Over steaming hot bowls of porridge this morning the girls were in animated conversation about Christmas traditions. Elle in her unencumbered innocence has a much freer picture of how Christmas morning unfolds, while Maya meticulously described every little detail. “We get out of bed really early and we run downstairs to look in our stocking. I can reach them now so I will get yours down too. Santa puts something under the tree, but it isn’t wrapped so we can see it. Then we go and get Mummy up.”
I turned from the stove top where I was making chai tea and faced the girls. “You won’t get a lot of present this year girls.” I said in a plain and simple manner. “We can’t afford lots of presents this year, and Santa has to lessen his environmental footprint or otherwise he won’t have a place to live.” Maya’s head tilted to the side with a quizzical look, which I know means she needs to hear it again in another way. “Well Santa became lazy, and he and the elves stopped making things by hand, and he started getting the toys from factories instead, and those toys and the factories contribute to global warming, and it is damaging the earth.” Maya accepted this answer, and looked to the bright side “But we can still make a gingerbread house can’t we?” I felt a yearning in my heart for her beauty, that instead of feeling emotional because I said there would be only a few gifts, she had the capability to focus on our homemade traditions. “Yes, we will still make all the little things that make Christmas, Christmas.”
Now some of you may think I am an intense mother to say such a thing, but honestly do you really think your children believe Santa’s elves make Playmobil and Lego? If you are going to create the narrative of elves making gifts, then shouldn’t it be followed up with gifts that elves would make? I am just not the kind of person that could visualize mass produce plastic toys in a Santa sack. Given I value my children’s sense of reason, it seems pertinent to speak honestly with them. I beg you to understand I do not think and say these things without remorse. Had I protected them more in the first place, been a stronger mother with better judgement, there never would have been the need to pull back.
In many ways my beliefs are being supported, in the friends we have, in the literature we read. The girls and I are entering the fourth book in the Little House books by Laure Ingalls Wilder. Of the numerous Christmas mornings we have read about, Laura and Mary receive little more than some candy and a penny, and they are happy. My favorite moment being on the last page of ‘On The Banks of Plum Creek’ when on christmas eve Laura finds out that on Christmas day she will not be getting anything and despite hearing this she is struck with tremendous gratitude for her parents. Pa says “Caroline, how Laura’s eyes are shining”. This is the magic of parenting, seeing your child’s eyes shine with love for each other, not with love for a gift.
Everyone knows that in the stories Santa lives at the North Pole, and at this point in time everyone knows that global warming is melting the North Pole. Hundred year old folklores are on the verge of sounding archaic, and even less believable. Can you imagine telling your Grandchildren the story of Santa Clause, and having to start it with….”A long time ago, there was a place on the earth called the North Pole. It was a place completely covered in pure white snow and ice”. Imagine my friends, if all those Santa letters could no longer be addressed To: Santa Clause, North Pole, because the North Pole no longer exists. Imagine if when your Grandchild said “What happened to the North Pole?” You had to say, “It melted because people could not change their ways.”
Ok…so this is the extreme scenario, but you know it is happening, the ice is melting and we don’t wan’t to be in that situation. I understand that moment when you are in Target and your adorable little child is holding that box in their hands begging for a toy. You want to give your child the world, but at that moment what one needs to be remember, is that the world is planet earth. The choices you make at the check-out, have a butterfly effect to what is happening on the other side of the globe. To quote Roald Dahl in Matilda “The matter with human beans” the BFG went on “is that they absolutely refuse to believe in anything unless they is actually seeing it right in front of their own schnozzels.” The point of this is, that if you were in a Harbin china, outside a factory that was mass producing toys or those must have sneakers, and the air was thick and grey from pollution, you would have the strength to tell your child, no, clean air is more important. You need to be able to tell your child no.
This Christmas I urge you friends to consider the environment when purchasing gifts for your children. The world is full of wonderful things, some just come from a better place than others. Choose gifts from renewable sources, not fossil fuels. Chose gifts that come from hands not machines. There is so much beauty in handmade, whether you make it yourself or source it from a independent craftspeople. There are amazing people out there hand making something beautiful right this moment. Look for recycled, look for ethical, look for handmade. Have faith in your ingenuity. Come up with better substitutes. We should be constantly asking ourselves, how can we do it better without harming the environment.
This early morning conversation held two-fold value. It also gave me the opportunity to let the children know that there are not unlimited resources. Not in our home, not on the earth. Some people do not like to talk about money with children, or about being able to afford something or not. Talking about money need not break the spell of childhood, rather shape them into children that are grateful. It is a valuable lesson that will perhaps keep them out of constricting debt one day. Some people also do not talk about the environment with their children, but explaining what is happening to the planet to them, helps you say no. If your children are little, you can simply say, “Mother earth is saying no”, because Mother earth is saying no, she is getting hot and bothered big time.
Essentially I want my children to be free, free of needing things for happiness, but more importantly, free to know the earth is a safe place to live. I want them to live without guilt for the choices they have made, and as their parent I have to help them learn how to choose wisely, which sometimes means choosing nothing at all. Knowing how to go without and being able to appreciate little, and still find happiness is one of the most valuable lessons I can give them.
Make Positive Gift Giving Choices:
Give experiences, tickets to a show, a unique outing.
Choose items that can take your children through life. Buy things can you would still want in your home in 50 years. Create family heirlooms.
Create a craft gift swap amongst friends.
Trade toys with friends, what is old for their children may be new for yours.
Buy vintage and secondhand.
Try to buy local. Things that are made and sold locally. Source handmade, from arts and crafts markets, through etsy and other handmade websites.
The largest toy manufacturers, with the highest sales are Mattel, Hasbro and Lego, followed by Japanese giants Bandai-Namco and Takara Tomy. Try to support companies that have and promote an ethical environmental conscious.
The majority of plastic toys are made from from components of oil which is a non renewable fossil fuel. If you need plastic toys, look for plastic that is made from recycled plastics.
Plastic never breaks down. If not recycled it only breaks into smaller and smaller pieces until it is dust sized particles of plastic in the soil, water and air. Give some thought to where your childhood plastic toys are now, and where they will be in 10 years.
Look for toys that do not come in packaging. Lots of packaging also uses non renewable fossil fuels.