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Work/Life: I’m dreaming of a green Christmas …

Now that the tree’s going crispy around the edges, rubber fish on plaques singing “take me to the river” are being re-gifted, and the salutation on every email and phone message is still ‘Happy New Year”, I’ve been reflecting on the need for a global greening of Christmas. What’s this to do with work/life? Unless you seal yourself in a tomb for the holidays, Christmas is a whole lotta work, and an inescapable part of life.

Now that the tree’s going crispy around the edges, rubber fish on plaques singing “take me to the river” are being re-gifted, and the salutation on every email and phone message is still ‘Happy New Year”, I’ve been reflecting on the need for a global greening of Christmas.

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What’s this to do with work/life? Unless you seal yourself in a tomb for the holidays, Christmas is a whole lotta work, and an inescapable part of life.

Santa comes but once a year (poor sod), but leaves a massive of carbon footprint in his sleigh-stream. All this buying, moving, eating, drinking, helloing, goodbyeing, air-kissing in exotic places …

They tell us people bought less this year, less ka-chingle bells ringing at the tills of seasonal stalwarts like Coach and Target. (Mind you, I’ve never understood how a company like Coach can turn over those purses like cans of Trader Joe’s black beans. How many of those C-backward-C beige jacquard bags can you tolerate in a year?)

To be fair, Santa’s sleigh is still old skool and reindeer-powered, judging from all the advertising. I’m surprised I didn’t see him in a Smartcar to avoid parking fines while making his deliveries, or an SUV to keep up with the soccer moms, or a Hyundai to get him from chimney to chimney faster, or a Prius to do it cleaner.

Fake Christmas trees, once par for the course for those with even less taste than money, are now sustainably hip, just like my Martin Pergo flooring guitar will be when Brazilian rosewood and mahogany become extinct.

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In Eugene, Oregon, someone started a campaign to give only gifts that are pre-owned, meaning, pre-loved. It’s a wonderful way to reduce your stuff while increasing that of others, maintaining The Universal Law of Conservation of Stuff. The exquisite taste and hard-earned cash with which you adopted that Lladro figurine of the shepherd boy with the long staff and the little lost lamb does not depreciate with age. If anything, it matures like a fine wine. So pack it up and pass it on.

One tradition I trashed long ago, is that of sending Christmas cards.

I’m not talking about a lovingly hand made, hand drawn card containing a personal poem or even better, a $50 note concealed inside. I’m not even talking about those tedious “Dear all”, family update letters, which wax nauseatingly lyrical about the Me, Myself I, and my Dean’s-listed offspring, while your Chad or Britney languishes on the other d-list or mugs a hapless train commuter.

justin lynette chiang smoking pepper


Spurn the generic: I commissioned an illustrator friend, Justin Winslow, to commemorate the time I blackened peppers in the impeccable studio of a friend, threatening smoke damage to his valuable collection of architectural tomes. Nothing like an original card to say you’re sorry!

I’m talking about the banal, once-a-year “Dear X, [insert Hallmark platitude here], from the Y family” hiding behind a bad picture of a candle, tree, sprig of holly or other cliché.

It would be far more honest and original to write, “Once again, I don’t have any more time in my year for you than the 24 seconds it will take me to scribble, stamp and send this and even then I’m rushing to make the 5pm post. USPS you next year.”

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Instead, I want to promote an idea I call IP or “Impromptu Postcarding”. Carry a small stack of 3×5 blank note cards, the kind from Staples, pre-postage stamped by you, in your bag. When you think of someone, scribble a quick note:

“Hey. Thought of you just now. Saw Rainier cherries on special and remembered your pie of Thanksgiving ’67. What’s new?”

Then fling it in the mailbox.

I carry a gluestick as well, because I read little snippets that make me think, “I should send that to X” I tear them out, stick it on an IP, and send it. It could be a Tootsie Roll wrapper that reminds me of the big party you threw with the giant piñata … so glue the wrapper to the card and say, “When are we going to do the piñata thing again?”

It could be a real estate ad that makes think, “Hey, move over near us so we can see each other more!” Tear it out, stick it down, write your truth and toss it in the mailbox.

It will create delight at the receiving end, because you are genuinely thinking of that person without a trite tradition to guilt you into it. The card will be kept as a bookmark, I guarantee it.

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At work, we were faced with the onerous task of sending cards. I voted against the corporate Christmas card with staff signatures all over it. You couldn’t be more impersonal and uninspiring, and it actually sends out the reverse message – unless the message includes a $50 note or the illustration vies with a Larson.

I’ll let you in on an ABC (Australian Born Chinese) custom I had pummeled into me when I was a kid. It’s called, “Give a gift, send a card.”

Blame the Asian merchant mentality, but under no circumstance does one give a store-bought card, unless it has money in it. It says you’re too cheap and the recipient is unworthy of a real gift, even if trees are becoming a scarce resource. You send a card, or go emit a large amount of carbon by buying something.

Just another reason to stop giving or sending generic and perfunctory Christmas cards, and start re-gifting your stuff.

I can’t leave without taking another dig at those photocopied family letters: face it, you can’t help but sound self-congratulatory unless you’re a canny copywriter. Instead, why not scare the hell out of your recipients just … well … for the hell of it.

I’m waiting to receive a letter that reads: “… Noah has 6 piercings now, and a second nipple ring to match the first. The police let him go after the owner of the pizza place he graffitied decided his latest mural – depicting the Last Supper with pizza slices and root beer instead of a bison and vino – can stay. He’s now been hired as a marketing assistant graffitiing pizza boxes all day …

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I’ll keep that letter as a bookmark.

The Galfromdownunder is reducing her carbon footprint over Christmas by cat-sitting in Berkeley and feeding them Chinese leftovers.

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About the author

"Be social and the networking will follow." Lynette Chiang is an award-winning copywriter, brand evangelist, social media community manager, filmmaker, solo world bicycle adventurer and inventor of useful things. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Harvard University curriculums, the New York Times Book Review, FastCompany and the relationship marketing business press

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