Presence over presents: how to celebrate Christmas with a conscience

Most Hongkongers think the festive season is an excuse for overindulgence. Maybe it’s time to enjoy a conscious Christmas

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 December, 2015, 5:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 December, 2015, 12:57pm

The end of the year brings with it an onslaught of celebrations. We squeeze in parties, shopping, planning, socialising and travelling to visit family and friends. Parents of small children are making a list and checking it twice in an effort to keep kids happy with the latest must-have toy.

I recently attended a children’s Christmas party that reminded me of festive events in the local community hall when I was growing up. Back then, Santa arrived on the back of a decorated pick-up truck and Rudolph took the form of a beautiful rescue dog with bells on his collar. At this party, I watched a chaotic nativity play and everyone seemed to be having fun.

I noticed there was one difference. Paper plates, sweet wrappers, plastic cutlery and plastic packaging blew around the grounds. I watchedkids ripping open the wrapping paper on their presents. There was paper everywhere and no one seemed to notice the owners cleaning up.

There was no thought given to what could be re-used or recycled, the rubbish was crammed into big plastic bags – out of sight, out of mind. After the event, a single strand of tinsel danced in the wind down a nearby road, evidence of the party. It is likely hanging in some tree, now – a reminder of the environmental cost of the holiday.

A wine company advertisement where a transparent Santa Claus figure drinks red wine until his suit turns red sums up Christmas in Hong Kong for me.

The emphasis here is on the partying – overindulging in a city famed for overindulgence. In the absence of spiritual traditions, the celebrations can feel a little empty.

Christmas is a family occasion, and for those who are alone, it can be a lonely, depressing time. A supportive community can bring comfort to the needy in the community.

Presence should be more important than presents. If we can understand that our life is not the same as that shown on greeting cards or in Christmas films, we should try to create some new traditions … with a little thought for others.