Posts Tagged ‘sustainable living’

Celebrating Christmas

November 30, 2008

Given our goal of making Christmas less superficial and material, more spiritual and meaningful, my wife and I have spent a fair amount of time mulling over how to accomplish this. It isn’t enough merely to avoid shopping on Buy Nothing Day, or to limit the money spent on gifts. There needs to be positive steps, rather than merely negative ones (Christmas commission rather than merely Christmas omission). What do you do to replace the malls and credit card charges?

We find that it starts with emphasizing activities. There are many community events available this time of year which can help make the season memorable. In theory, I’m less reluctant to spend money on events than gifts: while the event itself is more transient than a “thing,” the impact can last far longer than most material gifts. In practice, there are so many free events celebrating Christmas that we rarely attend events which charge.

For us, one of the greatest aspects of the Christmas experience is music. While I’m no fan of most of the “Christmas contemporary” genre, I find great joy in traditional Christmas music. There is little we look forward to more than the Christmas Carol Service of Salt Lake’s Cathedral of the Madeleine. The traditional Catholic music is so ethereal and reverential, and the Cathedral is such a gorgeous setting. We find ourselves awed every time. If you are interested, call early for (free) tickets.

They don’t seem to have any specifically Christmas programs, but I’ve attended a couple services at Salt Lake City’s Calvary Baptist Church in December. I really enjoy Gospel music, and the services are always jubilant. It’s a nice change of perspective.

There are virtually nonstop concerts around Temple Square for your enjoyment throughout December.

Last year we found that the Utah Cultural Celebration Center had a dozen or so Christmas concerts in December, from musical traditions around the world. My favorite was the Peruvian group—Andean music is entrancing.

Another event at the Cultural Celebration Center is the Trees of Diversity exhibit. Years ago, I went to the Festival of Trees and was terribly disappointed. Most of the trees were nothing more than marketing promotions: The Jazz had donated a tree with ornaments of players and logos; KSL’s tree was covered with news anchors, logos, and topped with a news chopper; Michael McLean had a tree adorned with CD cases from his latest albums. Do those displays say anything meaningful about Christmas? The Trees of Diversity exhibit, on the other hand, was beautiful. Each tree was decorated with handcrafted ornaments from a given traditional culture. We could see what each group valued about Christmas, and we learned a little something about their culture.

Convention says that the gift-giving tradition on Christmas is meant to represent God’s gift to the world of His Son, Jesus Christ. But a crucial aspect of that gift is that the gift of Jesus and the Atonement was given to a world entirely undeserving, and yet one in desperate need of that gift. In the same spirit, I think we symbolize the Christmas gift so much more by giving to those in need. So many lack material or spiritual sustenance. I can’t imagine a better gift to our Father than to memorialize his Son through service. Do we or our families need the new fashions, gadgets, or gizmos which typically make up Christmas? Or could our resources meet more crucial needs in others?

Giving generously to charity is certainly worthwhile. The Salvation Army and (for us Mormons) the LDS humanitarian services are a couple of the most prominent options. Several local organizations are sponsoring the Angel Tree program in Utah, which is a good way to connect specific individuals/families with donors, making it a more personal act of service. The Feminist Mormon Housewives team has created a Kiva Account to help raise funds for third-world people through the concept of microcredit, pioneered by Grameen Bank. One year we worked with my extended family to raise the funds to send an African student to college in concert with Signs of Hope international.

We have increasingly been looking to find situations in which we can contribute time as well as money. Last year a family in our neighborhood with three children under eight-years-old made a couple dozen Christmas cards, and then spent a day in a nursing home delivering cards, singing songs, and talking with the residents. For a recent Christmas, we arranged for our extended family to purchase materials for and then together assemble newborn “kits” for the Teddy Bear Den to distribute to needy single mothers. All of the young children in the family eagerly participated in filling the kits, thrilled to know that they were helping “babies.”

We still do some traditional gift-giving. I am intrigued by the idea of celebrating Christmas entirely without exchanging gifts, partly because I realize that celebrating Buy Nothing Day accomplishes nothing if you just spend the money a few days later. While we haven’t gone that far yet, we try to make as many of our gifts as possible. Over the last several years, we’ve had a lot of fun learning how to make wind-chimes, lamps, bean-bag chairs, homebound journals, art, etc. It isn’t necessarily cheaper than purchased gifts, but they are more personal.

When we must buy gifts (or the supplies for gifts), we try to shop locally owned businesses as much as possible. One good option in SLC is Earth Goods General Store, which honored Buy Nothing Day by remaining closed Friday, and which specializes in environmentally friendly items.

For a few more days, you have the option of a viewing the Old World Christmas Market at Gallivan Plaza, where you can buy hand crafted gifts from local artisans.

No doubt, it takes more work to make time for the various events and the service activities in which we want to participate. It can be hard to resist the allure of stuff. But we’ve found that our holiday is strangely less stressful and more rich as we focus on relationships and experiences.

What do you do to make your Christmas season meaningful? What events go on in your community, here or elsewhere, which you look forward to?

Buy Nothing Day

November 26, 2008

For me, the day after Thanksgiving has always been the real holiday. Neither the turkey nor the wall-to-wall football has ever excited me. But Friday was the day for unpacking the Christmas decorations, dusting off the holiday records, and welcoming in the Christmas season. This, I loved.

Among our Friday traditions was the mall crawl. Our family would pile into the van and brave the packed freeway to SLC, where we would wander three or four of the malls. We never got up in the wee hours to make the opening rush—as a family of night owls, I’m not sure you could get us up and out the door before first light if the house was on fire. But once we had taken care of the morning festivities, we wandered the malls until closing time.

Looking back, I’m rather embarrassed. Much of the thrill was simply seeing all the things I wanted, all the thing I might possibly get. Occasionally we would get gifts for others on the trip, but the tradition was primarily an opportunity to finalize our wishlists. Virtually our first act of the season was to pay homage to commercialism.

I’ve grown older, hopefully wiser, and have come to understand the shallow nature of consumerism, and appreciate the importance of sustainable living and simplicity. I’m no longer interested in celebrating C.S. Lewis’ aptly named “Rush.” Now I’m an advocate of Buy Nothing Day.

Honoring Buy Nothing Day isn’t very difficult. You simply don’t go shopping. There are plenty of other activities with which to fill your time.

Why not usher in the celebration of our Lord and elder brother by spending quality time with family? Black Friday is often spent with family, but I’m skeptical that time spent in lines, rushing to catch some special before stock runs out, or weaving over blacktop looking for a decent parking spot qualifies as quality time. Instead, why not spend the day making your Christmas decor? It isn’t so long ago that homes were not dressed for the holidays by Wal-Mart and Target. Families made their decorations, from the tree ornaments, to paper snowflakes, to the wreath, and even the nativity. How often do people still make those paper chains with which to count down the days until Christmas? While those earlier families may not financially have had the option of buying pre-made Christmas furnishings, I think they may have been better for the time together making their Christmases.

Not all of my enjoyment of Black Friday came from avarice. I am an extrovert by nature, and am energized by crowds. Being in among the (more or less) jolly throngs thrilled me. I love traditional Christmas music (and some few contemporary creations). Fortunately, I find that there are plenty of ways to enjoy the multitudes without offering up sacrifices at the altar of corporatism. Temple Square lights up for the season on Friday. Starting at 4:30, SLC’s Gallivan Center will host a “lights on” celebration, with a concert by Kurt Bestor and a children’s choir. Those less clumsy than I might enjoy Gallivan’s ice skating. Gateway is also sponsoring music and a tree lighting—just don’t be seduced into the stores lining the way.

Several local charitable and progressive groups are sponsoring at Coat Exchange at the Salt Lake City Library plaza, from 10:00-3:00 on Friday. Helping out at this or some other charitable activity would be a wonderful way to start the season.

What other traditions do you have to begin the holiday off right? What traditions have you considered starting? What other things are happening in your communities to ring in the season without a cash register?

Addendum

We just got through with being interviewed by Chris Jones for KUTV (channel 2) news about this post. Apparently he wanted to do a report on Buy Nothing Day in Utah, and googled my post. They came to our house, asked us some questions, and filmed us decorating our tree. Of all the posts I’d written, this is not the one I’d expected to get media attention. If you’re interested in seeing me being a stammering fool (as opposed to a typing fool), keep an eye on the news.

Utah Solar Tour

September 11, 2008

This Saturday (September 13), the Utah Solar Energy Association is sponsoring the Northern Utah Solar Tour. It appears that over fifty buildings will be exhibited in Ogden, Park City, SLC, and Orem/Provo showing off various types of solar energy features. The tour is part of the National Solar Tour promoted by the American Solar Energy Society. Should be some very interesting information and ideas for how to reduce energy use and dependence on fossil fuels.

(for any readers in the Dixie area, the Southern Utah Solar Tour, with buildings in St. George and Cedar City, will be on September 27).

More on Sustainable Foods

April 23, 2008

I’ve been outdone. Artemis of the blog Feminist Mormon Housewives has written a great little primer on slow food and local foods, with a number of resources I missed. And a fantastic discussion on how to garden and how to eat locally has blossomed in the comments of the post. Its well worth reading.

One of the main participants in that conversation is Chandelle, a local whose knowledge of food is evident in her recipe blog, Authentic Deliciousness. As the primary cook in our family, I can vouch for the quality of her work. Foodies among my readers, especially those interested in sustainable and healthy food, should surf over pronto.

Utah’s Food Security – Getting to a Sustainable Utah Food System (lecture/discussion)

March 28, 2008

From Post Carbon Salt Lake:

  • Friday, April 4, 2008, 7:00-9:00 pm
  • First Unitarian Church, 569 S 1300 E, SLC

How far does food travel before it reaches your plate? What chemicals are added, what fossil fuels are burned to deliver your food to you each and every day? Was it always this way? Is this sustainable in light of global warming and peak oil? What are our alternatives in Utah (local farms, community supported agriculture, community gardens, food co-ops)? Join us as we explore food security and the sustainability of the Salt Lake Valley and Utah food systems. Guest speakers and panelists will include Jen Colby, Coordinator, Office of Sustainability, University of Utah; Lance Christie, a founding member of the Natural Resources Defense Council, President of the Association for the Tree of Life, and author of The Renewable Deal: A Political Policy Program to Obtain a Sustainable, Ecologically Restorative, Just and Comfortable Future; and a panel of representatives from Great Salt Lake Resource Conservation & Development (Community Supported Agriculture Project), S.E.E.D. (Sustainable Environments and Ecological Design), Slow Food Utah, Utah Food Bank, Utahns Against Hunger, and Wasatch Community Gardens.

This presentation is part of the Environmental Issues (First Friday) Lecture/Discussion Series co-sponsored by Post Carbon Salt Lake and the Environmental Ministry of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City.

This Green House — Building and Remodeling to Reduce Energy Consumption

March 3, 2008

From Post Carbon SLC:

This Green House — Building and Remodeling to Reduce Energy Consumption

  • Friday, March 7, 2008, 7:00-9:00 pm
  • First Unitarian Church, 569 S 1300 E, SLC

Did you know that buildings are the largest users of energy in the United States (Almost as much as industry and transportation combined!)? Did you know that in Utah, our reliance on coal-fired power plants means that your house is part of the air-quality problem? Is your house, apartment, place of business or worship an energy hog? What steps can you take personally to reduce your energy footprint and become part of the solution?

The evening will begin with a brief presentation of fundamental facts on building energy use reduction by Myron Willson, MHTN Architects. A recent Salt Lake Tribune article noted that Myron is “one of the few architects in the state whose sole duty is to look for environmentally friendly strategies in every design project.” This presentation will be followed by a panel discussion with Myron and other SLC experts who will answer questions about what you can do to reduce your personal, business, and congregational impacts on the planet. You will leave this presentation with practical ideas for reducing your overall energy consumption (and energy costs), and reducing your impact on air quality and global warming.

This presentation is part of a Lecture Discussion Series co-sponsored by Post Carbon Salt Lake and the Environmental Ministry of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. We are pleased to welcome Utah Interfaith Power and Light as a sponsor this month. Previous speakers have included Vanessa Pierce, HEAL Utah, outgoing Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, Dr. Brian Moench of Utah Physicians for a Health Environment, newly elected Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, Utah Moms for Clean Air, and The University of Utah Student Leaders of S.E.E.D. (Sustainable Environmental and Ecological Design).