By Lauren Flynn Kelly

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“Zero Waste of Time” columnist and local photographer Juliette Fradin puts words into action with her minimalist wooden Christmas tree.
Photo credit: Lauren Flynn Kelly

The holiday season is not, in my opinion, the most wonderful time of year, so please proceed with caution if you’re looking for something totally warm and fuzzy. I personally find the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s to be fraught with excess, a general source of stress driven by deadlines and needless expectations. Sometimes the feeling of missing a loved one seems particularly unbearable.

Don’t get me wrong: I love to make Christmas cookies and holiday magic for my kids, but I’d rather be carving pumpkins. 

Last year’s Christmas was especially hard as we kept our distance from loved ones because of COVID-19 and hoped our packages wouldn’t get lost in a mail facility (they did). This year we face new uncertainties with the emerging omicron variant; I sincerely hope by the time you’re reading this it hasn’t fully derailed the Polar Express. 

But thinking back to last Christmas in all its strangeness, I find certain bright spots. I am grateful for Hyattsvillager Jen Hanna, who happened to have a gently used set of Who Was? books in her basement that subbed in for my daughter’s gifts that were trapped in transit. I recall staying up late with my husband, Alex, as we used every last bit of ribbon, twine and paper in the house to wrap gifts Frankenstein-style and cut up old holiday cards to use as tags. We also discovered that edible gifts, like farmers market pickles and beans from Vigilante Coffee Co., were more appreciated than trinkets, and they didn’t have to compete for permanent shelf space. In fact, one of my favorite gifts was a jar of delicious booziness made by my neighbor Amy Boccardi. In a way, that Christmas might have been my most eco-friendly one to date. 

I’d like to carry some of those traditions forward. While writing this column, I was still debating whether to buy an artificial tree or a real one (as it turns out, neither is a very sound environmental choice). With a shortage of trees (and everything else) this year, it would be fun to have a turquoise — or maybe rainbow? — tree. I’ve also given myself an ambitious goal of reusing plastic yard signs to make some epic toys that I can’t talk about here for fear that my children are reading this. At press time, I was finishing a handmade gift for fellow columnist Juliette Fradin, whose commitment to zero-waste living puts me to shame. (She even has one of those minimalist wooden trees in lieu of a “fresh” one.) And avid thrifter Krissi Humbard had just gifted me a vintage Lacoste sweater for our annual Secret Santa exchange.

I think our first COVID Christmas had a lasting effect on children in a positive way, too. When our Girl Scout troop recently began work on earning the savvy shopper badge, one scout immediately sighed, “I don’t need more stuff!” Right there with you, sister. So rather than honing our purchasing skills on ourselves, we decided to use “the most consumable time of the year” (to quote my troop co-leader, Katy Donovan) to put our resources toward gifts for children in need. 

As you think of your own shopping habits this year, I urge you to shop small and consider your carbon footprint. Support the circular economy by buying used records and books at Red Onion Records. Peruse the bookshelves and clothing racks at My Dead Aunt’s Books and Suffragette City Vintage, and check out the new vintage housewares vendor, Cheeky’s Vintage, in the same space. Consider giving experiences, like a class at Three Little Birds Sewing Co., Art Works Now, Pyramid Atlantic Art Center or Material Things. Or thank a teacher or volunteer (like your, ahem, Girl Scout leader) with a gift card to one of Hyattsville’s dining and drinking outposts. 

When I asked my children what they remember most about last Christmas, my older daughter thought for a second and replied, “You and Daddy making us wait to open presents until you made your coffee.” So really, not that much has changed, but hopefully what has changed is for the better.