"To live is to consume" it is said, but how is the question...
Even in a recession, Christmas spending amounts to one third of the annual retail turn over in developed countries. A study done in Australia by Farbotko and Head showed that people with a "green identity" who take measures throughout the year to reduce their negative impact on the planet, feel that nurturing family bonds with "normal" consumer values is more important than "green gifting" at Christmas. In fact "green gifts" are not perceived as popular, and those who receive such presents may feel an unwanted pressure to be environmental.
Is it any wonder Christmas is often considered a disaster in environmental terms? Initially there was speculation the recession would be assist in environmental preservation by reducing consumption levels, but this has proven an illusion most clearly typified in Evan's 2012 study where he demonstrated that the recession provokes thriftiness not frugality.
Frugality is useful for the environment as it involves voluntarily choosing less and opting for simplicity. Thriftiness, which is on the increase, is about consuming more lower quality products that can't be recycled or repaired, and are often produced in unethical factories. Thrifty behaviour also saves money in one way, in order to spend more on something else. Interestingly, Evans demonstrated a link between frugality and altruism, whereas the thrifty person is a self-centred, or family-centred person.
So is it possible for the average person on a budget to have fun at Christmas and do a bit less damage to the planet?
Many high altitude mountain communities in Europe celebrated Christmas in a different way from the lowlands, at least until the 1950s. These communities were famous for their frugality and equally for their extremely rich social/family interactions. A snapshot of this life is rendered in this reminiscence from a woman in the Sibillini Mountains:
"We were so poor -- but not like you think of poverty today. We had no money to buy a single thing but we made everything we needed so we weren't poor. Only what we had to hand sometimes restricted what we could make. But even without one bit of money, and with all the hard work, it was a life filled with such warmth -- a strong community -- we had real fun and laughter like people today don't know. It's the people of today who are poor, in my opinion."
Community bonds were linked around shared work, all of which had its songs, festivals, and rituals. People were so close they did not need "nurturing with gifts" as we do today.
Hence at Christmas gifts were not given. Yet every effort was made regarding the food, the drink, the celebrations, the ceremonies, singing and dances. All energy and resources were focused on what stimulates connectivity, not on objects. Occasionally small figures out of straw were made for the very young children, or a child might be given one nut.
Mountain people embodied the old belief that he who has little can easily be content and live with joy. In contrast he who has a lot will find contentment difficult, as he will always want something more at any price, and be agitated. As a result the high altitude mountain Christmas was solely about enjoying each other's company with special food and drink, religious traditions and a few natural decorations. For a simple, old-fashioned Christmas recipe look on here.
Going without gifts may seem a hardship but instead of buying presents we too can focus our festivities on people's interactions, on having fun together, or new experiences and discover if a more frugal mountain-style Christmas turns out to be the most festive.