Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mindful Holidays: for the planet, for the people

The holiday season is upon us.  Walk into any place of commerce (large or small) and you are apt to see a plethora of gaudy, disposable Halloween/ Thanksgiving or even Christmas decorations cluttering up your field of vision.  Does that make me sound humbug?  I'm not...I swear.  I love the holidays, but I hate the commercialized, consumerist frenzy that seems to be what a lot of people celebrate these days.

Lets break it down like this.  It's Autumn.  You are looking for something to spruce up your house for fall, Halloween, Rosh Hashana, Thanksgiving etc... You go down to your local store to find something to decorate with.  The options seem limitless, and also very cheap and flimsy--but that's okay!  You only need them to last for a couple of weeks until its time to put the Christmas decorations up.  Then you can just chuck them in the trash.  The life cycle of these decorations goes like this:

Resource extraction:  They aren't made of pure wishes and magic, despite what the marketing leads you to believe.  They are made of something, and it's probably plastic.  The raw materials are likely mined, or drilled (using fossil fuels) and then shipped to China where they can be refined (using more fossil fuels, and producing pollution), then they are probably assembled by people being paid a very minimum wage, and possibly compromising their health in a marginal work environment.  The final product is packed up neat as can be and shipped back to us (more fossil fuels) where we can enjoy it for a few weeks until it breaks, falls apart or becomes irrelevant.  At that point it either goes into a local landfill (or incinerator) or gets shipped back to the third world to be dealt with there. 

Does this make you feel festive?  It makes me feel sick to my stomach. I have been thinking a lot this last couple of years about what we (as the consumer) can do to help reduce this cycle of waste, and help make the holidays a mindful, and joyful, and sustainable time for all humans.  This is what I have come up with:

1. Stop and remind yourself of the reason behind the season.  Whether your holidays are based around religion, celebration of seasons, family and loved ones, or a combination thereof... there is nothing that says you have to buy a lot of cheap, disposable crap to make this time of year meaningful. 

Bringing Natures Beauty Indoors
 2.  When it comes to decorations, think longevity, or biodegradability.  Making holiday decorations that have a long life of usefulness is a great idea.  It might cost you a little more $$ or time up front, but having a fun box of decorations that come out at a special time of year is pure magic for your kids... and if feels good starting a new tradition.  For some people, however, storage space is limited, or a lifestyle requires a lot of moving around, so saving your decorations is not realistic.  Not to worry.  Consider decorating with materials that are plant-based and can either be eaten or composted when you are through with them.  Make your own garland of evergreens, decorate with pumpkins and dried grass and flowers in the fall... see where I am going with this?  If you don't eat or compost your decorations they will still break down easily in the landfill.

3. Gift Homemade, Handmade, Fair Trade.  Spending your own time or energy making homemade gifts for your friends and loved ones can be one of the most meaningful things about the holidays.  A hand-knit scarf, a jar full of delicious preserves, a sampler of holiday snacks--these are all great options.  But what about the person who is home-made challenged?  Consider browsing local craft fairs, holiday sales, or Saturday markets.  Supporting small businesses that ply their wares at these venues is great for local economy, as well as more sustainable than buying a cheap, imported and impersonal gift at one of the leading retail chains.  If all these options fail, there is always Etsy, the online mecca of all things hand-made.  If you can't find it on Etsy, you probably can't find it, period.  Lastly, consider exploring the Fair-Trade option, especially if you are buying stocking-stuffers like coffee, chocolate or teas.  If you live in North America it is almost impossible to buy those things from a local producer, but the Fair Trade label ensures that your dollars are ethically spent overseas.

4. Less is More. Do I really need to say anything else here?  One very thoughtful, meaningful, ethical gift is worth so much more than a handful of cheap trinkets. A few simple, elegant decorations can spruce up your home just as well as a plethora of gaudy, cheap ones.

handmade wooden toys from this Etsy Shop
5. Give the Gift of Time.  Instead of getting entrapped in the commercial chaos this holiday season, slow down and and spend some meaningful, personal time with the people you love.  We get busy, it happens... but the holidays can be a good reminder to re-prioritize what really matters in life. Your family needs your presence more than your presents.  Enjoy some beautiful meals together, go for a nice fall walk, take your kids sledding, curl up and watch a classic movie--whatever fits your family best--you will never regret giving the gift of your time.

I'll be posting more about hand-made holidays over the next couple of months, so if its something you're into, check back.  Please feel free to share how you and your family make the holidays meaningful, mindful and special in the comments below.

peace and joy to you all in the upcoming holiday season,


  1. Per usual, another brilliant post. Here is an article I wrote for our local paper last year on a similar topic‘mindful’/

  2. Thanks for sharing that Erin. That is a wonderful article (cool that its published in your local paper!), and so true. I feel like without striving to be mindful I would miss so much of what is beautiful and good about raising a child. It's like they set your life button to fast-forward, and you really do have to be mindful to be present in all the little moments you have with them.