Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Days After Christmas

Yesterday, in the parking lot of the upscale hardware store near where I live, workers were grinding up the unsold Christmas trees, each conifer tossed tip-first into the chute and reduced in seconds to chips and sawdust. Earlier, they’d taken the giant plastic red bows and the colored lights down and a couple of kids not wearing Santa hats any more were using leaf blowers on the pine needles and twigs. The noise was far-reaching, a combination of angry bees and more angry bees looking for something to attack. There were a couple of spectators there, people with little to do on a post-Christmas morning, a middle-aged woman walking her dog, an older couple holding gloved hands.

“Seems like a waste, doesn’t it?” The man had a round face, powder blue eyes and steel-rimmed glasses. I agreed, but then I have always thought that sawing down trees to provide a couple of weeks’ worth of decorations is sort of foolish. The middle-aged woman picked up her dog, a miniature something or other, and held it to her chest. The dog didn’t like the noise the shredder made and squirmed in the woman’s arms so she squeezed him tighter. Another tree went into the machine. “This is really disturbing,” she said. And it was, though I couldn’t really tell why. The man nodded, “The day after anything is always kind of sad.”  His wife smiled sadly in agreement, added, “We haven’t bought a tree since, when? 1985?”

If Thanksgiving is the national holiday of over-consumption, then Christmas is the one most associated with misuse of resources. One year I decided to see how many catalogs I received in the months of November and December (I think there was a Seinfeld episode where Kramer did this.)  I stacked them up daily under my kitchen counter and in the days before Christmas the pile was 32 inches high and weighed 16 pounds. The catalogs were all glossy and most came from stores where I had never shopped. A lot of them advertised items I didn’t know existed and would not buy either for myself or as a gift for another, items one might have problems re-gifting. According to news releases from the postal people, catalogs are the main reason it now costs the average non-commercial consumer almost a half-buck each to post a letter or pay a bill.

That stuff is recycled is beside the point. A tree reduced to sawdust will never be a tree again—nor, for that matter, will a catalog. Over the past couple of years I have tried to get my name taken off mailing lists, but with catalogs it’s more difficult than it is with spam. Somehow, my requests to not be mailed tons of unwanted material are seldom honored. I am sure that, from an advertising standpoint, there is a valid reason for this, but I can’t quite fathom it.

Next year, I plan to begin sending the catalogs back to their stores of origin. Maybe tie a brick to the one from Bed Bath and Beyond, just to see what happens. Gift-wrapped, of course.

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