The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness -- on them light has shined.
Isaiah 9:2 (NRSV)
There is an emphasis on light during the Christmas season. Isaiah prophesied that "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." The birth of Jesus was heralded by a bright star which the Magi followed to Bethlehem. Jesus Himself is called the light of the world. And during the weeks leading up to Christmas the candles of the Advent wreath are lighted, one each week.
There is another kind of light that shines throughout the Christmas season - electric Christmas lights. These lights adorn shrubs and eaves of houses, Christmas trees inside and out-of-doors, store fronts, shopping malls, and myriad festive displays. Christmas lights are emblematic of the season with their multi-colored gaiety.
So far, so good; from this point on I will, no doubt, run the very real risk of being tagged as "Scrooge" or possibly the "Grinch," casting a pall on the happiness of the Christmas season. To get right to the point, conventional Christmas lights use electricity which depletes resources, contributes to greenhouse gases and, therefore, to global climate change, and costs money. We may need to think seriously about how we celebrate Christmas so that in our joyful celebration we are not doing harm to the creation Jesus created and in which He was born and lived.
Let's look at some numbers for three possible lighting scenarios: conventional C7 lights, traditional mini-lights, and new LED mini-lights. A C7 bulb typically comes in strings of 25 lights which use about 125 watts/string; traditional mini-lights use about 25 watts/string; LED mini-lights use less than 5 watts/string. If the family Christmas tree takes 3 strings of C7 lights or 4 strings of mini-lights (strings are different lengths), then one indoor tree would use 375 watts for C7 lights, 100 watts for the mini-lights, and about 20 watts for the LEDs. So, using mini-lights cuts electric usage by almost 75% over the C7 lights, and LEDs cut usage 80% over the mini-lights and 95% over C7s.
While the absolute amount of electricity in all three cases is relatively small, the principle is clear - we can still enjoy our holiday festivities while having a greatly reduced negative impact on the environment and our pocketbooks by choosing to use mini-lights or the new LED mini-lights. The difference between the C7 lights and the LED lights for the season is around $5.00 which we could use to help pay for the new lights or simply drop in Salvation Army kettles while we are out shopping. The total impact for the approximately 90 million Christmas trees used each year in the United States is, of course, not insignificant and illustrates another way that each person can take a small step to help contribute to the solution of a big problem.
Another approach to dealing with increased energy use at the holidays (or any time) is to purchase carbon offsets to "cancel" our higher energy usage. In theory, the funds used to purchase carbon offsets are used to promote projects that directly reduce the production of greenhouse gases. These projects would not be possible without investment, therefore our contribution does, in fact, help to offset our energy use.
These programs are somewhat controversial for several reasons. First, one must be sure that the money spent to buy a carbon offset is really used to reduce greenhouse gases somewhere. Second, some argue that instead of buying offsets, people should instead stop or reduce their own behaviors that cause the release of greenhouse gases. While both of these points are valid, it may be impossible or undesirable to reduce personal energy use and carbon offsets at least provide a way to compensate. Tufts University, through its Tufts Climate Initiative program, provides a very thorough examination of carbon offset programs, gives guidelines on how to evaluate such programs, and recommends several worthwhile programs (<http://www.tufts.edu/tie/tci/index.htm> ).
The following links can provide a starting point as you look into the issue of energy use at Christmas time:
As peacemakers it is important to remember that there is not real peace when our actions negatively impact others or the environment. Peace in its broadest sense consists of healthy, right relationships with God, self, others and the environment as denoted by the Old Testament word shalom. We break shalom with God when we waste His resources needlessly; we break shalom with ourselves, our neighbors and the rest of creation when we contribute to global climate change.
There may be some sacrifices involved in changing our energy use at Christmas and year round. New ways of doing things may cost more initially and may not seem the same as what we are used to. However, for the most part we can enjoy much of what we are used to without the negative consequences if we learn about and use alternative ways of doing things. In the case of Christmas lights, there are a number of good alternatives which will allow us to celebrate festively and still be good stewards of the resources God has given us.