5 Ways to Dematerialize Christmas


With climate change looming large in my mind, I’ve been in a bit of a gloom — normally a holiday to spend time with friends and family would help shine a little light in the darkness, but all the compulsive consumption involved in this particular holiday has only deepened my gloom.  As a result, I’ve been thinking about ways to de-materialize Christmas without losing out on the fun and giving.

  1. Give a kid the rules of a game!  I was in a bookstore talking to another browser.  I showed her a book that I was going to buy that seemed hilarious.  She was an older woman and, for whatever reason, it reminded her of a game she used to play called ‘Chucklebelly.’  The way the game works is this: one person lies down on the floor on their back, a second person lies down with their head on the first person’s belly, the next person does the same until you have a long, head-to-tummy chain.  The first person has to say ‘ha’, the next ‘ha ha’, the next ‘ha ha ha’ in whatever amusing tone they prefer.  Within a few minutes everyone will be crying with laughter.  This game is awesome.  It is free.  You can play it anywhere.  It never runs out of batteries.  Once a friend learns it THEY OWN IT TOO, without going to the store.  Hearing her fond memories of this game made me think of all the creative, social things that kids used to do to entertain themselves.  Now we buy electronic gizmos that entertain us while we watch them dance and sing…  Here’s a list of games on wiki.  Which was your favourite?  To give this as a gift just think of a creative way of passing on the rules — a little card, perhaps an old key that they can use to ‘unlock’ your memory of the rules from the back of your head.
  2. Share your Skills! Think about what you know how to do and who might find this useful.  Cooking, computers, cleaning, accounting, music, knitting.  At first this might seem weird, but if you put as much time into thinking about it as you do into thinking of objects to buy I guarantee you will come up with at least a few.  I can do research, I’m planning to give someone a three-page research report on a topic of their choice — What hairstyles did people have in Ancient Greece?  Why are bricks considered an ‘honest’ material for architecture? Who knows what I will be sent off to discover.  You can also teach a skill if you have time.
  3. A vegan meal — that might become a habit.  Many of us know that meat has a high carbon impact, but so does dairy.  Offer to cook someone a vegan meal or take them to a vegan restaurant they’ve never heard of.  If you choose a recipe that is simple enough to prepare, and they like it, they might add it to their repertoire and then, each time they make it, their carbon footprint will go down a little bit lower.  The same is true if you find a reasonably-priced restaurant at a convenient location.  This chickpea-kale-coconutmilk-sweet-potato stew is for example, amazing.
  4. A membership in the real sharing economy.  Spaces like the Tool Library and the Kitchen Library in Toronto give people the use of all the delightful consumer paraphernalia that we kind of want, but might only use once.
  5. A carbon-offset lottery.  The legality of this one is a little complex, but if you have a charitable organization or know someone who does, you can organize some kind of raffle or fifty-fifty draw with the proceeds going to buy carbon offsets from a carbon credit retailer like less.ca.  Or you could just give six family members a ticket, put some money on the table and roll a six-sided dice on Christmas morning to see who wins the pool.  A little fun, no material, carbon offset as a consolation prize for those who don’t ‘win’.

After all, it’s the holiday spirit, and having fun with family, that counts, not the holiday objects.


About Matthew Lie - Paehlke

Matthew Lie-Paehlke is a PhD student in Urban Planning at the University of Toronto.
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