Christmas has become the season of door-crashing sales and sparkling dinner parties. But in a post-Laudato Si' Church, taking a good look at our environmental impact during these joyous days might be the best way to bring Christian spirituality to the forefront of the season.
Karen Van Loon is the coordinator of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation office at Scarboro Missions. She likes to refer to section 222 of Pope Francis' environmental encyclical to encourage people to live simply this Christmas.
"There is something in Laudato Si' that comes under the heading of Joy and Peace, which is very much a part of the Christmas season," said Van Loon. "Going back to a lifestyle that prioritizes deep enjoyment over focusing on consumerism and all that time spent running around getting ready for Christmas."
This "return to simplicity," Francis writes, opens a person up to a greater understanding of oneself. To achieve this, Van Loon suggests that if you must be conscious of what you buy.
Real vs. artificial Christmas trees is a common debate among environmental groups. Canadians are fortunate to have a natural abundance of evergreens.
Purchasing an evergreen from a local tree farm might yield a smaller carbon footprint than a plastic tree that was manufactured and shipped from China. However, a plastic tree that is being reused every year for many years produces less waste. If you do purchase a real tree, make sure it will be chipped and composted afterwards. Different municipalities have different procedures for tree disposals.
Potted plants that you can grow over the years is also a good option.
Christmas decorations are another source of waste during the yuletide. Van Loon said this might be a great opportunity to get creative. Saving old bows, tinsel and wrapping paper can make for a fun activity for the the family.
LED lights are a good alternative for Christmas lights. They consume up to 95 per cent less energy than incandescent bulbs.
Van Loon said the best way to celebrate a "less is more" Christmas is to make it a family affair.
"The idea of less is more doesn't mean give nothing," she said. "Have a conversation with your extended family about simplifying gift buying…. You can opt out and instead focus on sharing time and meals together."
Kris Kringle, where gift buyers are matched up, is a fun way to simplifying gift shopping for family, friends and coworkers. But, gifts don't always have to be bought either.
Homemade baked goods, crafted Christmas cards and DIY knits are creative alternatives to consider.
Van Loon also suggests taking some time as a family to sort through what you already have. You are likely to find books, clothes, toys and other items that can be re-gifted or donated to a good cause.
When it comes to travel, carpooling as a family is always a good option. Christmas can be a huge gas-guzzler, whether people travelling by plane, train or car. However, it does mean that people are gathered in one place and their homes are not consuming the regular amount of energy.
"As soon as we are together, we are not demanding energy from our homes," said Norman Lévesque, director of Green Churches Network. "So imagine 300 people together in a church. They're celebrating, it's a feast, but it demands less on the whole power network. So that's a thing that Christians can be proud of. Any time we gather, we're saving energy."
Lévesque said that Catholics can take up the eco-challenge further by considering more environmental initiatives in their local parishes. He said Green Churches looks at the 5 Rs when creating an eco-plan for a parish: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repair and Revere.
"Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" is always a useful approach to any waste management practice, said Lévesque.
When hosting holiday events in the parish hall, make sure that composte and recycling bins are visible and emphasized.
When parish committees begin to decorate the church for the season of Advent, it might be useful to ask parishioners to donate old Christmas lights and decorations.
"Repair" has to do with maintaining the infrastructure of the church. The biggest impact in any church is how it consumes energy. Lévesque said most churches he encounters use huge amounts of oil and natural gas to power the building's healing and cooling systems.
In the longer term, he suggests looking at more efficient systems like geothermal or solar energy. Some short-term projects can be improving insulation or lowering the thermostat and gathering in smaller rooms for the winter.
"Revere" is the fifth 'R' that Green Churches like to promote in its parish networks. Lévesque said an important part of creating environmental initiatives for the church community is to also contemplate the beauty of God's Creation.
"One good example was St. Kateri Tekakwitha. When we read her biography, she would always pray outside, contemplating Creation," said Lévesque. "A sense of awe can bring us to praise the Lord for the beauty of Creation."
Did you know that household waste increases by 25 per cent between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day? When wrapping up the Christmas festivities, here are some ways to break that holiday waste habit:
1. Compost your tree. Different municipalities have different policies in how they dispose trees. The City of Toronto, for example, has specific collection days in January. There are also designated recycling stations where you can drop them off.
2. Save it for next year. Avoid having to buy new Christmas materials by saving materials from this year. If they're still in good condition, you can reuse those gift bags and leftover wrapping paper to wrap gifts next year. Old Christmas cards make for great crafts and decoration, too.
3. The one-in-one-out policy. You only need so many knits in your wardrobe. If that new Christmas sweater in going into your closet, one is coming out.
4. Pay it forward. Spread the spirit of gift giving this season by giving away your old clothes, toys and other items to others. Arrange a clothes swap among friends and family. One person's jean jacket, might be another person's summer vest.
5. Recycle or compost. For the things you can't salvage and the things you can't donate, dispose responsibly. Styrofoam peanuts, batteries and corks are only some items that most people don't know are recyclable. Apple implemented a recycling program for its older products in 2013. Even some cosmetic companies have recycling programs. MAC, for example, will give you a a free lipstick if you return six of their cosmetic packagings in any of their stores. LUSH and Origins also have similar programs.