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Can Christmas be about radical change?

Grant's Woods

What does our Executive Director, Mark Bisset, think about the holiday season? Read on…

Generosity.

Peace and goodwill.

Love.

These are the themes you will hear again and again over the Christmas season. Constant repetition in a commercial context can make them sound hollow. The barrage of consumption that now starts before Remembrance Day and ramps up into a frenzy by Dec. 24 can be dispiriting. From an environmental viewpoint, Christmas consumption is emblematic of the huge challenge of shifting cultural norms.

To borrow an image from Tom Harpur, Christmas is like an impossibly beautiful brook which, over many generations, has had so much built up around it and piled on top of it that the brook is no longer visible. You can still faintly hear the sound of moving water, but you have to listen closely.

How do we shift gears when we have so many great memories associated with the fun of giving and receiving, of eating to excess and then laughing together at our extended bellies and turkey brains? This is sewn deeply into my own Christmas experience and it is one of my favourite times of the year.

Thinking about changing any of it leaves me cold. It’s a bore to discuss. It feels like you’re dumping on something cherished and beautiful.

But in another sense I feel the excesses of the season are obscuring its beauty. Increasingly I notice that I feel all these things at once: joy at being with my family, excitement about gifts and great food, and a sense that something pretty big is out of whack.

What’s a person to do?

We didn’t get to this point overnight, and it’s foolish to expect we can shift a culture in a new direction quickly. The bad news is that it will likely take generations. But when faced with an enormous task, the best approach is to start.

One of the things I am struck by as the employee of a charitable land trust, is the generosity of people at this time of the year. The Couchiching Conservancy is entirely powered by the people who support it. And in November and December, charitable giving ramps up. Sure, there are technical reasons for that. People may be making last-minute contributions to capitalize on tax breaks. But in my experience that is a small part of the story. These gifts are really the result of goodwill and generosity, expressed in a way that will advance the machinery of our better nature.

“The Couchiching Conservancy

is entirely powered by the people

who support it. And in November

and December, charitable giving

ramps up… People may be making

last-minute contributions

to capitalize on tax breaks.

But in my experience

that is a small part of the story.”

In the case of Conservancy donors, I think they are responding to the simple benevolence of an organization which exists to preserve some of the natural glory of this region. Though not everyone can see it, everyone benefits from this peaceful model that delivers small dollops of respect to a ravaged landscape.

Gifts to other charities echo this dynamic in varying ways, but always at the core of a donation is the hope for a better way, for common good that extends well beyond our individual reach.

This is the sound of that ancient stream, which can still be heard when you put your ear to the ground. It is the sound of hope.

Mark Bisset is the executive director of The Couchiching Conservancy.


 

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