Does Christmas Kill the Environment?

Gloria Li
Gloria Li
Dec 3, 2019 · 4 min read

“Giving Christmas presents is the world’s greatest annual environmental disaster.”

The average Canadian will spend more than $600 on Christmas, with more than half saying that they’ll go over budget.

It’s almost that time of year again, where ornaments and lights decorate the streets, Santa Claus and elves replace ghosts and pumpkins, wallets cry out for help, and holiday stress piles onto work. That’s right, it’s almost Christmas! But before you start making that holiday shopping list, think about how there may be something out there that might cry even harder than your wallet during this time of year.

A few days ago, my teacher asked, in a classic “you should know the answer because you were definitely taught this before” tone of voice, “What is climate change?” Almost in complete unison, my class proceeded to regurgitate the grade nine textbook answer. To which my teacher asked the typical follow-up question, “What destroys the environment?” But this time, she made sure to emphasize not to recite another textbook answer. For the first time since the beginning of the school year, the room was filled with silence, as nobody answered the question. It did not surprise me when my teacher decided to dedicate the remaining 45 minutes of the period to open a class discussion. At this point, most of my classmates have already checked out and were probably thinking of ways to get as far away from the school as humanly possible during the winter break. My brain was barely able to register the question, as it was the last period before the weekend, and less than an hour before the bell would ring. It wasn’t until I was called on to answer, that I was brought out of my daydreaming. As the rest of my classmates were chatting about their plans for the weekend, the last few functioning brain cells I had were in panic mode and scrambling to find a unique answer that could not be found in any textbook. Finally, after racking my brain for a solid minute, I took a long pause and replied to her question with another question, “Christmas?”

I could already guess what the next question would have been if the bell hadn’t rung. Luckily, I didn’t have to let my curiosity wait, because thanks to my answer, I earned my entire class an extra assignment. Whereby we had to write a paper on how the holidays may contribute to the deterioration of the environment. Which of course was due the following Saturday night at 11:59 PM on Turnitin.

Despite the growing use of online retailers, 50% of holiday shopping is done in stores.

Many say they love to play Santa, others do it out of duty, and 9% are outright Scrooges. The average North American will spend more than $600 dollars on Christmas, where 50% of Canadians believe that their holiday spending is out of control. In addition to the chaos and stress that comes with holiday shopping, the pressure to find the perfect gift within the time crunch leads people to become less environmentally conscious of their choices as consumers, one Christmas wrapped gift at a time.

Picking the perfect Christmas tree is a family tradition that many people enjoy more than shopping for Black Friday deals.

Do you ever wonder where that Christmas tree you’re decorating came from? Perhaps it was manufactured by a company that sells trees with pine needles made from plastic. Or maybe it was an evergreen tree freshly cut down from a local forest. Have you ever thought about how many trees it took, or how much carbon dioxide was released into the air in order to print that single roll of Christmas wrapping paper? The thought had never occurred to me until quite recently.

Although this assignment was forced, it made me seriously think about what we as students can do to make a difference. “What can I do when I’m only 17?” was an excuse that constantly ran through my mind, but just as I decided to lie down and scroll through my phone, I realized that I had absolutely no reason to use my age as an excuse, as my newsfeed was flooded with photos of teens implementing projects to build a better community, to ultimately combat climate change step by step. One of my closest friends from 1UP Toronto, who is even a few years younger, was voicing her ideas on creating sustainable future cities. This further proves that age has nothing to do with the change an individual can create within the world.

1UP Fellows wrap up the Future Cities, Future Us community engagement project, sharing their ideas on creating sustainable future cities.

Despite the negative effects that Christmas may have on the environment, it is also the time of year that brings everyone together. Let’s not forget the joy and happiness this holiday season brings to us, where empty streets are filled with people enjoying various festivities, and having a wonderful time in an otherwise dreadful winter. Christmas may be known as one of the world’s greatest environmental disasters, but what if we changed that little by little? Rather than a “white” Christmas, I think a “green” Christmas sounds a lot more innovative.


Gloria Li is the 2019–2020 Director of Finance of the 1UP Toronto program, powered by Urban Minds.

Urban Minds

​We are creating new ways for youth to participate in city building.

Gloria Li

Written by

Gloria Li

Urban Minds

​We are creating new ways for youth to participate in city building.

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