I used to take the Christmas tree down right after New Year’s. But in recent years, I’ve waited until January 6, the Epiphany, when the 12 days of Christmas are officially done. I pack up the ornaments and unstring the lights. And this year, put my Christmas tree back on the shelves.
That’s right, back on the shelves. My tree made of nearly a hundred books.
In September, I started thinking about Christmas and how I could take a greener approach this year. From gift giving to the annual mailing of holiday cards, the holiday season is an explosion of stuff. Of gift wrap that can’t be recycled. Of gifts that just aren’t the right fit, either literally or figuratively. And of the Christmas tree, destined for either the landfill or the compost heap, depending on where one lives.
But even thinking about the little ways we can do things differently, that don’t sacrifice tradition or convenience, aren’t really that hard after all.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. That’s the mantra of the eco movement, and I decided to look at Christmas through that lens. O tannenbaum, you were going to look different this year. Not a tree that could be bought, but one that could be made from material I already owned.
After googling “alternative Christmas tree,” I found myself falling down the rabbit hole of Pinterest and looking at picture after picture of faux trees. Trees made of black and white photos pinned on a wall. Ladder treesstrung with lights and dangling ornaments. Even an amusing pile of laundry with a star on top.
But the trees that inspired me the most were those artfully and whimsically constructed of books.
December came, and I set to work pulling the books from the shelves. Large coffee table size art history books made an excellent base. Next I laid the good-sized culinary tomes, followed by hardback novels, slim play scripts, and my annual photo albums. I made sure to stack the books evenly, yet a bit helter-skelter to allow for the creation of little nooks to tuck in my Christmas ornaments. I was even able to incorporate my Nativity scene a quarter of the way up, and my trio of Nutcrackers found stable perches amidst the tower. A string of white lights encircled the tree. The total effect was charming.
The tree was just the beginning, and I began to consider what to do next. Because I had already purchased a book earlier in the year for one of my nieces, I decided that all of my nieces and nephews would get a well-chosen book for Christmas. As for everyone else, I set my mind to experiences or consumables. Mom and Dad received a museum membership. My son was gifted certificates to an acting class, a round of golf, and a movie date. My sister received a gift certificate to her favorite gluten-free bakery, with some tasty biscotti, and my brother-in-law was given an assortment of locally brewed ales.
“But I like getting stuff,” my husband retorted when I told him of my gift-giving strategy. So I bent the rules for him, giving him a replacement paring knife for one that had gone missing, as well as an Ansel Adams calendar (because he LOVES his annual calendar). But marked inside this year’s calendar was a three-night getaway to Yosemite that included day hikes with one of the park’s naturalists. He conceded receiving experiences wasn’t so bad after all.
An unexpected benefit of my green Christmas was changing up the holiday card routine. Many years ago, I would write a letter to include in our card, but the time and expense of putting it together became too cumbersome, and in recent years, I resorted to just sending a photo card (sometimes mailed to my contacts directly from the vendor). I actually love getting letters from friends, especially those who may not be on social media or live nearby.
This year, I brought the letter back, but instead of sending by post, I sent it out by email. I discovered some cool templates on my Mac for creating a newsletter, and the first annual Albany Hill Post was born, chronicling our year’s news and photos. What a lovely surprise it was to receive so many responses to the email from friends I hadn’t spoken to in some time, sharing their news with me (even after having received theirannual holiday card!). I’m never going back to snail mail again.
Sometimes the idea of what we need to do to combat climate change can seem overwhelming, especially when it requires us to sacrifice convenience or something we love. But even thinking about the little ways we can do things differently, that don’t sacrifice tradition or convenience, aren’t really that hard after all. We can make a difference. Here’s to a mindful new year.