2020 Celebrating Christmas in the middle of a Pandemic and a Planetary warming crisis

As I sat down to update the article published in the December 2019 newsletter at [Jill’s request], I could not help but wonder at how fast time has flown! Today as we prepare to celebrate Christmas again, we find ourselves in the midst of a raging viral pandemic, an unsettled political situation and a climate crisis.

As people of faith with the mandate to love God, love neighbors and to be responsible stewards of creation, in light of the challenging situation we find ourselves in, we all need to find ways to celebrate Christmas in ways that respond to God’s call as best we can. Once again, I am offering some suggestions to help us meet the challenges:

First, to get COVID-19 under control so we can celebrate Christmas safely, let us set aside our political and ideological differences and express love for neighbors and ourselves by taking to heart and doing the 3 simple things we have heard since the pandemic began: (a) wear a mask; (b) practice social distancing; (c) sanitize/wash hands. And when it becomes available, (d) get vaccinated.

Second, to avert the climate crisis, we need to lessen the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere especially this Christmas by paying attention to a few traditional Christmas practices which usually include the following:

Shopping:  Because of COVID – 19, many of us will do this online, so the amount of CO2 we add to the current very unhealthy and unsafe level of 415 ppm, will lessen (as it did at during the lockdown last March). But many shops will be open, and many of us will still take the risk and shop in person. If you must shop, please consider the following: make a list and practice trip chaining. That is, group errands and other activities into one trip instead of returning home in between each one. The more errands grouped together, the more vehicle trips saved and the lesser your carbon footprints. And please remember to use recyclable shopping bags. Plastic bags are a menace not only to the environment but to both human and animals’ health and well-being.

Gifts: For many, Christmas won’t be Christmas without gift giving. It is an embodiment of God’s generosity in giving his own son, Jesus, to us as gift from him. It is our way of saying thanks to God by doing the same for others. But in a midst of a climate crisis, we need again to be mindful of what we buy. Here are a few suggestions: (a) get battery-free gifts. Once discarded, batteries are an environmental hazard. They are toxic. Even rechargeable batteries find their way into the waste stream eventually. (b) Practice re-gifting. Just make sure you are not re-gifting it to the person who gave it to you in the first place. (c) One of the “positive” effect of the pandemic is that the isolation it caused has unleashed the creativity of so many in different ways. Why not tap into that creativity as you look for ways to celebrate Christmas this year: make your own Christmas cards, your own Christmas decorations, your own gifts, etc. etc. You get my drift.

Gift Wrappers: Glossy foil or metallic wrapping paper, attractive though it is, is hard to recycle. It has no value for use as mulch since there are heavy metals used in the foil paper. Foil gift wrap is also harder to reuse, since it wrinkles and creases easily when the gift is being unwrapped. In the US, the annual trash from gift wrap and shopping bags totals over 4 million tons. Avoid them. Again, tapping into the pandemic unleashed creativity, find alternatives such as wrapping paper made from fibers such as hemp, or paper using recycled content. Or, reuse paper or fabric gift bags.  

Christmas Trees: If you already have a plastic tree, use it for as long as possible. It is made  of petroleum products (PVC), and use up resources in both the manufacture and shipping that contributes to the climate crisis. A live tree in a pot is the environmentally healthy option. You can use it the again next year. And if it has grown too big for inside use, it can always be planted where it will help absorb carbon dioxide. The other option is cut tree. They can be composted at the end of the season. Live and cut trees are usually locally grown and sold; they save on transportation costs, lessen air pollution and help growers.

Christmas Lights: If you must have lights, do lessen the number of lights used indoors and outdoors. Use energy efficient bulbs like LEDs or solar powered lights. They consume less energy and are more Earth and pocket friendly. Remember to turn off the lights before going to bed. Better yet, put them on a timer. And if you must be away from home on at any time during the Christmas season, please disconnect all lights and decorations.

Christmas Food. This could be less challenging this year, as we distance ourselves because of the pandemic; still, to help lessen the impact of the climate crisis on us and on all creation, consider buying organic from local farmers. This move can slash about 5% in terms of emissions just from transportation. Buying food locally also help support jobs and encourage growers and manufacturers to adopt a more sustainable food system. Don’t over-buy. Be creative with left-overs. Compost.

Christmas travel. Again, because of the pandemic, please give serious thought to staycation this year. Tap into your creative juices to stay in touch with relatives and friends, using technology. ZOOM, anyone? But, if you must hit the road or fly, plan …. NOW. It will give you more time to reflect on how to travel in a more sustainable manner. And before you leave the house, turn the thermostat down and the lights and decorations off.

A Blessed and Merry Christmas to us all!!!  

–Rev. MaAn Barcelo