As I shopped this season, it struck me that technology and modern means of accessing information have actually impacted my “go-to” list of gifts. Gift-giving used to be so simple: all our son wanted was Lego and our daughter the latest Buffy movie. (Oh yes, and about 30 years ago all she wanted – and wanted desperately – was a manicure set.)
Of course, Lego is still on the shopping list, but now, ostensibly, for our son’s nine-year-old daughter. But, kids don’t grow out of Lego and they will build it together.
As our children got older and moved away to school, clothes and kitchen appliances became de rigeur. Eventually, the kids didn’t want me picking out their stuff and gifts evolved into me wrapping a picture (usually disguised in a box!) of winter boots or a guitar with the budgeted amount of cash. But, even then, I could still search for the perfect CD, DVD or cookbook.
Alas, the Internet has made such purchases obsolete. (To say nothing about the VHS and cassette tapes that have accumulated in basement cupboards.) Streaming music and movie channels have been the death knell to gifts of movies or music. While coffee table books and graphic novels remain on “wish lists,” books with facts, recipes and research have been replaced by a quick Google search. Kindles and e-readers are increasingly replacing novels. Maps have been replaced by GPS and wearing perfume (ergo giving perfume) has become socially unacceptable.
I am also learning from our more environmentally-conscious children and grandchild to pay attention to packaging and to avoid non-recyclables. Most days, I now remember my reusable shopping bags and am getting much better at not using the thin plastic bags in the supermarket’s produce department.
I am making real progress in my commitment to reducing my use of single-use plastics. To replace plastic wrap, I first tried beeswax wraps, but because you can’t see through them, it was frustrating not knowing what was in the container. I have since discovered “shower-cap” covers that come in different sizes, are see-through and washable.
However, raising my awareness of the scourge of single-use plastics has come at a cost and is bringing an end to our family tradition of Christmas crackers. We always had them for Christmas dinner when I was growing up in Newfoundland; likely a nod to our British roots.
Christmas crackers were first created in London around 1847 by a confectioner named Tom Smith. He modeled his invention on the French “bonbon” sweets, which were basically almonds wrapped in pretty paper. Smith added a riddle or motto and eventually the “snap” aspect we know so well. After his death, his sons took over the company and added the paper hats and toys or trinkets that continue to this day.
But the shiny paper and cheap plastic toys have led an environmental expert to call for their ban due to the “appalling, unnecessary” waste” they create.
Case in point, my kitchen junk drawer is full of useless plastic thing-a-ma-jigs and other novelties accumulated over many years of pulling Christmas crackers. I can’t justify the amount of garbage that results from the millisecond it takes to pull the crackers apart, especially when the most fun was from everyone reading the jokes or riddles aloud.
So, I am going to retain the fun part and am collecting jokes that we can share at the table. So far, my favourite: “What do you call a snowman who vacations in the tropics? A puddle!”
In less than a week, 2019 will be over. As I contemplate moving into the 2020s, I remember when George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and 2001: A Space Odyssey were dates of science fiction!
My giving up plastic straws, carrying reusable bags, reducing my use of plastic wrap and ditching Christmas crackers aren’t going to save the planet. But, change always starts with baby steps and every action informs the actions of somebody else.
By next Christmas I hope to have made a few more changes that are better for the planet.
Afterall, in 16 months, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg went from singly skipping school on Fridays to protest lack of action on climate change to becoming a household name and Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
Have a safe and happy Christmas and a healthy, environmentally-conscious 2020.