A Recycled Christmas By JOANNE KOWALSKI

Friday December 24, 2004

“In collective work, performed with a light heart to attain a desired end...each will find an incentive and the necessary relaxation that makes life pleasant.”  

Peter Kropotkin 

The Conquest of Bread, 1906. 


When I was a kid, my family always spent the holidays with the grandparents. We’d leave home early on the 24th and drive six hours for a storybook Christmas in the country complete with snow, tree, turkey and presents galore. When I was 7, going to the farm took on added significance. My dad was on strike. There was no money for gifts or decorations or fancy foods. If we didn’t go, we wouldn’t have any Christmas at all. 

X-mas eve morn, my brothers and I were up before dawn, ready to leave. Everything was packed. Except for the stuff to eat on the road (sandwich makings, fruit, nuts, veggies, sodas, pop corn and eggs) the refrigerator was cleaned out. 

During breakfast, it started to snow. We waited. It snowed harder, the snow turned into sleet and the sleet became hail. We took a long nap. When we woke, the storm had started to clear but there was a new problem. The car, my dad told us, wouldn’t start. There was no way to fix it in time for Christmas. We had to stay home. 

My father said later it was the look on our faces that made him do what he did. He put on his jacket, declared he would find us a tree and set off on foot pulling my brother’s sled. He was back in less than an hour. The Christmas tree lot was sold out. Not one left. But he had brought back a pile of leftover branches which we carried inside. Then, with the branches, twine and our old coat rack, he made us a tree. With the extra boughs, we decorated the house and made wreaths by using bent wire coat hangers as a base. Out of popcorn, old newspapers, cereal boxes, cellophane and aluminum foil we made chains, stars and ornaments for our tree. 

We fashioned colored tinsel from thread, used yarn and twine for bows, cut snow flakes out of paper napkins and drew Xmas cartoons for the walls. We constructed an angel using a toilet paper roll, paper towels, cotton and paper doilies and created a Christmas scene with action heroes, stuffed animals and dolls from other lands. We ate peanut butter sandwiches and popcorn while we worked, drank sodas, laughed and squabbled a lot. 

After we finished, we searched closets and drawers for forgotten toys and games to give to each other. We secretly wrapped our gifts using the Sunday comics, old magazines, paper bags, cardboard boxes and scraps of cloth. 

Christmas morning, we breakfasted on homemade caramel corn with peanuts and bananas and admired our work before opening the packages. That year, I got a real silk scarf, beads that went around my neck three times, a stuffed frog, catcher’ s mitt, lotion, marbles, badminton set, deck of cards and a book of Greek Myths. 

At Christmas dinner we feasted on a turkey shaped tuna fish loaf baked to a delectable golden brown accompanied by a celery/bread stuffing, candied carrots and fresh squeezed orange juice. Over desert, an apple crisp replete with raisins and nuts, we all agreed it was the most marvelous Christmas ever, at least the most fun.  

Like my father always said, it ain’t what you got but what you do with what you have that counts. 

Happy Holidays, Berkeley and Best Wishes for the coming year.›