Walk into the local drug store (this happens to be Walgreens on Powell Street in San Francisco) in September, and this is what you find:
We know this. It’s not news that Halloween has become a big plastic party. And it wasn’t so different when I was a kid in the 70’s. Plastic-wrapped candy in plastic bags and fake plastic costumes, which my family scorned because we always made ours from scratch. (“Do you think that kid’s costume is homemade or store bought? Looks like store bought. Lazy.”) And it wasn’t just that our mom had so much more time to make costumes than other mothers who worked outside the home because when we got a bit older, we all made our own, cobbled together from whatever was around the house.
The rest of the holidays are no better. Fake plastic jack-o-lanterns are replaced with plastic-lined cans of pumpkin pie filling (read: BPA) because god forbid anyone should clean out and bake an actual pumpkin. You mean they’re not just for Halloween? And of course, even before Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas plastic will be up. Fake plastic snowmen and tinsel and electric candles. Plastic crap toys and plastic appliances and all manner of plastic gadgets: iPods and phones and the latest video game or talking toy.
We spend a lot of time trying to find healthy alternatives to all the environmentally-destructive merchandise that’s pushed on us during the holiday season. Toys made from wood instead of plastic. More wholesome sweets. Handmade gifts instead of store bought. Fair trade. Organic. Gifts of experiences instead of physical goods. We spend a lot of time on these things. And that’s important.
But is it enough? How about questioning the whole compulsive holiday gift-giving assumption? What’s driving us? What’s our motivation? Is it to have a quality experience with people we love? Or is it because everyone else is doing it and we don’t want to feel left out? Or we don’t want our kids to feel left out? Are there ways to subvert the holidays and remake them in our own image, rather than simply “greening” what may be toxic for our souls to begin with?
If the holidays stress us out, make us feel inadequate, drive us to exhaustion trying to meet everyone’s expectations, then it doesn’t matter how environmentally-friendly the gifts are. The whole system has become fundamentally corrupted. How can we create rituals for ourselves and our families that are life-sustaining rather than draining? How can we approach the holidays from a place of actual holiness?
Holy. It’s not a word I use lightly. (Well, except to exclaim “Holy crap!”) I’m not even religious, so I don’t mean it in that sense. What I mean is finding center and balance and respect for ourselves and those we love so that we’re not buffeted by the massive tide of not just commercialism but basic inauthencity. Motivations as insincere as plastic itself. How can we be true to ourselves and honor the holidays without being drowned by them?
This post is full of questions and not many answers because I haven’t found the solutions myself. But I feel the coming waves of anxiety and hope for something calmer this season. Last year, I bought movie passes for all my friends and family, feeling it was one of the more ecologically-friendly gift alternatives. But there was no joy in it. Merely a feeling that I had checked off one more chore from my list. But finding a pumpkin and spending a whole day making pumpkin soup — that was a joyful experience. I hope to fill this season with moments like that.
Here’s one idea that arrived in my email box today from Co-op America (soon to be renamed Green America, apparently. *Sigh*) Reverse Trick-or-Treating, “the new Halloween tradition of children handing Fair Trade chocolate back to their neighbors. The candy is attached to a card that includes information about social and environmental justice issues in the cocoa industry and how Fair Trade chocolate helps farmers across the world in cocoa growing communities.”
It’s not the answer and could be seen as just another thing to buy or to do. But the essential idea tickled me, turning the holiday on its head like that. The trick-or-treaters giving back to the givers and helping to spread a new idea.
What are your suggestions? See any ways around the holiday madness? Please share.