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Margaret Hartley's Greenpoint
by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Enter the Crazy Season

Thanksgiving, the homiest of holidays, has passed and the craziest time of year has begun.

My family loves Thanksgiving, so much that we celebrate it at least twice. Friends know that if they miss one of our two major Thanksgivings, we will be happy to host a spare feast when they arrive. We have our own traditions — making all the food ourselves, with as much of the meal as possible coming from our home gardens and, at least for the traditional Thanksgiving, making paper blimps to hang around the house.

That’s my husband’s contribution to the holiday — since he grew up near the Thanksgiving college football games in Miami, blimps were as much a symbol of the holiday as the northern-grown food that filled the table.

Part of the reason we love Thanksgiving so much is that it is home-centered, a reason for family to gather and share a meal, to be together without any other expectations. We work off the extra pie with long walks and stay at the table long into the evening talking and playing games.

And we try to hold onto that feeling for the rest of the year, when all our activities have been usurped by voices urging us to buy, buy, buy.

To me that sounds like being urged to waste, waste, waste. Since I seem to be obsessed with trying to remember not to be wasteful, to conserve and preserve resources, it’s a gnawing, anti-festive sentiment.

We have to fight to remember to celebrate the turn of the season and the winter holidays in simpler ways. We start right after Thanksgiving, not with a frenzied trip to a shopping center, but with a ramble through the woods to gather pine, fir and spruce branches to make wreaths and fill the flower boxes. It’s a tradition that puts us in the mood to connect to the season, inside and out.

And it puts us in the mood to be gatherers, to look around us and see what we have before we run out and buy more stuff. Or to take inventory to see what we really might need.

There are other ways to celebrate. We make special treats for the birds, coating pinecones with peanut butter and bird seed. We bake together and sing together, do projects and make things for other family members.

Well, we do some of that, anyway. But we do live in the world. And the youngest member of the family has the consumer bug bad. He always needs something, something that’s the newest or fastest or best.

The funny thing is that he has more stuff than anyone else in the house. And after he has acquired that thing that he was convinced was newest or fastest or best, he discovers something else that is even newer or faster. And he convinces himself he needs that, too. It makes the rest of our heads spin.

But we also recognize that trend and that pull, and how it can become an obsession. Sometimes it seems just easier to buy something — anything — for that person you think you have to buy a gift for.

It’s a lot harder to remember to be mindful, to think not only about the obligation, but the repercussions and the impact. Because one cute little gift item — maybe shipped from halfway around the world, maybe painted or coated with something poisonous, maybe encased with plastic — creates a trail of carbon, garbage, maybe even guilt. Because who made it? And in what conditions? And what will the recipient really do with it?

Maybe there’s a better way to share the season with our friends and family, to honor them and the world we share. Maybe gifts of time, or food or useful supplies, cheerfully decorated with some of those pine branches, make more sense in this long recession. Maybe the whole family can work together to make festive treats — breads or cookies, teas or bath salts — to give to the cousins or teachers on your list. Or plan an outing — a daybreak walk, a sunset hike, a coffee meeting — as a gift for someone you love but don’t see enough.

Maybe we can find more meaningful ways to celebrate, and maybe we’ll all have less garbage to throw away at the end of the season.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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