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Christmas Presents and Traditions: An Ethical Dilemma  RSS feed

 
Posts: 228
Location: Australia, New South Wales. Köppen: Cfa (Humid Subtropical), USDA: 10/11
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It’s about 47 traditional work days till Christmas, so the annual task of present choices for family and friends is here, too soon, once again.

Emulating a Chevy Chase movie: we’ll soon venture out to a remote pine plantation, choose a suitable tree, and in the heat and humidity of a typical Australian summer kill a perfectly healthy specimen. Then, drag it back home covering the car and ourselves in pine needles and smelly resinous sap; and, for weeks pursue huge bush spiders around the house and try to keep the tree hydrated enough so it doesn’t turn brown and spontaneously combust!

After the festivities, at some indeterminate time in January, the now brown and semi-seasoned tree will be dragged unceremoniously out of the house, leaving another trail of needles, and left to lay until it becomes either an eyesore or a fire hazard. At this point a decision will be made: burn it as kindling in the BBQ regardless of State fire restrictions, or, make it into some type of garden trellis, where it will rot over the next twelve months thus revealing the cycle of life and the return of Christmas again. Some things are eternal!

In regards to gifts, if there were a choice, I’d rather give/receive no presents and just have a ‘typical’ Aussie Christmas lunch or dinner, but, everybody loves the anticipation and the Christmas Tree thing. (Mainly because they don’t have to do the bloody Christmas Tree thing!)

So, I tend to buy everyone the same present – it must meet certain rules: useful, long lasting and recyclable e.g. large sets of glass food storage containers, homemade spice/herb collections, multifunction craft/art things e.g. a sheet metal frog table ornament that is actually a mosquito coil holder, etc. Quirky is always good. (Would love to hand make things but have neither the time nor space to do that at the moment.)

The family knows I hate crappy, plastic techno shit, so tend to give me some good stuff like Permaculture/Organic Gardening magazine subscriptions, gardening tools, vegetable/flower seed collections, garden nursery gift vouchers, and best of all, mature potted fruit trees! Also the odd assortment of (sigh!) socks, handkerchiefs, ‘unmentionables’, etc – all in reusable/recyclable cotton of course!

So, what’s on this year’s list of things you’ll get others, the ‘traditional’ things you need to do, and what rules or guidelines do you follow to ensure entry to ‘Permaculture Heaven’?
 
Posts: 73
Location: SW Washington
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One thing we've been doing for awhile now is wrapping gifts in fabric. We keep a stash of pretty and/or funky fabric mostly kept for the purpose. For those in the household, they might get gifts wrapped in tablecloths, tapestries, scarves, etc. I often give little gifts wrapped in a tshirt as the wrapping and tied with a reusable piece of twine.
I would love to just give seeds, flower bulbs or rhizomes, spice mixes, herbal tea blends, and bottles of homemade liqueur, and my friends appreciate those things , but I have 18 and 22 year old sons, so unfortunately some of those cute pieces of fabric under our tree hold plastic tech items. It's what they want, so I try to make sure there's at least something rechargeable or useful too.
We have our own trees growing here, so that's a non issue; the one thing that will be a challenge for me is the sugar. I'm a cook professionally and adore the baking of all the wonderful holiday treats but I dropped sugar last March, so I'm really not looking forward to the expectations from my family and my own desires to indulge in my favorite traditional goodies.
 
pollinator
Posts: 136
Location: South of Capricorn
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My kid will turn 19 and go away to college just after Christmas, so our festivities have moved more in the direction I've always wanted (i.e. cutting through the extraneous crap and keeping the traditions that I think have more value).

We have never been big on presents, we tend to give presents when they are needed or wanted, not save them, but I did make an advent calendar and use it to gift the kid with things she wanted/needed over December. I think that is part of my heritage I'd like to retain. This year, the advent calendar (which is tiny, and holds scraps of paper with clues about each present) will be filled with things for her to bring to her dorm room.

We do have a small, fake tabletop tree, because my house is too tiny and we don't do the real tree thing here. Some of the decorations are heirlooms, others I've knit myself. We do have a manger as well, and often it's irreverent. Last year I knit a bunch of sharks, who occupied the nativity scene instead of sheep and cows.

We also throw a massive party on Christmas Eve, then a big feast on Christmas day, and the highlight is always the fruit-- at Christmas we are knee deep in peaches, plums, lychees, cherries. Usually we have beer and liquor we made specifically for the event. We don't do presents, just company. It is one of the things I look forward to each year.

The other tradition I feel the need to maintain is cookie baking. I'm American and grew up baking cookies. In the humidity of Brazilian summer, cookies are a challenge, and so it is rare. I make them for our employees and our clients, and everyone else looks forward to it. The good part is that I give almost everything away, because i'm generally too busy with the peaches.
 
Posts: 1989
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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My Aussie family also cut their own "tree" - but it is not a pine. They usually select a limb of a tea-tree of about the right size and cut that. Or get a couple of limbs and lash them together to make something suitably bushy. No need to kill the whole tree, and no need for it to be a foreign species either!
 
Tereza Okava
pollinator
Posts: 136
Location: South of Capricorn
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Michael Cox wrote: They usually select a limb of a tea-tree of about the right size


Does this smell as incredibly fabulous as one might imagine it would?
 
pollinator
Posts: 213
Location: Southern Finland zone 5
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The traditional tree here is a fir. In my childhood I would listen to my mum complaining about the needles and what to do with the fir after Christmas. In my teens I became aware of environmental issues. I began to see the tree as a symbol of  a destructive consumer culture. I came up with a solution: let's decorate our potted palm! I ran my campaign for a few years and finally my mum gave in. My main argument was that the palm tree actually represents the original Christian Christmas better: you know mum, Jesus was born in Israel and they had palm trees there, not firs. Decorating the palm tree tradition lasted about three years. As far as I could understand, my mum was happy about the palm tree solution, she would say how it was so much easier. Then I went to college and moved out and they returned to buying a fir... guess it just didn't feel like Christmas to them without it.

In our homestead we cut a fir tree, but it really doesn't have many downsides here. We cut a small fir that would have to be cut anyway. We need to thin our woodland to allow for better growth and to remove some of the firs so they don't take over the whole woodland. We want it to remain a mixed wood: conifers and deciduos trees. In our climate, if we do nothing, firs and pines will take over and that would reduce the biodiversity.

After Christmas, the tree gets chopped and becomes firewood or material for a hugelbed.

About the Christmas present dilemma then... I can only offer my sympathies! I haven't come up with a complete solution to this one.

For the adults I give our farm's products: eggs, honey, dried lavender, garlic. But the kids... they really don't enjoy "useful" presents. Up until now we've just given them plastic China-made toys, because it makes them happy. But now most of the kids in our extended family are teens or approaching their teens and the only thing on their wish list is money or gift cards (which is the same thing from the present-giver's perspective). Now that is a real problem, because we simply do not make enough money. Giving a sum that they would consider a present is a much bigger thing for us than they realize: we actually have to sacrifice something really important to us to be able to give 20 euros for each of our children's cousins and our friends' kids. Anything less than that and they look at you with empty eyes and say "thanks", obviously wanting to add "you cheapskate". Giving 20 euros each equals to 220 euros as there's 11 kids. And most of our relatives give 50 euros, 20 e is considered "candy money".  I guess our relatives are just too rich for us I can't really decide whether to stick to "give what you can" philosophy and give 10 euros each or to just accept the fact that we can't really give them what they want and just give something else altogether, like poems or something immaterial.
 
pollinator
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I do not have the same dilemma with a Christmas Tree that some people have I guess. There are some differences with me as I have quite a bit of land, live in the most forested state in the nation. And being a logger, when I cut trees, I end up planting thousands more in the process by releasing seed and opening up the canopy. We have been here since the late 1600's by best guess, and have yet to run out of trees to cut. Having thousands of saplings, many will die out naturally as the forest matures and shades out the less healthy ones, so at such a young age, taking out a single tree for Christmas is hardly wrong for my morals and ethics. In fact, I have always looked at trees that are used for my own use...no matter what it is...as being the best use for them. Posts and beams in my timber frame home, 2x4's for a porch, and yes even Christmas Trees.

Of all the annual things we do, hunting for a Christmas Tree is one of our most favorite activities, having tons of pictures throughout the years.

Happy Memories:
My youngest daughter at age 7 months, being pulled in a sled, but crying everytime I stopped to take a breath to search for suitable trees
Three goofy faces of my daughters posed on a rock wall while out hunting for a Christmas Tree
Katie playing Mrs Clause in a naughty little Christmas outfit in front of our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree
Logging, and upon cutting some trees, finding the perfectly shaped trees and using them in my home for Christmas trres (sawlogs, pulp, and a Christmas Tree: that is using the entire tree for sure!)
My doing donuts with my SUV in a snow covered field as my daughters scream, "This is the best day EVER!"

It is not about me, nor about Christmas Trees or presents, but about happy childhood memories for my children.


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Posts: 148
Location: Boudamasa, Chad
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I give Opinel knives whenever I can. This year, I bought a gardener Opinel knife that's kind of a sickle shape for my kids to give to me!
 
pollinator
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Location: Colville, WA Zone 5b
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One of the best things I did (which took several years) is to champion for less gift exchanging for Christmas with my extended family.I've finally got it to where we do more of a name-drawing thing which allows me to put a bit more thought into it, each of us gives a gift for one person instead of buying small gifts for 25+ people.

And in my small family, one thing we decided this year was we were going to put most of our budget into buying a goat for a family via Heifer International. This is something that aligns more with our values, and the kids will still get a few gifts of things they want/need but I've never been one of those parents that piles the gifts 6 feet high anyway.

As far as the tree goes, lucky for us we live on 20 acres of fir so we always just go out in the snow and cut our own, bake cookies, and make an event out of it.

Out of all of the Christmasy things, I think from what I've observed the things that are MOST wasteful are 1. buying loads of small impersonal gifts for lots of extended family members, in my experience they just don't get used/appreciated and 2. just buying loads of gifts anyway. This includes stocking stuffers.

So I try to keep the number of gifts down and keep the ones that I DO give, gifts that align with my values but also would be of interest to the recipient.
 
master steward
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Christmas trees: I'll admit to loving them because fond memories of playing with my ornaments on the tree, and the magical appearance that the lights give off. Growing up, my mother's side of the family had a Christmas tree farm, and so I;m rather attached to noble firs as christmas trees. So, I planted my own! Way out in the far reaches of my zone 3/4 are a bunch of small christmas trees. They're not big enough to harvest, yet, though. So, we've harvested random other trees from our property...with mixed results. Hemlocks lose ALL their leaves in a month. What a mess! I still have a fear of touching the tree because the two years we had hemlocks, any touch of the tree sent needles everywhere. The random blue spruce we found on our property and cut was pretty and durable, but horribly pokey! So, we've just been driving 5 minutes to the closest tree farm and cutting our own tree there. Not much gas expended, it supports our local community, and it's relatively sustainable. We use the old trees as firewood/fence post/hugel fodder.

Presents: We do the draw names things on my side of the family, which helps. Thankfully, my family likes hand-made stuff, so I've made scarves/hats/painted pots/paintings/fairies/oven mitts/ornaments from kids/pouches filled with small gifts/calendars. For the kids, we send around wishlists, so I make sure to put natural toys on the lists. As for older kids just wanting money, that's a hard one. I have one nephew that's a teenager, and last year I just made him a pouch and put $25 in cash in it. Because, like other's have said, less than $20 is a lame amount of money. His sisters got their pouches filled with non-toxic nail polish and affordable jewelry. One thing you can do is put the cash inside a home-made thing, or with a smaller present. Having $10 AND something else, isn't nearly as lame as just $10 or just some handmade thing. Wrap the money in a scarf, or a hat, a tin full of homemade chocolates/candy/cookies, tucked in a wooden box, etc.

 
pollinator
Posts: 2116
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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I like the idea of the trees turning to compost.

Like you I prefer no gift, but if you must try an experience. Like tickets to go bowling/circus/cabin/ esp as a family at such and such a time. If not just do some product that was homemade. Just tell people if it isn't homemade to not bring any presents to you, and that you will only be giving out home-made super  heap products. They will get the message if you want to go the more accommodating/traditional route
 
Nina Jay
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Nicole Alderman wrote:. One thing you can do is put the cash inside a home-made thing, or with a smaller present. Having $10 AND something else, isn't nearly as lame as just $10 or just some handmade thing. Wrap the money in a scarf, or a hat, a tin full of homemade chocolates/candy/cookies, tucked in a wooden box, etc.



What a great idea, thank you so much, Nicole!!  That's what I'm going to do - best of both worlds!!
 
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