Don’t go in the red for Christmas, but try to make it green

It’s a colourful time of year and red and green really are the colours of the season — red for our budgetary concerns post-holidays and green for our environmental concerns (and for the money we spend).

Retailers kindly started the countdown for us right after Halloween, as storefronts changed from orange and black to colourful Christmas displays. (As if time wasn’t already racing in my life, this made me feel desperately behind for Christmas, even though it was only the first week of November).

The countdown is now much more frantic, with radio commercials announcing the number of shopping hours left. The mounting pressure to satisfy everyone’s seasonal expectations is firmly upon us. We’ve tried to plan the perfect decorations, the perfect holiday meals, and the perfect thoughtful gifts. The hope being, of course, that all this hard work will meet or exceed the perfect memories of Christmases past and last for years to come.

No easy task to begin with, perfect holiday planning became more complicated by a desire to do it all in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

Kermit the Frog said it best when he said, “it’s not easy being green,” but I did what I could to apply the three R’s to the holiday season. We reduced energy-usage with LED lights on our tree and outdoors, reduced over-consumption by sticking to our shopping lists and not randomly strolling into malls, and reduced what goes to the landfill by buying quality gifts without excessive packaging. I also did my best to source local gifts and buy Canadian. We reused gift bags, and will recycle all the wrapping, meticulously separating out paper and plastic (after fighting what my friend Brian calls “Fort Knox” childproof packaging on the kids’ toys).

Luckily, many of my green ecoambitions also helped to keep green in my wallet, which in turn helped to keep me out of the holiday red. Among other Christmas resolutions, I no longer exchange gifts with friends. Instead we go for a group dinner, or have a pot-luck appetizer party where we only exchange recipes. For family, we have implemented a gift-exchange among the adults. We don’t buy for neighbours or friends’ children anymore. For the children in our lives we have lightened up on the gifts we buy, focusing more on books, clothes, and a couple of key toys (hopefully the grandparents will follow suit).

Another holiday red that I like to avoid is the rouge of rage on some driver’s faces battling for mall parking spots. Once again, a healthy dose of green eliminates this problem. When I couldn’t walk, I car-pooled to shop (it’s more fun to shop with a friend anyhow!) reducing the number of cars in the lots. I also stopped vulture-like circling for parking spots and parked further away. (The extra walk also acted as a head-start on my New Year’s resolutions).

So it has been a traditional red and green holiday, however, 2008 also has a couple of grayish shades associated with it. Not the pretty, sparkly gray-silver of Christmas tinsel decking my tree, but more like recession-cloud-gray. We hope it won’t get darker like Black-Monday-black, but even with dark clouds there is always a tinsel lining (or two).

One possible silver-lining is that the grey horizon may be the wake-up call some of us need to “right-size” our spending patterns. Just like the stock market corrections, we could more critically evaluate our “buy it, you’ll have it” impulses. Needs and wants may be discussed interchangeably in marketing contexts, but, as individuals over the age of seven, perhaps we need to reevaluate if we really need something before we buy it, to help reverse a cycle of constant buying, sometime beyond our means. It may help to look back to our more humble upbringings and our Christmases past, when we had smaller houses, fewer cars, shoes we polished and clothes we mended, but we were happy.

Another sterling opportunity is that the market correction is a good time to buy stocks. The best analogy I’ve heard asks investors: if their favourite ice cream went on sale, would they wait until it doubled in price to buy it? Of course not, so perhaps Santa can leave me some well-priced dividend reinvestment plan shares under the tree this year.

The final silver lining around the unseasonably slush-gray cloud is that even if we got a little carried away in our holiday buying this year, we can quickly throw in a colourful saying like “I’m simply doing my part to stimulate the economy.”

I wish you a stress and expectation-free holiday, surrounded by the people you love (with a healthy dose of quiet, relaxing time for yourself as well). Joyeux Noel. Buon natale. Feliz Navidad. Mino Nibaanamaang. Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

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