Eco-Friendly Holidays?

Last week was Easter and I didn’t plan anything special for my kids.

Yup, that’s right.  Nothing special.  Actually nothing at all.  Partly because I knew my extended family would come through for them (and they did–dinner, presents, plastic Easter egg hunt and all!)   But mostly because I was feeling paralyzed by the fact that I had no idea what to do.

I mean, I could have bought Easter baskets and filled them with plastic grass–but I did that last year, and at Christmastime I was still finding little strings of plastic grass that clogged up the vacuum cleaner.  So plastic grass was off the list.   I didn’t want to buy toys, because my house is already overflowing with kids’ toys, and not only is the mess making me crazy but I am also tired of this culture of mass consumption that we live in.  I didn’t want to buy candy, what with the whole ruining-my-children’s-health-while-financally-supporting-chocolate-companies-that-have-child-slavery-in-their-supply-chains issue.  I didn’t want to buy eggs at the grocery store because it makes me sad that chickens are tortured for appetite and frivolity, not to mention the fact that I am dubious about what’s in that egg dye.

So I didn’t do anything.  Well, I helped my mom make our contributions to the dinner buffet: A quinoa-sweet potato salad, a roasted asparagus and arugula salad.

My husband thinks that all the holidays at our house, for the rest of forever, are doomed to be lame.

On Monday, the day after the Easter celebration that my relatives kindly took care of for me–and I am truly grateful for this, because without them my kids wouldn’t have even known that Easter happened–I was cleaning up dozens of plastic Easter eggs and picturing landfills dotted with April pastels.  I was arguing irrationally with my 18-month-old (who ate an entire package of Peeps when I wasn’t watching and spent the rest of the day growling at me and begging for more candy, totally apathetic about my explanation of the effects of high-fructose corn syrup on his small and impressionable body).  And I started thinking about how it is difficult for me to conceptualize holidays free of the trappings of mass consumerism, environmental degradation, and disregard for physical health.  Even though I try to minimize unnecessary consumption in my daily life, holidays and birthdays really trip me up.  Because I don’t know what to do other than wrap presents, buy paper decorations, fill candy bowls, stuff plastic baskets full of plastic grass and plastic eggs, and bake, bake, bake.

I know that I’m supposed to focus on the “true meaning” of holidays, but let’s face it: my kids don’t want to sit and read with me.  They want to do fun, memorable things.  So I’m trying to think of interesting, symbolic traditions that are real celebrations, but that don’t produce garbage bags filled with waste, knowledge of animal and environmental suffering, piles of plastic toys that are strewn around the living room until I freak out and throw them in the trash, and sugar highs that last for hours.

So I want to hear your thoughts on this.  Feel free to share specific non-consumerist eco-friendly holiday traditions that your family has dreamed up, or just your broader thoughts on how holidays have become so commercialized (and become an excuse for indulgence in activities we wouldn’t otherwise choose).

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17 responses to “Eco-Friendly Holidays?

  1. thebookofarmaments April 27, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Service! Whenever I am confounded and/or stupefied by the consumer-driven focus of a holiday, I go to service. The Atonement has some great symbolism that you can draw on. Christ is risen – maybe focus on turning dead things to life! Plant a tree! Plant a garden! Clean up an area of your community! Paint an old-folks home! Focus on creating beauty rather than consuming more. It could be worth contacting the United Way or some other service organization to see if there are some larger-scale projects that need to be done, and then try to involve your local community/family/ward in giving something back rather than taking something away for a holiday.

  2. missy. April 27, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Sorry the comments were off for a while… I’m a wordpress newbie. Anyway, please chime in!

    Thanks for comment #1, armaments… I love it, as I’m sure you knew I would 🙂

  3. ajbc April 27, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    One thing I love to do is gather fresh local flora in a responsible fashion, sometimes making wreathes. In spring, forsythia branches; in summer, various small wildflowers; in fall, bright leaves; and in winter evergreen boughs. For branches, I make sure to take only what I can without damaging or uglifying the plant, and for small flowers, I make sure to only take what grows in abundance and always leave some behind.

    Other than that, I reuse fabric ribbons for decor and gifts and dress up meals (around now, edible violas grow wild like crazy in the mid-Atlantic and are a pretty garnish). For Easter in particular, I’d imagine you might be able to make your own dyes from local plants and get eggs locally as well, but that would be a lot of work.

  4. reader Rachel April 27, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    For this Easter, my husband and I fasted for Lent. No sweets for both of us, and also no meats for me. That meant I only cooked vegetarian dishes for my family, and had to be somewhat creative when we took the road trip to visit my husband’s family during spring break. Our oldest son decided on his own to not drink any sweetened drinks (no sugar in his mint tea, no soda). Because we’d been fasting, when we had our Easter dinner, it was a big deal.

    The other thing I did was to wear my cross necklace during all of Lent. Here in Utah, especially at BYU, I got a lot of strange looks for that. But that outward symbol combined with my personal fasting heightened my awareness of the approaching holiday, and gave depth and meaning.

    As for commercialism, I got each kid a chocolate bunny and new Sunday clothes (shirts for the boys, shirt and skirt for the girl). I refuse to allow crappy baskets and fake grass in my house.

  5. Lacy April 27, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Last year when I was just too lazy to do or buy anything at all for Easter, I rummaged through the snack cupboard (yes, I have a cupboard solely dedicated to snacks), pulled out an bag of stale jellybellies and distributed them around the house for my daughter to hunt out. She still talks about it like it was the best thing ever. No garbage, minimal sugar intake (esp. b/c she didn’t like some of the flavors). 🙂

    This year I had the idea to light a table-full of candles and tell the story of the last week of Jesus’ life. Kids love candles. They create great atmosphere. That way, hopefully, the right memory would stick. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out (we had some major meltdowns toward the would-be vigil time). But next year!

  6. Jeremy April 27, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    We’ve avoided most of the trappings because our family makes up for it. We do the plastic eggs for an Easter egg hunt, but we re-use them every year and they aren’t filled with candy. We get something cheap and practical like clothing or books for their Easter basket. We skip the fake grass and all the other decorations.

    Of course then we have a weekend full of Easter egg hunts, huge meals, presents, and candy. I really hate that every holiday seems to have become a reason to buy more toys, more candy, just more stuff in general. Even when I try and convince myself that it’s not as bad because I’m buying them a book, I still feel like I’m just filling their bedrooms up with stuff that they’ll forget in a week.

  7. mfranti April 27, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    I never had a problem asking the fam to not buy crap. They ignored me anyways, but at least I tried.

    To compensate, I’d ‘de-clutter’ her room when she wasn’t looking. And I’ve never had a problem taking things back to the store and exchanging them for something more useful.

  8. IdahoG-ma April 27, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    I think returning to some of the older traditions makes some sense. We kept our baskets from one year to the next. They hung on a nail on the back-porch…three colorful reminders of something special. Then we left them out the night before and they would be filled and hidden. It felt even more magical to us as little kids- leave them empty, find them full. Candy treats were just that…. a treat, only for special occasions, so it only took a few to make it celebratory. Everything for our holidays was on a simpler, smaller scale. We didn’t get toys or stuff in our baskets. Maybe a tiny little chenille chicken.

    Our new duds were our spring and summer church clothes and were not replaced till Christmas. All the rest of our clothes were hand me downs. Easter dresses were a huge deal and usually sewn by our mother with great fanfare.

    I present this not as the olden days were better, but as a reminder that little kids just need a little tradition to have great memories and feel loved.

  9. missy. April 27, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    I love these ideas, and I especially love the “less is more” theme. I think when kids get used to having a huge pile of presents at every birthday and major holiday, it creates an insatiable cycle and they crave receiving more, more, more. IdahoGma’s description of smaller, simpler traditions really appeals to me–and all of your traditions based on meals, flowers, and simple acts.

    I wonder also, though, how kids’ peer groups affect their expectations. I love the idea of a piece of candy being a genuine treat (as IdahoGma suggested), but I am wondering how it would be influenced by the fact that my kids get candy constantly–at preschool, at church, at friends’ houses, at family parties–so it isn’t particularly special to them. What effect do you think our mass culture of consumption has on how much our kids enjoy the simple traditions we try to create?

  10. Jeremy April 27, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    mfanti I’m a big fan of de-cluttering. We do it a couple of times a year. One thing that we’re trying to do at Christmas now is give experiences as gifts instead of just toys. For example this year they had toys, but one of their gifts was “we’re spending four days in Zion National Park with grandparents”. They weren’t overjoyed, but I’m hoping they’ll appreciate it more as they get older.

    Great point on candy missy. I’m not that old, but when I was a kid I don’t remember always having candy around. it was a pretty big deal to have a candy bar. I’d love to get back to that, but unfortunately I’m as likely to be looking for snacks as they are.

  11. TopHat April 27, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    We didn’t do anything for Easter as well. We went to the ward egg hunt for the Primary kids and on Easter I bought 2 chocolate bunnies: one for my DH and one for my daughter. And the presentation was me pulling them out of the pantry and handing them to them. I think we need better traditions than that and I’m going to try to do something next year without any plastic and such. We were going to dye eggs with natural dyes, but I misread the directions and so it flopped. Next year, though. Next year.

  12. Nicole April 27, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    My family is convinced that I’m a grinch. Our little one is 3. Let’s be honest, that means that until this Easter, he had no concept of holiday nor would he remember any celebration. Plus, my MIL has proven that she will send a basket of goodies plus an outfit for just about every holiday ever. I understand why she does it; our little one is her only grandchild plus we live across the country. But in my mind, why should I get a plastic basket (ok, I’ll admit, same MIL sewed us a fabulous cute basket) and fill it with sugary stuff when the chocolate treats opened on Good Friday when they arrived in the mail is still be consumed today? If that makes me a Grinch, so be it.

    We did make dye eggs for the first time with our kid. In general, I find I like celebrating with an activity. Plus it was the perfect way to introduce that Easter is about (re)birth.

  13. missy. April 28, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Jeremy, I really love the idea of giving “experiences” rather than “objects.” It’s a little tricky because my kids are so young right now (4 and 1 1/2) and they still are just flowing through the river of time in such a non-linear way 🙂 But when they get a little older, my husband and I have talked about how we want to give trips and experiences as holiday presents, exactly how you said.

  14. xJane April 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    My initial thought was “Maypoles!” but knowing that it was a sort of a joke. As I scrolled down, however, I saw thebookofarmaments’ recommendation of service and heartily agree.

    I have recently heard that Easter is one of the few holidays were travel generally doesn’t happen—people stay home for Easter. So that’s an environmental choice there (unless your family lives close by).

    The coolest thing that I heard that someone did on Easter, however, was my friend who spent her morning at a soup kitchen (and afternoon at a meal with family). That wasn’t the cool part. The cool part is that she didn’t tell anyone. She didn’t post it to fb or tweet it. She didn’t brag about it. I heard it from her brother after-the-fact—he only knew because she wouldn’t be joining him for his morning activities.

    Fostering in your children a love of service—and a humility about it—is a wonderful contribution to the world.

  15. nat kelly April 29, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    missy, you pinpointed the aggravation I feel all the time. How do we, living in our destructive world, enjoy our life without guilt? Because with every purchase you make, you should probably be filled with guilt.

    And I don’t know. I expect you people at this blog to give me the answer, actually. 🙂

    As for Easter, I think you could make it a religious holiday blended with a springtime tradition. What about, instead of consuming to celebrate, you create? What if you planted trees together? And for sweets and treats and activity you find a farm where you can pick berries together? Or something?

    My husband also worries that my convictions are going to ruin the rest of his life. He talks about getting a phone upgrade and I visibly cringe. We’re working on it.

  16. belle April 30, 2011 at 11:40 am

    my momma, mfranti, and mr. mfranti, and i went to the homeless shelter one christmas eve, i believe we dropped off clothes and the ‘rentals donated money. this was one of my more happy and memorable christmases, i was happy to be with my parents, and it was even better that we were helping others. and it wasn’t full of candy and presents and stress or guilt. just simple, pure happiness. 🙂

  17. Tatiana April 30, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    I didn’t know what to do either, so I finally decided we would get a nice meal out as our Easter treat. No candy, no presents, no fake grass, but it was still a bit less healthy than our usual fare. Of course, if we only do it on holidays it means a lot more and the unhealthiness is less of an issue.

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