Tuesday, December 11

A Practical Christmas

Christopher Kimball's "Letter From Vermont" for December landed in my inbox today. In it he writes:

Christmas in Vermont is, if nothing else, practical. Back in the 1960s, Marie Briggs, the baker, was up before dawn 364 days a year to cook for the farmhands. On Christmas Day, however, she got dressed up (still wearing sensible black shoes and with her hair in a bun) and was taken out to dinner by Floyd and Junior Bentley. That was her Christmas present. John, who used to live just across the valley from us, would bring over a gallon jug of homemade dandelion wine around the holidays. His wife, Lou, still brings over a box of homemade pizzelle, lightly sprinkled with confectioners' sugar and scented with anise. I bake molasses cookies for Charlie Bentley, and warm socks, gloves, hunting pants, Sorel boots, riding chaps, Georgia fatwood, and wool vests are the gifts of choice. An inline black powder rifle or a Bushnell scope would be the gift of a lifetime.

This, I think is the kind of Christmas my maternal grandparents knew. The Christmases I had with my parents were full of playing with toys and eachother and trying on new pajamas and ignoring the socks and underwear that found its way under the tree.

I appreciate now the way my parents tried to blend the practical with the indulgent. The orange in my stocking on Christmas morning was always a chance for my mom to tell the stories about when oranges were seasonal and expensive and very special, so an orange in the stocking was a gift, and not just filler. The Reese's peanut butter cups were my dad's favorite candy.

When I do Christmas with the family now, I am just amazed at what my nieces and nephews go through. They get indulgent presents from everyone, because it's so easy to provide oranges and bananas and underwear throughout the year. And these kids try to delight in every single present, and we adults try not to place too much importance on their expressions when they open them, but eventually they're just exhausted. All they wanted to do was play with the alphabet cards in their stocking and here we are trying to push through the gift giving so we can get on to food.

I think this is a metaphor for what it might mean to transition to a post-carbon economy. Bananas and oranges will be special again. Underwear will be more expensive. There will be fewer toys on Christmas morning and in the rest of our lives, but there might also be more time for relaxing with friends and family and less overall exhaustion.

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NotSoBigLiving is the story of a woman inspired by Sarah Susanka, Bill McKibben, Airstreams, Tumbleweed houses, Mennonites, Jimmy Carter, hippies, survivalists, Anasazi, Pema Chodron and Joko Beck, Scott Peck, Buckminster Fuller, and Al Gore to see what she can do to reduce her carbon footprint in her mid-80's suburban townhome. Strategies include roommates, alternative travel, organic eating, planting a victory garden, mindfulness, and a belly full of laughter.