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Christmas and the environment

It is ironic and contradictory that the feast of Christmas at which we celebrate the birth of Christ, has become the biggest shopping event right around the world.
St. Luke tells us that in response to the decree of Caesar Augustus for a census of the whole world to be taken, Joseph and his pregnant wife, Mary, set out for his ancestral city Bethlehem in order to be registered.
“While they were there the time came for her for have her child and she gave birth to her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them inn” (Luke 2:5-7).
Jesus was welcomed into the world not by the high and mighty  in the persons of the king, Herod, or the Roman governor. St. Luke tells us that shepherds, who had no standing in Jewish society at all, were the first ones to celebrate his birth.
“In the countryside close by, there were shepherds who lived in the fields and took it in turn to watch their flocks during the night. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone round them.
“They were terrified, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Listen I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole world. Today, in the town of David, a saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you, you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of heavenly hosts, praising God and singing: Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace to people who enjoy his favour” (Luke 2: 8-14).
Given that the message of the gospel challenges us to care for other humans and also our world, Christmas does not have to be a burden on the environment. 
This theology is spelled out for us concretely by Pope Francis in his encyclical, Praise be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si’).
The section which he calls the Gaze of Jesus, he relates Jesus inviting his disciples to “recognise the paternal relationship that God has with all his creatures.
He quotes St. Luke and St. Matthew as saying, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten by God” (Luke 12:6); “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26).
With a little effort and imagination, we can reduce the environmental impact of the Christmas season.
There is too much violence in the world, and the new wave of video games for children is disturbing—-remember the theme of Christmas is Peace on Earth.
There are many toys and games that bring the child’s creativity into play. But many Christmas gifts in today’s marketplace come from countries like China, which is halfway around the world from many of its markets.
Transporting them contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Local craft fairs and artisan shops are a good source for gifts that come without the added costs of transportation.
And gifts made locally often have a story which goes with them ,since the artisan and the origin of the gift are known. By doing this we support local people.
Many individuals and small businesses have developed great products using recycled materials. Supporting these businesses helps reduce the waste stream while promoting the concept of making best use of available local materials.
Here are some examples. The United States of America Environmental Protection Agency says that about 40 per cent of all battery sales occur during the Christmas holiday season.
Discarded batteries are an environmental hazard. Even rechargeable batteries find their way into the waste stream eventually. By buying a renewable energy science kit, children can learn how natural power can be harnessed and applied in different ways.
It would stimulate the child’s imagination and is also a great game in which parents and children can develop a lasting bond. The booklet gives clear instructions on how to build an actual wind turbine.
At Concern Worldwide, we can buy various animal gifts which will help a poor family in need in another part of the world.
But we can also do things in Hong Kong, simple plants that can be grown in a window box to add a bit of greenery, which makes at least a tiny contribution to the health of the air.
By giving this kind of gift, we are responding to the real meaning of Christmas, which is helping people who are in need in basic and practical ways.
I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and every blessing for 2018.

• Father Sean McDonagh