Give the Gift of Environmentalism
by Victoria Sebastian | published Dec. 1st, 2018
Even if you don’t partake in a religious holiday in December, there is still a chance you’ll celebrate in some way during this season.
Although we may know this season as a time of happiness, the environment is adversely impacted. With the incoming consumerist culture, the holiday season is no longer solely about the celebration of one's religion.
Buddhism and a Consumerist Culture
The holiday of celebration in the Buddhist community is called Rohatsu.
“[Rohatsu] is ... the traditional day ... to celebrate the enlightenment or awakening of the Buddha,” stated Shudo Schroeder, the zen Buddhist chaplain and priest at for Spiritual and Religious Life within RIT's Division of Student Affairs.
Many Buddhists partake in a sesshin — a form of long meditation. An issue arises when consumerist thoughts, such as buying gifts, enter one’s head while partaking in this “touching of the mind."
Schroeder explained, “Even if you’re not a practicing Christian, Christmas is more than just a religious festival. Christmas is ... or has become ... a capitalist holiday for many people.”
Christmas is ... or has become ... a capitalist holiday for many people."
Judaism and a Consumerist Culture
The Jewish holiday of celebration is Hanukkah. It is an eight-day celebration of the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem when the Jews rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors.
“There’s the lighting of the menorah. You add another candle ... [each night] for the eight nights. Giving gifts is sort of a newer thing,” said Jonathan Travers, a fifth year Mechanical Engineering major and current treasurer of Hillel.
A consumerist argument arises here as the use of electrical candles versus real candles for the menorah comes into question. The increase in gift-giving has also been noticed around Hanukkah.
“Some of that ... comes from being around [consumerist] Christmas ... and all of the aggressive advertising ... it’s hard to see all that and not get wrapped up in it,” Travers added.
But don’t be fooled, consumerist Christmas is not the same as Christian Christmas.
Christianity and a Consumerist Culture
Christian Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Pastor of the Lutheran/Episcopal Campus ministry and Chaplain for Spiritual and Religious Life, Craig Swanson explained, “We have worship services ... candles are used ... to refer to the presence of Christ. It shows the coming of light into the world.”
Christmas trees, decorations and gift giving are secondary aspects of the holiday.
“The whole giving of presents, there’s different versions of how that got started ... it’s just not part of the traditions," Pastor Swanson elaborated. "That’s more of the secular side [of Christmas].”
The Environment and a Consumerist Culture
The consumerist pressure of gift giving can cause environmental harm, and this is seen in most holidays. But the bigger issue lies in the production of all holiday items — not just gifts alone.
A popular item that falls under this issue is the artificial Christmas tree — especially those that are imported. All artificial Christmas trees are made of non-renewable resources. They are also non-biodegradable. But the question then arises: is using real trees any better if we're throwing them out more frequently?
Other items that fall under this issue are candles and lights used in menorahs and as house decorations. Both can cause light pollution when used in large quantities. This specifically affects nocturnal animals by causing confusion in differentiating between day and night.
Eric Williams, a professor in the Golisano Institute of Sustainability, explained more on why mass production is an issue during the holidays.
“It all depends on the item. The more of those things we make ... of steel, plastic and aluminum ... there’s more carbon emissions,” he explained.
This also relates to where we get these mass-produced items from — as seen with imported Christmas trees.
“Most of the impact is having to do with us buying all this stuff in places where they’re making it in an environmentally damaging way,” Williams continued. “A lot of the stuff we buy is weirdly cheap. There is no way that you can make [these things cheap] and protect the environment.”
To most, it can be a scary sight to see that so many beloved holiday traditions have a negative impact on the environment. But this does not mean we have to stop celebrating these holidays altogether.
How to Holiday Environmentally
The main thing to do is be conscious of what you buy. This consciousness can help you resist the consumerist pull.
Concerning Christmas trees, there is no right answer. Williams talked about the various factors that can come into play when choosing what type of tree to get.
Is it imported? Did you get it at a tree farm? Is it a necessity in your home? He suggested that these are just some of the questions that could help you choose the best option for yourself and the environment.
When it comes to lights, such as the candles in your menorah or the string lights on your house, Williams said LED is the best way to go.
Williams explained, “If you are using LED lights and you’re comparing an LED light to a candle, the LED light will emit much less carbon.”
By buying LED lights for decorations, you can reduce your carbon footprint while still enjoying the traditions of your holiday.
Being conscious of what you buy will not work in all situations though. This is because sometimes there isn't a clear, better option.
Williams explained, “You don’t have enough choices ... you don’t really know that spending more money [on an object] is really translating to ... less environmental impacts.”
But there is a solution to this that Schroeder, Swanson, Travers and Williams all agreed on: straying away from material gifts.
According to Schroeder, “When it comes to giving, rather than simply focusing on the giving and receiving of material gifts, give time ... and others might follow suit.”
"When it comes to giving, rather than simply focusing on the giving and receiving of material gifts, give time ... and others might follow suit."