkins is rabbi emeritus of The Jewish Center of Princeton and a member of Sustainable Princeton (www.SustainablePrinceton.org). His most recent book is “Simple Actions for Jews to Help Green the Planet", which can be purchased at http://bit.ly/uoUGDx.
Why is a rabbi writing about Christmas?
Hanukkah, sure . . . but Christmas!
Answer: “Have we not all one Father, has not one God created us all?” (Malachai 2:10)
Any clergy could have written this piece, because we all agree on the essentials of justice, peace and preserving our planet, God’s gift to us all. All religions revere the life-giving preciousness of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat.
So how can the major winter holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, etc.) bring us more light at the very time when we get the least light? How do we give our thanks to our creator for the gifts of life, even when the dark skies shake us from our faith? Must we not do so in a manner that sustains life, and not damages it?
Thus the central question: How can we green the winter holidays?
The three pillars of the environmental movement, the effort to be certain that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren have a planet at least as beautiful and healthy as the one we have, are: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Our lives are crowded with “stuff.” Gadgets, accessories, all the latest fashion . . . “must haves.” Mostly stuff that we rarely wear, use, or play with, and which often goes into the trash almost as good as new.
With so much poverty in our country and around the world, the rampant materialism of our society is a major religious sin.
Take action: give fewer and smaller gifts. Give meaningful, useful gifts, like books (preferably e-versions), music (also digital), plants, board games to play as a family.
Send e-cards, or hand-made ones instead of store-bought canned messages written by a stranger. Give non-material gifts such as a promise to clean the dishes, or walk the dog for a month, or a pledge to volunteer at an orphanage or soup kitchen several times in the recipient’s honor.
Before you buy a gift, ask yourself if you could find something for half the price, and give the rest to a hungry or needy person. Ask yourself if this item is something that will add joy and satisfaction to the recipient, or if it will end up on a shelf, never to be seen again. Spend one evening of the holiday sitting together and watching the video “The Story of Stuff,” by Annie Leonard (www.storyofstuff.com). Have a family discussion after you watch it.
Instead of buying fancy gift-wrapping, use old newspaper comics, or unused wallpaper, or just decorate some plain white paper from your printer. Have your kids draw pictures on it. The website www.sierraclub.org/holidays suggests that “If every family wrapped just three gifts [the way I described above] it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.”
Take some of your best gifts and give them to a worthwhile charity. Take some of your old toys, clothes, books, furniture and donate them too.
Here’s another idea: Ask your family member or friend to pick one thing in your house that you own (a piece of clothing, jewelry, a book, a toy, a painting in your bedroom) and offer it to them as your gift. Save lots of money, time and effort, right?
If you receive a new cell phone, ask a family member or friend if they’d like your old one. Someone who doesn’t have any would appreciate that.
If you do shop for a few small, useful gifts, remember to bring your own re-usable bag, and don’t accept plastic or paper bags from the store that will end up in landfills. Another great gift idea is to buy some plain cloth bags that you could paint and give to the people in the family who do the most shopping.
Recycling saves materials, conserves energy and reduces the amount of waste going into our landfills. There are many websites with recycled materials you can give as gifts: http://hazon.bigcartel.com/ is especially for Jewish homes, but others can find useful things there as well. Christian groups can even recycle their Christmas trees (www.earth911.org). This website also gives folks of all faiths ideas how to green their home and the planet. Search the Internet for a recycling site for your faith.Brainstorm with friends and family for other ideas, and you can make lists that are high as the big blue sky.
But the most important thing to remember during the winter holiday season is that it’s a time to come closer to each other, to our magnificent planet, and to our creator. It’s more about family and values than about gifts. We need to develop an “attitude of gratitude” for all God’s blessing. The best blessing is Mother Earth. In this holiday season, let’s give her a present of our love. How’s that for a great gift?