With one set of holidays in the rearview mirror and another set fast approaching, it’s a good time to think about ways to ease our burden on the earth, without sacrificing the celebration.
My husband and I recently rewatched a movie that we both remember liking. He still recalled minute details of the plot but had forgotten most of the characters, along with the actors who played them. I still remembered the wallpaper and—that’s it, nothing else.
Like a lot of couples, we sometimes see things from vastly different angles, and this makes life infinitely fascinating, even marvelous. For example, I marvel at his ability to correctly estimate the Blue Book value of our car but not know what color it is. “Some kind of gray?”
Obviously, it goes both ways. He marvels that I can cruise every single aisle of the grocery store, memorize the entirety of Billy Joel’s oeuvre (or whatever is playing over the speakers), and forget to buy peanut butter.
We also differ in how we like to observe ye olde holiday traditions.
Him: Let’s give all the gifts to all the people!
Me: Can we regift some of th–
Him: No! Let’s go to the mall! We can see Santa and drink eggnog!
Me: I have to go to sleep now.
Him: No time!
Me: Aren’t the kids a little too big for Santa?
Him: But it’s tradition!
But It’s Tradition
I’ve learned there’s no logic in the world powerful enough to fight this argument. “But it’s tradition” can carry the legal authority of a judge’s gavel. In my experience, resistance doesn’t always work, but sometimes inertia does: When all else fails, pretend you’re asleep.
In real life, I try to respect tradition, at least the good bits. Much that’s weird and wonderful in the human heart gets trotted out in our rituals, and because humanity is so very varied, its traditions take many shapes. The shape of a bicycle in Santa’s bag, maybe. A lit candle in the window. An extra seat at the family table. My husband experiences tradition as a warm blanket, and I like that about him, even if to me it feels more like a straight jacket.
Consider the case of the American holiday turkey. What may have started as a celebration of bounty has become, in the many years since, a weighty reminder of how excess can hurt animals and people and ruin seasonal decor. Do not type the words “creative” and “turkey” in your internet search bar. I’m serious, don’t do it—unless you want to confront the ways our cultural obsessions intersect with early childhood education.
Eventually, the meal will end and one person will be left alone with the turkey carcass. If you have ever been this person, you know that it’s one thing to get help with the dishes, and quite another to get help with the organic remains of dinner past. What do you do with all that’s left? Just how many soups, sandwiches and scrambles will your family tolerate?
So, I’m Just Wondering: A Quiz
Should we quit with the turkey already? I think so, but I’m not the only one at the table. Who in this debate should get the deciding vote?
- Grandpa, after his nap
- Your momentarily vegan cousin
- The four-year-old who screamed for a drumstick, ate one bite, and threw it under the table
- The neighbor, who just wants everyone to get along
- The founder of the feast, aka, head cook, who very soon will be alone in the kitchen with (possibly) an empty wine glass and (definitely) a turkey carcass no one cares about anymore
- E, only E, always E
Why am I such a miserable fun-killer? (Who would wrest the turkey platter from the hands of their loved ones on the day of feasting and gratitude? Probably the same person who reminded everyone about concussions at the neighborhood Turkey Bowl.) After all, poultry isn’t the worst offender in terms of greenhouse emissions. Most sources agree it’s better than other holiday fare, like beef or pork.
Still, unless you eat every bit of that bird, the waste will go on to produce more harmful gas as it decays in a landfill. Multiply one family’s “small” contribution by more than 40 million turkeys, and you’ve got a problem worth addressing. And so, while the cleanup is still fresh in my memory, I think it’s worth thinking about ways to ease my burden on the earth, without sacrificing the celebration.
We might ask: Does it help us to connect, share memories, reflect on blessings, renew commitments, express love? If the answer is anything but a big yes, then maybe this year can be a year of Tradition with Amendments. A year of Big Small Change. We can start right now, even as store shelves are filling with products to “help” us celebrate in 2024.
My mother’s mother—a Depression-era farm child—promised her kids all the fabric they wanted, provided they sew their own clothes. My mother did the same for us, with a twist: If we would make, sew, or build something instead of buying it, she would provide the supplies. These are the projects I have remembered and often reused through the years. No, I didn’t get to buy the Cabbage Patch pre-made boxed valentine set, but on the other hand, I didn’t have to.
That’s a family tradition I happily carry forward. We love to make things at my house. And Valentines can be made of just about anything! Scraps of bright paper or fabric scraps, sparkles from former projects, even repurposed toys. Instead of little plastic bags full of little plastic things, valentines can be real expressions of love.
The best ones are clever, or heartfelt, or both, and February 14 is the perfect chance for kids to be creative, even (or especially) if they don’t think of themselves that way. If that sounds stressful, remember there’s always help: The internet abounds with examples.
Plastic Easter Eggs
You can still give your kids the thrill of the hunt without buying the plastic eggs. How many new plastic eggs are produced every year? A quick internet search puts the count in the HUNDREDS of MILLIONS. If you have children or teach children, or care for children, then plastic eggs will come into your life. Don’t get mad; get resourceful.
Save the ones that come your way: They’re your problem now. Or, rather, you are the steward, which means you can fill them with all kinds of things that are not little plastic toys. Candies that come unwrapped, pieces of a puzzle you can all put back together, or my husband’s favorite gag: fresh broccoli florets. Ha! Save the dollars bills you could have spent on new plastic, and hide those in the eggs. Coins are fun too. When you get through this holiday without buying a single new plastic egg—and you definitely can—you get to celebrate a really big small win.
I’m prepared to uphold the traditions that help, and roast the ones that hurt, say, tens of millions of turkeys that spend short, unhappy lives in small spaces. It makes me really happy to know I’ve presided over my last turkey. It makes me really happy to know I’m not adding another dozen plastic eggs to a floating garbage patch in the ocean. I’m looking forward to this new year and what I hope will be meaningful-er celebrations. I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, but it probably starts with dessert.