Wednesday, December 14, 2016

At Home With A Naturalist: A Simple, Meaningful Christmas

I love Christmas.  I love celebrating the birth of our Savior, and enjoying time with my family.  I appreciate the general feelings of warmth and love, generosity and kindness that seems to pervade at this time of year.  I love Christmas trees and the stockings.  I love snow in the Sierra.  I love the candlelight Christmas Eve service at church and exchanging gifts with my family.

But there are things I dislike about Christmas, too.  And that's ok.  I dislike the rampant consumerism of the season and giant inflatable "decorations" covering front lawns.  I dislike all the waste that comes with mountains of wrapped gifts.  I dislike advertisements that sell expectations, and commercials with starry-eyed kids and shiny cars with big red bows on top. 

I dislike the focus-shift that has happened.  Christmas is NOT about shopping or buying gifts, over-decorating your home with shiny things, or even the "winter solstice" (though early Christians did intend for Christmas to supplant pagan winter festivals).

Christmas is about Jesus, the ultimate gift of love.  It is, in fact, about giving, and about family.  Even to some extent, I admit Christmas is linked to the beauty of a wintery landscape, with all those snowy evergreens and red berries!  But Christ is still the central reason we celebrate Christmas.

In our home, Christmas looks pretty different from the TV commercials.  For example, we have :

Plenty of blank space on the calendar.  I am far from a social butterfly (though if Christmas bird counts and ice skating entirely replaced typical Christmas parties, I would be all-in!), but I do love my immediate family.  We kindly say "no thank you" to many Christmas parties in order to have time to spend with our closest family members.  We have pared down our Christmas time activities to the few that we enjoy the most.

Fewer decorations.  We cut a fresh Christmas tree at a local farm every year, and decorate it with pretty natural things, like pinecones and red berries.  In my opinion, trees are perfectly beautiful in their own right; they don't really need our help or adornment.  This year, I made a cedar wreath for our front door with boughs cut from the bottom of our Christmas tree, and decorated it with foraged berries and pinecones.  We put up stockings, throw a cozy blanket on the couch, and call it Christmasy! 

Fewer baked goods.  I bake your typical star-and-tree-shaped Christmas sugar cookies with my sister-in-law, a tradition we started a few years ago.  They look nothing like magazine or Pinterest photos, but they taste great and we have fun!  My grandmother and I make traditional braided Swiss bread, and my mom makes pumpkin pie for dessert Christmas Day.  In past years, I've baked all sorts of extra goodies to give as gifts, and even tried candy-making, only to learn that I don't really enjoy baking, and candy-making is the worst! 

More time spent at home with family, and outside in nature!  We enjoy walking through neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music at home.  I absolutely love a nice snowy snowshoe trek through the woods or ice skating.  And nothing sets the tone for me quite like the candlelight Christmas Eve service at our church.

Fewer presents.  And they're wrapped in some combination of compostable/recyclable brown paper, fabric, or gift bags and boxes that have been around for a while, reused every year.  We make lists of what we want to both give and receive for Christmas, to maximize the probability of giving (and receiving) useful, wanted gifts! 

Gift ideas to feel good about, as a naturalist or other eco-friendly type, include the following:

The Gift of Giving
Donate to a charitable organization in honor of a loved one.  Favorite local organizations, churches and causes are always a fine choice.  Other organizations include Samaritan's Purse, Compassion, and Heifer International.  For the nature-lover, consider adopting an animal, like a pika or reindeer through the National Wildlife Federation or snowy owl through Audubon.  You can also adopt an acre of the Sierra, Rockies or Plains, or even coral reef through the Nature Conservancy.

Especially field guides (for naturalists and naturalists-in-training) or other reference books, which will be used for years!  Field guides and nature books are available for all ages and skill levels, from picture books to technical resources.  Also consider a subscription to National Geographic or other publication.  These gifts have the added benefit of being educational as well!

A National Park pass or State Park pass can be used all year; a gift card, tickets, or even a membership to a nearby zoo, aquarium or museum is also a great idea.  A favorite gift my husband and I received last year was a gift card to Monterey Bay Aquarium, from my sister-in-law.  You might also plan a camping trip, day hike, snowshoe hike, ice skating session or kayaking venture.

Practical & Useful Gifts
Things that immediately come to mind are wool hiking socks, lip balm and soap.  "Pretty" soap, of course!

Garden Gifts
Vegetable, flower and herb seeds, potted plants and even bare root fruit trees are great gifts for those of us who enjoy playing in the dirt.  Native plants for attracting wildlife to the yard are also great for naturalists and wildlife enthusiasts.  For birders, try bird feeders, bird seed, suet (for cold areas - it melts in Central California!) and bird baths.  Consider having a loved one's garden certified as wildlife habitat, through the NWF.

Eco-friendly Gear
For those new to the eco-friendly lifestyle, gifts of a reusable water bottle, travel mug, or Thermos are sure to be welcome.  Other items include glass food storage containers, cloth napkins, a titanium spork for on-the-go meals, canvas shopping bags and fabric produce bags.  Basically, anything to help green their kitchen.

Homemade Gifts
Some easy ones for those who knit or crochet are scarves, beanies, doggie sweaters and socks.  Try sewing some simple fabric produce bags or canvas shopping bags.  For artists and crafty types, the possibilities are endless!

Edible Goodies
A few good ideas include nice olive oil and vinegars, nuts and dried fruit, dark chocolate, local honey or maple syrup, tea or coffee, quick bread or other baked goods (that you actually enjoy making!)

Merry Christmas!!

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