Amy Roberts: Christmas vacation
It’s been awhile since I found myself truly in the holiday spirit. I’m certainly not a Grinch, but I’m a long way from “ho, ho, ho,” tis the season, jolly, too. On average, I probably fall into the lukewarm Christmas category. I celebrate with my family, exchange gifts with those close to me, and sometimes I even bake; but I rarely put up a tree, or hang lights, and you’ll never hear me singing along to holiday tunes.
The past few years have been an odd mix of extremes. On one hand, I’ve celebrated a bit more since my niece, who is now four, was born. There’s a little more oohing and ahhing as we all open gifts from Santa next to the carefully decorated tree my parents put up each year. In many ways Addison has kept Christmas alive in my family. When my younger sister died two years ago, the expectation of holiday merriment was a struggle. But a child only believes for so long, so we found a reasonable balance.
Until this year, when we tipped the scales and doubled down on the magic of Christmas.
My mom, my older sister, and I took Addison to Rovaniemi, Finland — the official hometown of Santa Claus – located at the Arctic Circle. It’s pretty much exactly what you might expect — children from all over the world drunk on sugar and excitement, followed by frenzied parents making all sorts of threats about the naughty list. There were reindeer-pulled sleigh rides; you could catch one outside of Santa’s official North Pole post office. Just down the road there was an underground snow globe world of sorts, where kids could enroll in elf school, decorate gingerbread cookies, take a Disney-like ride through a winter wonderland, and even shiver in an ice castle, where an ice bar was conveniently set up.
One would have to make a concerted effort not to get caught up in the Christmas spirit in a place like this. It had absolutely everything a trip to Santa Claus Village should, except for one rather critical feature: Snow.
We were at the Arctic Circle, in Finland, in late November, and the ground was` as clear as the sky. Like Park City, the town of Rovaniemi very much depends on snow fall to sell its winter allure. By this time of year, usually at least a couple feet have fallen. The visitors, workers, and even Santa himself all seemed a bit dismayed.
The logical conclusion was global warming, a term used frequently in every language imaginable. Instead of making snow angels, or having snowball fights, people shopped. We did too, buying souvenirs and gifts we didn’t really need or want. Watching stuffed animals, plastic toys, and polar bear shaped salt and pepper shakers move from shelf to bag reminded me of an article I read several years ago by British author George Monbiot.
He wrote about the normalization of consumption, all the gadgets and gag gifts we buy for others that, he wrote, “seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.”
He went on to say that while only 1 percent of holiday gifts remain in use just six months after the season, many of the products we buy have permanent ethical and environmental impacts.
“Rare materials, complex electronics, the energy needed for manufacture and transport are extracted and refined… People in eastern Congo are massacred to facilitate smart phone upgrades of ever diminishing marginal utility. Forests are felled to make personalized heart-shaped wooden cheese board sets. Rivers are poisoned to manufacture talking fish.”
While I don’t recommend reading his article to put you in the holiday spirit, Monbiot does offer insight into the consequences of consumerism that are uncomfortable at best.
For those of us who didn’t finish our holiday shopping between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, perhaps it’s wise to get creative with what we intend to give this year — write your spouse a love letter, offer to babysit for a neighbor, bake homemade cookies for your Secret Santa at the office. At the end of the day, isn’t a livable planet the greatest gift of all?
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
“Even the dogs were celebrating the reemergence of the sun.”