Photo: Creative Commons
I’ll never forget my first Christmas in Australia. We were invited to celebrate the event with our former host family (this is long before Airbnb was invented), this lovely interracial young couple (Korea meets Australia) with two gorgeous small children. The Australian grandparents joined the party too. Apart from celebrating Christmas in broad daylight, the party was not dissimilar to our Brazilian Christmas soiree—overeating and drinking, music and family. But then it came the time to open the gifts. Grandpa had the presents in a gigantic red sack and he could not tie the ends of the bag together, the gifts were overflowing, I was left wondering if more guests were coming considering the number of presents. He started distributing the gifts, most of which were for the children. The first couple of beautifully wrapped toys made the kids jump with excitement but the more gifts they opened the less they cheered. You could tell that the first gifts were carefully selected, age-appropriate, but the rest were just ‘stocking fillers’, an expression I had never heard until that day.
My head kept turning to the clock on the wall, the gift giving was becoming too long and boring and the pile of worthless junk tucked beside the Christmas tree was getting taller by the minute. By the time the last gift was distributed the children were more interested in what was showing on TV.
Back then, climate change was not a mainstream topic of discussion but I could not help thinking of the waste that millions of Australian households were creating that day and how they were nurturing a throwaway generation.
At that time it was clear to me that, by comparison, the Brazilian Christmas was very much a celebration of hope, love and piece rather than a purely consumeristic event but I was forced to change my mind when I went back to my country of birth for Christmas in 2005. My city, Recife, had been invaded by stores selling cheap goods manufactured in sweatshops in other third world countries. Now, everyone had access to crap they could afford and this was reflected in the Christmas giving that year. I guess our Christmas principles weren’t so different after all, the festive Brazilian people just didn’t have easy access to an oversupply of things they didn’t need.
Fast forward 18 years from my first Ozzie Christmas and now we are all talking about climate change and the impact of our consumeristic society in the environment. But it doesn’t feel like we are matching our words with actions. I recently saw statistics showing that each Australian family contributes enough rubbish each year to fill a three-bedroom house from floor to ceiling. I think that Christmas alone is responsible for filling up the whole lounge room.
There are truckloads of reasons why society has evolved into such a remarkable waste producing machine and one of them is because we now can afford to buy more things and these things last less. It’s a vicious cycle and of course, this has an impact on the planet.
So it really surprises me when I see that the idea of filling up Christmas stockings continues as strong as ever. Don’t kids (and adults) receive enough gifts already? Do we really need to top up the Christmas gift giving extravaganza with more?
To make piece with our compulsion to buy, lots of websites are now promoting environmentally friendly, zero-waste stocking fillers. But this defeats the purpose, if we are combating excess, we don’t need fillers. We need substantial changes to our behaviours, we need to realise that Christmas giving doesn’t have to mean excessive buying. Giving makes us happy, but we can replace needless stuff with other ways to give like giving our time, offering a helping hand, being there when our friends need. That’s the true Christmas spirit, in Australia and elsewhere.