Dec 052009

I recently posted the following on Facebook: “Anne Marie Merline and Ben are decorating the house … I’ll let you guess as to the holiday.”

A former student of mine, Kristina, replied, “I’m guessing Kwanzaa,” to which I said, “Oye Vey and praise the Lord, you are right!”

“Are you kidding me?” Kristina asked, “Cause I was being facetious.” “As was I,” I replied.

“Okay, just checking. I was going to be incredibly amused otherwise,” Kristina said.

Others chimed in: Brother Mike guessed “Festivus,” while second cousin Sarah guessed, “Chrismukkah.” My second cousin Kevin then said, “That’s … festivachristmakwanzukkah.”

Kristina then said, “Nah, Thanksgivifestivachrismakwanzahunnakahnewyear. I think I just invented the longest word in the English language.” Kevin said that that would make, “ … possibly the most politically correct holiday in all of history.”

Sarah then asked if the holiday I was decorating for was, “the winter solstice?” To which I replied, “this is the best guess yet … the closest to the truth in my house.”

I’m sure you get the idea from this Facebook conversation or from living in this world where every type of winter celebration is a part of our lives in some way. I start my column off this week with this to show you that it really isn’t important what you celebrate, but instead how you celebrate the winter season.

For many years, as it will be true this spring semester, I teach a course on consumerism and the effect on the environment. I have taught, and learned, that we just need to make smarter, more sustainable choices with our lives. The winter holiday season is especially a case in point.

As we face the truth that we live in a country that is predominately Christian, it only goes to follow that most of us celebrate Christmas. Whatever your belief system is, most of us all like to celebrate in a way which involves giving gifts to each other to show how much we appreciate these people’s presence in our lives. I urge you to rethink this tradition.

I like the idea of giving people in our lives special tokens of our appreciation, but I challenge you to think about doing this in a different way. First, if you must buy something, buy it from a local and independent merchant. Research shows that spending in your community from a locally owned merchant benefits the community more directly than purchasing from a national chain, as purchasing locally supports your neighbors, and not people in other communities.

Secondly, give to a charity instead of buying gifts. Seek out non-profit organizations for gifts or for a direct donation.

There are good charities for almost any cause serving a wide variety of needs including: advocacy groups for human rights and civil liberties, animal rights, emergency relief, refugee assistance, educational programs, chronic illness support programs, poverty relief and supporting our fire fighters, police officers and veterans.

Ten years ago, I bought, as a gift to my whole family, a cow. This benefited a family who needed a cow for their own nutrition and to sustain them by allowing them to sell dairy products to people in their community to meet their basic needs.

A third idea (which is great for the average cash-strapped college student) is to forgo buying stuff and instead give your time by doing.

Organize your parents’ photos. Wash your brother’s car. Babysit for your cousin. Rake your grandmother’s leaves. Paint your mom’s kitchen.

Be of service to people you love, and watch them shine. Deeds and donations show more love than another sweater for the sweater drawer.

I say, happy holidays to you, your family and your friends. Find peace, joy and love in whatever you do.

Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears biweekly Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

 Posted by at 9:19 am

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