Many of us journey through Advent in a culture whose businesses frantically try to capitalize on the hope, peace, joy, and love promised by the season. Although many agree that consumerism contradicts the fundamental teachings of Jesus, I am not here to disparage every last Christmas tradition until we’ve pared our so-called celebrations down to nothing. Yet many of us wish our festivities could better reflect the heart of Jesus’ teachings and ministry. It’s harder to feel quite so celebratory once we understand the ways in which our choices affect our kindred – both human and otherkind, near and far.
Maybe the point is not to have some kind of pure, ideal Christmas. If we can acknowledge the imperfect world we live in yet at the same time lift up our communal journey toward greater healing and justice, we will feel the laughter and songs of the whole Earth intertwine with our own joys at Christmastime. When gifts to our loved ones also help others around the world, the warmth we feel at their own excitement grows deeper and more powerful when we can also sense the joy of our unknown kindred somewhere else. Our appreciation of festive decorations feels more authentic when we know our choices are helping reduce the impacts of climate change, or providing habitats for God’s little sparrows. Our traditions can bring us closer to one another, and help us feel the presence of our family – all of them – throughout the journey toward Christmas.
How specifically can we as people of faith embody the promises of Advent? While some find fulfillment in Christmas Day volunteer work, there are many ways to incorporate prophetic witness into our existing beloved celebrations already. Below are a few ideas to help us get started – and to share with others, groups, or congregations. I firmly believe that we can only journey the resurrected life together; and, together, we can creatively envision ways to celebrate and spread a light that cannot be overcome. When our nostalgia intertwines with justice, embodies hope, and spreads the kin-dom – well, then, all those otherwise trite phrases ring true in a new way. O tidings of comfort and joy!
Bearing Gifts, We Traverse Afar!
- Looking for meaningful gifts – not just more ‘stuff?’ Consider donation gifts to organizations that will be meaningful to the receiver and the recipient. Activities also make meaningful gifts – like membership to Audubon, birdhouse kits, nature hikes, or whale watching trips!
- Local businesses create local jobs, invest more in the local community, and take better care of the natural world! Consider getting gifts locally, and your loved ones, neighbors, and all the critters will thank you!
- Recycled wrapping paper’s great – or even comics, calendar pages, or children’s (or adult!) artwork. How about festive reusable fabric or cloth bags for wrapping? The US generates 4 million tons of holiday giftwrap and shopping bags – most of which will be incinerated in low income communities and communities of color; so find creative alternatives, and use those cloth bags when shopping, too. Start with just a few, and then add more each year!
- Keep issues of justice in mind as you shop – gender empowerment, peacebuilding, diversity, recycled materials, or even re-gifted gifts all embody the Reign of Christ! Fairly-traded gifts and stores embody a global village of mutual respect and sharing. And remember to e-cycle old electronics if you get new ones (ecyclingcentral.com).
- Some families – like mine – no longer exchange major gifts at Christmastime (gasp!). The children (and the child within all of us!) enjoy opening stockings, stuffed with small tokens – homemade treats and crafts, donation cards, etc. – but there are so many other fun Christmas activities that we don’t miss the ‘big’ gifts under the tree at all!
Boughs of Holly!
- Did you know that LED lights use roughly 10 times less energy? And using timers will ensure your lights are on as few hours as possible. Rotate your electric lawn decorations, instead of putting everything out at once; and use natural, local decor when possible – that’s REALLY traditional! While outside, take a minute to enjoy the stars!
- Consider a living Christmas tree to celebrate a living Christ! (Some nurseries even rent them!) You can donate your tree after Christmas for re-forestation, or just keep it and re-use for several years! Many local farms don’t spray trees; and even cut trees are better than artificial trees, which give off toxic dust in your home and release other toxins when made and destroyed. At least Christmas trees on farms absorb atmospheric carbon and are renewable, and most trees are mulched after Christmas. And thank your tree for its amazing sights and smells!
Love, the Guest, is on the way!
- How does our Christmas feasting honor the One who came to bring good news to the poor, and liberation to the oppressed? Choosing organic vegetables honors the farm workers who nurture and harvest those foods for us. If you eat meat, local, humane certified farms also honor their livestock; and supporting local and domestic farms encourages other countries to feed their own peoples instead of exporting exotic cash crops to the US.
- Don’t forget the COOKIES! Fair trade sugar and chocolate enable farmers to send their children to school and use sustainable practices that will enable them to keep farming for generations to come! And use organic flour to support rebuilding our topsoil, conserving our water, and preserving clean waterways and aquifers. Remember to bless your farmers along with your food during grace!
I pray blessings on you and your loved ones for a Christmas filled with justice, joy, and peace!
 See Bullard, Robert D., “Neighborhoods Zoned for Garbage,” in The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution; Sierra Club Books, San Francisco; 2005.
 Hindu ecofeminist Vandana Shiva describes many of these dynamics: Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply, South End Press, Cambridge; 2000.
 For more on organic vs. genetically modified crops, see Gudorf, Christine E. and Huchingson, James E., “Improving on Natural Variation? Genetically Modified Foods” in Boundaries: A Casebook in Environmental Ethics, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., 2010.
Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee is a doctoral candidate in Environmental Ethics at Boston University School of Theology, studying the engagement of congregations with the local food movement. She previously did graduate research on Alzheimer’s Disease and preventive research on Ovarian Cancer. She received a B.Sc. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.A. in Molecular Biology fromHarvardUniversity, and an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology. She lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters, and enjoys gardening, canoeing, learning about medicinal and edible wild plants, and rewriting old hymns to make them more inclusive.