The great holiday pledge

I’m still here, although I feel that I’ve been living in the real world far more than on the Internet lately. It’s neither a bad nor a good thing, although I do miss writing more regularly. I miss a lot of things, in fact, but I suppose that this will keep happening forever, so there’s no point telling myself it will get better next year and I’ll have more time for myself. Things are good already, if exhausting. Let’s keep them that way.

I hope you all have a fantastic new year. Strange weather aside (it’s been very warm and cloudy since the beginning of December, and it’s starting to feel like we live inside a rather stuffy box), everything has begun well here. We threw a raucous non-alcoholic party with plenty of silly games involved, got up at eleven this morning feeling refreshed and glad, and we’re enjoying a quiet day at home before school starts again. One day at a time.

I’m not big on New Year resolutions, but I had one this year I wanted to share in case it might resonate in any way. As a non-religious person, Christmas has a somewhat blurry meaning for me, yet it does have meaning. We make Christmas trees and traditional Nativity scenes each year, we plant wheat and let it grow through December, we have traditional Christmas food. I enjoy it, I look forward to it, and I’d love to love Christmas, yet it’s hard to feel entirely comfortable when you go out in the city centre towards the end of December. People walk briskly, bumping into each other, looking for last-minute presents, some of them argue on the phone, stress is palpable everywhere. I could be wrong, but I hardly ever get a sense of happiness outside. What I do get is a sense of obligation, a sense that people run after time they don’t have to organise a celebration that will exhaust them before it brings them joy, and it’s a bit saddening. What people miss most during the year is a little time for themselves, a little peace and quiet, a good night’s sleep. And instead of indulging in all these things, it seems we forgo them even more forcefully around Christmas, for some reason nobody seems to truly remember.

I could feel sorry for ourselves as a society. I don’t. We’re choosing this, even if social pressures sometimes make us forget the meaning of choice. What really bothers me is the cost of this buying frenzy. Food will be bought, cooked and thrown away. Beasts will be tortured and slaughtered at an infernal rhythm, because few people imagine a vegetarian Christmas. Cheap presents will be bought because you need to make everybody happy, and never mind if they come from sweatshops or if they were made by people working in conditions we would never accept for ourselves. Trees are felled by the thousands just so there can be a Christmas symbol in every home, and thrown away a couple of weeks later. Even if all of this was enough to make everyone happy, it wouldn’t be right. We can’t buy a time of happiness by making other people miserable, we can’t buy joy with slaughter.

So my one good resolution is this: from now on, there will be no unethical purchases for Christmas anymore. I will only buy gifts if I can get some reassurance that they were made in ethical conditions (I know this is usually tricky to ascertain, but I will do my best at least), and make them myself if I can’t. Reusable Christmas trees have proven easy to make, so there will be no miserable felled fir tree for me from now on, and I won’t use any ornaments made in poor conditions on the other side of the world. I’ll cut back on meat even if I don’t go fully vegetarian, and I’ll encourage people around me to do the same instead of including one measly vegetarian option for the one non-meat-eater at the table, because there’s no reason a dozen animals should die every time a family wants a celebration (tasty vegetarian dishes abound, just use your imagination!). And I’ll remember that if end-of-the-year celebrations are to have any meaning at all, then I shouldn’t value my personal temporary comfort over the lives and safety of people making my Christmas purchases, or over the animal lives suffering so we can gorge ourselves.

Ideally, of course, this is what we should do all year long. But let’s face it, switching to an ethical lifestyle in a Western country is arduous work, as it is the exact opposite of the ideal consumer lifestyle that is being pushed on us on a daily basis. But since we have to start somewhere, here is my suggestion: between whenever the holiday season starts for you and whenever it ends, let’s make it an actual time of peace and joy, not by making perfunctory donations or by writing gift cards, but by truly thinking about our littlest choices and making them count for the best, not for the worst.

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