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An Activist's Guide to Surviving the Holidays

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Anti-consumerist elf

By mid-December the malls are packed, the sidewalks are slushy, and local charities are putting out urgent calls for last-minute donations. There’s a lot going on, and it can be hard to know where to direct your activist energy. The holiday season is also a great time to reflect and be grateful for what we do have.

Across the world there are people tackling much larger problems than stocking the space under the tree with gifts. . Of course, there is still so much work to be done in our communities, and sometimes those needs are overwhelming. It’s important to take the time to care for ourselves and our communities, celebrate the hard-fought battles that have already been won, and continue to look for ways to contribute to our local struggles.

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Here’s a round-up of some great tips from around the web to help plan the perfect activist holiday. From reducing the environmental footprint of your Christmas light display, to eschewing harmful, typical traditions, you can find inspiration and ideas in these great resources no matter your goal.

Let’s start with the die-hard gift-loving fanatics. Try to reduce your holiday consumption. You can pare down the ridiculous heights of modern gift giving by making homemade or DIY gifts for the people on your list. Most of us would agree that the season is mainly about spending time with loved ones and showing you care – and there’s no better way to do that than investing time and effort into a homemade present.

Find a whole slew of crafty, food-centric and fashionable DIY gifts on these blogs:

How Sweet Eats is primarily a food blog, so keep in mind that a small tin of homemade goodies is a very well received gift. It’s also a present that can easily be duplicated and made in bulk in an afternoon or so. Focusing on edible gifts will also reinforce memories of festive, holiday baking with friends and family – and quality time is really what it’s all about! Baking is a great way to subvert the gift-giving culture of corporatization. You can buy ethically grown ingredients like flours and chocolate, or shop for supplies at your local Mom and Pop shop.

There is also a ton of great homemade beauty products, décor and accessories in the How Sweet Eats gift guide.

A DIY-focused couple highlights their favourite homemade ornaments, décor, and small presents to get you feeling festive over at Young House Love.

If you are looking for a homemade gift that will impress your picky and traditional Aunt Edna, check out the Apartment Therapy blog. These creations are quite a bit more involved (and generally require a few purchased materials) but you truly wouldn’t know that the final products weren’t made in a specialized, over-priced, fancy boutique.

Seeds and Stitches a list of incredibly unique homemade gifts. No boring sugar cookies here! If you are a little more skilled with a sewing machine or in the kitchen, these are the DIY gifts for you.

If you’re short on time, even a low-cost, simple gift can be made personal. Try framing a lovely family photo for your folks, or making “gift certificates” for close friends to redeem for items like a coffee date, free babysitting or a grocery run. The “Buy Nothing Christmas” campaign even created a PDF of bright, festive coupons to gift personal services to your loved ones.

Another way to avoid the commercial feeling of the holidays, with thousands of dollars worth of “stuff” littering the floor on Christmas morning, is to focus on gifts that give back. Of course, there are a myriad of goods and companies that claim to do-good while manufacturing items in sweatshops. Be careful to look at the “money trail” if you plan to go this route. Be critical of donated profits (how much of the cost of the item is really “profit?”) or fair trade claims.

If you want to avoid material goods – even ethically made ones - you could donate to charity in a recipient’s name, or even make a family commitment to put gift money towards a larger group donation. Check out this charity analysis tool called Charity Navigator to investigate the transparency and financial record of organizations you might like to support. Try to find a smaller, grassroots level organization to surprise with your donation. This is another important way to invest in your own community. Seek out food bank alternatives in your region – most have local food programs – or a community garden that could use some help with spring start-up costs. You can also look to broader organizations like Food Not Bombs or Books 2 Prisoners.

Donations (carefully researched ones, at least) usually ensure your hard-earned money is going to a worthwhile cause. Opting out of the corporatization and over-consumption that is rampant around the holidays helps to avoid supporting systems like sweatshop labour or unethical labour practices.

To emphasize togetherness and bond with your family members, consider going to volunteer at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or retirement home. This eliminates the stress of hosting while keeping those family memories and teaching younger members about the importance of giving back to your local community. Focusing on organizations right outside your back door is an incredibly worthwhile way to engage with people in your community, and to reflect on all that you have. Volunteering can provide a “reality check” for anyone who isn’t aware of the realities for less fortunate people – especially around the holidays.

Focusing on the environmental impact of a consumption-heavy holiday is another reason to cut back. If you are determined to give presents, try wrapping them in newspaper, fabric, or other material that you can reuse. This is another great way to subvert the consumption of the holidays. Try to find ways to repurpose items all year long, and not just around Christmas!

Check out this list for easy, simple swaps to be kinder to the environment this season.

Remember that there are ways to take every tip further. Reduce material goods altogether by rejecting the consumerist-nature of the holidays, or consider a vegetarian meal to benefit the environment. If you must have turkey, consider this case for purchasing an organic turkey.

It would be wrong to ignore the growing group who wish to avoid the holidays altogether. If you want to reject the holidays but find yourself dragged into family traditions, check out this tool for maintaining good emotional health during this time of year.

It's been a long year - don't burn out! This guide on self care is full of ideas to keep you well through to the new year.

It is interesting that most of the “Subvert Christmas” narrative, based on the call to avoid consumerism in the season, is based in the Christian community. Here is an interesting take on making the holidays meaningful as an atheist.

So strap on your  winter boots, and get to organizing!

Are you a holiday lover? Do you have any ideas for rejecting the holiday season overall? Let us know in the comments!


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