Sunday, May 17, 2009

Helping Santa Save the World - One Gift at a Time

Editorial Column by Nalini Krishnankutty, Centre Daily Times, Dec 10, 2007

I am a bit worried about Santa and his elves this year. Not about their ability to deliver gifts on time — they are proven masters at that. But about how much danger they are in, with global warming and all that accelerated melting of ice caps at the North Pole.

In a few years, will Santa still be living at the North Pole?

Surely, Santa must have a handle on that problem. But what if he doesn’t? Should we be sending him some ideas along with our gift lists?

It surely cannot hurt, and Santa may even be thankful for them.

Perhaps Santa could alleviate global warming by fighting consumerism and going cold turkey on gifts, but I don’t think he would be ready to do that. His kind heart would not allow him to disappoint all the kids who expect his arrival every Christmas.

But what about gift wrap? Could Santa perhaps go cold turkey on gift wrap or at least think of some alternatives?

What if I shared with Santa some of the ideas our family has been using over the past few years?

What if I told him about our family’s idea of giving gifts in special bags, which we call journey bags, with a mandate to the receiver to reuse them?

Santa could inscribe a bold “From: Santa, North Pole, To: Jane, Pennsylvania, December 2007” on one corner of the journey bag. And the child could reuse the bag, perhaps for a gift to her grandmother, inscribing “From: Jane, Pennsylvania, To: Grandma, Wisconsin, January 2008.”

And Grandma could send the bag off on further journeys, perhaps to another country, or town. And as the journey bag travels, we would venerate it — for its chronicles of givers and recipients, documenting our interactions in space and time, and our human expressions of celebration, joy and gratitude.

What if I shared with Santa our practice of using white packaging paper to wrap gifts, on which my daughter obligingly draws a scene or pattern? Perhaps Santa and his elves would enjoy drawing on recyclable paper wraps too.

Or maybe they would enjoy reading the comics section of the newspaper while wrapping gifts in them.

What if I told Santa that I recently got my gifts wrapped by the store a few times, because I was buying gifts a half hour before I needed to give them? And I disliked doing it, as I reflected on how our society has traveled so far from the fulfillment of our basic needs that we need to do more and more to make us feel good.

Consider this example: Here were some nice gifts, already in their own packaging, being made more wonderful by the unique wrapping of the store and beautified further with some ribbon and bows.

There was a time, someone told me recently, when people received an orange and an apple as gifts at Christmas — unwrapped — and were happy to get an orange and an apple. Does Santa remember that time?

What would he say if he heard of gift giving in my parents’ generation, in faraway India?

For our New Year (Vishu),in April, my family followed a tradition ofVishukaineetam,literally translated to “extending the hand at Vishu” for giving and receiving gifts.

The oldest person in the house gave gifts to all the younger people and anyone in their employment — gifts of money and fruits to family members and money, fruits, vegetables and rice to employees — all given unadorned and received with thanks.

As a child, I happily received my Vishukaineetam money directly in my hand while calculating my total “loot” for the day.

No envelopes, cards or gift wraps were used, no indulging a need to surprise — saving so many trees and creating less pollution.

But I had traveled far from those traditions, from being so easily satisfied to standing in a store, receiving complimentary gift wrap and yet feeling dissatisfied about the relatively bad job the employee was doing in wrapping the gift.

I wonder if Santa would stop using store-bought gift wrap if I shared all this with him. It is worth a try.

This year, I suggest that our kids tell Santa how they want their gifts packaged.
“Please leave my gifts under the tree in a journey bag,” or “a brown paper bag” or a “tote bag.”

“Please wrap my gifts in the comics pages of the newspaper.”

Or even, “Please lay my gifts under the tree, without any wrapping.”

Our kids would be ready to do this to save our Earth, and Santa would be more than willing to indulge these requests.

He may even be more creative than us and wrap gifts in useful gifts such as towels or scarves for the sake of reducing global warming, saving our forests and his home at the North Pole.

And once Santa takes the lead, there is no doubt that millions would follow him by forgoing gift wrap for all our other gift giving, too.

Now wouldn’t that be a genuine and Santa-sized miracle worthy of all our efforts?

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