Part 1d: Getting StartedTreasury of Celebrations:
Index for this Section
- Alternative Checklist: How Much is Enough? (Alternative Celebrations Catalogue 3rd Edition)
- Celebrations in Extended, Single Parent, and Blended Families (Milo Thornberry)
- Conversion: A Letter from Yola (Evelyn Howie)
- Family Transition is Half the Battle (Carole G. Rogers)
- One Family's Program for Change (Carolyn C. Shadle)
- The Shakertown Pledge
- Socializing (Bob and Kathleen Keating)
- Women and Celebrations: The Fable of Maybe-Maybe Land (Eugenia Smith-Durland)
From Alternatives' Treasury of Celebrations, published by Northstone Books. The entire 288 page book is available for $12.
Items from the books "Treasury of Celebrations" and "To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays and Rites of Passage" are Free Resource on our Website.
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Carole G. Rogers
The idea of celebrating an alternate Thanksgiving, birthday, or Christmas, of remembering family and friends with love instead of with wasteful, expensive, here-today-gone-tomorrow gifts seems very contemporary - an answer perhaps to the problems of an overcrowded, underfed planet. But it is not really new. In 1513, Fra Giovanna was expressing similar sentiments in a letter to a friend:
I salute you. I am your friend and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not got; but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instance. Take Peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is Joy. Take Joy!
...And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you. Not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.
For those of us already convinced of the rightness of an alternate Christmas, however, the question often is not Why? but How? None of us finds it easy to resist the lure of the marketplace at Christmas. (And no wonder - every possible attraction, from gaily-wrapped packages and carols to the scent of evergreens and the ho-ho-ho of Santa, has been arrayed against us.) But it is possible. Families who have already made the transition are most encouraging. Here are some of their suggestions as well as some of my own; all are based on practical experience.
Last year was our first try at an alternate kind of holiday and we started to talk about it in October. It was none too early. Other families, who plan to make all their gifts, start in the summer when there is still time to stitch, carve, preserve, gather herbs, or whatever.
The Advent wreath tradition, which is again enjoying a renaissance, focuses attention on the coming of Christ instead of Santa. The lighting of candles - one during each of the four weeks preceding Christmas - is such a beautiful yet simple ceremony that even young children can participate and understand.
Tell the children what you're thinking, why you'd like to change and ask for their opinions. Expect them to understand and be enthusiastic. But be open to their ideas and honor any of their objections.
One woman, a widow with two children, aged 13 and 14, wrote me and said, "The thing that convinced them to go along with me and to try the alternate Christmas was the fact that it was so ecologically right and, too, because we decided that the money we saved would go to help others less fortunate than ourselves."
Some parents call a special meeting or a family council. The Keip family from Pacific Grove, California, went out to dinner together - "a very special treat for us - to talk about and plan for our Christmas celebration."
When you and the children have agreed, tell grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends - anyone with whom you normally exchange gifts - so they'll know what to expect, too.
Last year we decided that, instead of exchanging lots of expensive presents, we would "adopt" a family in our own country who would not be likely to have any Christmas at all without somebody's help. We sent long letters to our families telling them what we were going to do and explaining that even though we would not be buying gifts as usual, we still loved them. "As we make our attempt at a new kind of Christmas we want you to know that we will be doing it with all of you very much in our minds and hearts..."
Substitute new traditions for old buying habits
One family with three boys spent a weekend cross-country skiing. That worked out so well that at Easter they planned a theater trip instead of giving in to the Easter basket ritual. That was not so much of a success, however. The key, they told me, lies in selecting something everybody will enjoy. No mean feat for most families, but perhaps the choosing can in itself become a festive event.
You can make a tradition of the alternative gifts themselves. At their planning dinner the Keip family discussed "coupon books," tickets "for things we will do for each other." After Christmas I learned from Mrs. Keip that the coupons had been a big success on the day itself and continued to be long afterward. "I think this will become an increasingly important family tradition with us in the Christmases ahead," she wrote.
"Our adopted family turned out to be six fatherless children whose mother was gravely ill in the hospital. So we still had to fight the Christmas crowds to buy food and necessary clothing for them. But we tried to turn the chore into a special day and we must have succeeded because we enjoyed it more than any other Christmas shopping we've ever done."
Make the transition gradually
The friend in Connecticut, who took her family cross-country skiing, compromised last year by putting a few things under the tree. "They were all lost or broken within 30 days. We're still talking about the skiing. So I think next year we'll just forego presents entirely."
It's part of the commercial mystique that surrounds Christmas that says it must always be perfect day. Don't be pressured and don't be rigid. Families who have established their alternative traditions say they had to be flexible, willing to change and adapt. If something doesn't work this year, try something else next year. Eventually you'll evolve an alternate Christmas that is truly life-supporting and also truly yours.
When you first begin you may wonder if the idea will work for you at all. Have you really ruined Christmas forever? No, say the families that have persevered. Jane Mall, from Hinsdale, Illinois, wrote that her family had many doubts last year. "It wasn't until after Christmas that we realized what we had done. It was when we received the thank-you notes. The homemade things were so much appreciated; the idea of an alternate Christmas was new to the recipients and they wanted to know more about it. Then we felt very good about what we'd done and vowed to do the same for other celebrations. It really is worth it! In fact, we can never again go back to the wasteful, selfish way of celebrating Christmas again."
Last year was our first attempt, too, and I had the same doubts. Our children are still very young, our families loving and open-minded even if they do sometimes think we're a little silly. So change seemed possible - even necessary - at this time in our lives. But for us, too, the insights and rewards didn't come until after Christmas. For me there was a feeling of freedom, of having truly enjoyed a day that had always been marred by last-minute trips for that elusive perfect gift. And then there was the enthusiasm of others. One teenage nephew sent us money he'd earned to buy "something" for our adopted family. A cousin sent a donation to a favorite charity in our name.
We still don't know how our future Christmases will turn out, but we'll never go back to our old buying habits to celebrate it.
Carolyn C. Shadle
My children used to complain to me that they were the only ones in the school lunch room who had sandwiches made of whole wheat bread. I understood their desire to be like their peers, and I didn't want them to feel like "oddballs" or outcasts. Yet, sometimes it surprised me that they are not more different than their friends because I know that my values and my perspective of the world are quite different from that of my neighbors. Then I realized that my values were not yet those of my children. Perhaps you have noticed a similar gap in your family. Why is that? How can we change it?
I have two sets of values which conflict. On the one hand, I value good nutrition, elimination of heedless consumption, and life in harmony with Earth and its people. On the other hand, I value the freedom of children to choose and to make mistakes. I value their autonomy. I do not believe that we have the right to impose our values. In fact, while my way may be right, I find that I'm not very effective when I endeavor to impose my value system. It usually backfires and they work long and hard at rejecting my values!
If we wish to give our children their right to individuality and yet wish to live out our own values with the hope that they will someday adopt these same values for their own, we have to deal with the question, "How can we most effectively influence the values of our children?"
I have found that my values will be accepted by my children only when the atmosphere in our home is conducive to teaching and learning - only when there is an atmosphere of trust and respect for the children's individuality.
In Paul Tournier's book The Meaning of Gifts, he cautions us to avoid projecting our own taste into our gifts. "It is hard," he acknowledges, "to accept the fact that our children's taste may be altogether different from ours, but," he says, "the true meaning of love is understanding the other, attempting to know him and to recognize him... even if he be one's own child... as a person. The child needs to feel that his own particular identity is respected; otherwise, either he will withdraw and become a stranger to his own parents or else he will cease to recognize his personal tastes and will remain a dependent child."
To unilaterally choose gifts which reflect only our values or to unilaterally eliminate gifts because we believe them wasteful and unnecessary is to lack the very values of respect and consideration for others which we are endeavoring to teach.
Trust and respect
Listening, and letting our children know that we hear them, has been the first step in our home in establishing an environment of trust and respect. Listening to them when they complain about lunch or when they plead for the latest toy advertised on television, we need to hear their claims, their needs, their feelings, their frustrations, their wants, and their joys. It is only within an open and respecting relationship that our values can be taught and "caught."
Next to listening, however, the next most important component in building a respecting relationship is the giving of ourselves. We must speak up, too, and disclose our feelings, wants, needs, joys, frustrations. We must tell them how we feel about using white wonder bread - and why. We must tell them if we feel cheated when we buy cheap plastic toys which break soon after they are opened. We must tell them if we feel concern for a poor worker in Asia or Mexico who has worked long difficult hours so that we can enjoy an inexpensive consumer item. We must tell them if we do not have enough money to buy all the things on their lists because there are other priorities toward which we wish to put our money - such as food, clothing, and charitable contributions.
We have found that what is crucial in the teaching and learning that takes place is when we choose to share ourselves. To lecture about poor Asian women in direct response to their eager request for a gadget or toy means to them that we have not listened, and they certainly do not hear our story about the low-paid Asian worker. (Do you remember how much empathy you acquired for the poor starving children when you were little and your parents lectured to you about their needs while you sat alone in tears staring at your peas after everyone had left the dinner table?) At such a time, we are wasting our breath; we probably induce hostility rather than a feeling of concern and sympathy.
Our family has made use of "no problem" times, when tempers are even and tummies are full, to address ourselves to value-laden topics, particularly our materialistic lifestyle and our commercialized celebrations.
One of the teaching strategies we have used at the dinner table is called "unfinished sentences." On index cards I write a "sentence stub" which each person at the table must complete. Here are some that we have used:
- The best thing that happened to me today was...
- The nicest thing about Christmas is...
- What I remember most about last Easter is...
- My best friend is...
- The thing that worries me the most is...
- Birthdays mean...
Another strategy we use to provoke discussion is "fantasy." Some of the fantasy situations we've proposed are:
- If you were given a million dollars, what would you do with the money?
- If you could live any place in the world except where you live, where would it be?
- If you could spend a day with anyone except a family member, whom would you choose?
- If you could not spend any money at Christmas, what kind of gifts could you give?
- If you had all the toys and clothes you could possibly want, what then would you want for your birthday?
Another strategy we use involves "ranking" - prioritizing our needs and wants and desires:
- List, in order, the five things you want most to happen at Christmas.
Which of these would be the worst for you?
- to have to go to church on Christmas eve
- to do without new toys on Christmas
- to make Christmas gifts instead of buying them
What is the most important thing about Christmas?
- remembering Jesus' birthday
- giving and receiving gifts
- family and friends getting together
What would be the most meaningful wedding gift?
- a silver place setting
- a tuition gift for a marriage enrichment course
- a live plant to symbolize the life and growth in a relationship
These strategies are intended to give family members a structured opportunity to share their views and to discuss the topic. If each person's view can be heard and discussed non-judgmentally, then a lot of relationship building happens as family members get to talk about themselves and as we become more intimately acquainted with each other.
By using a variety of value clarification strategies, we have accustomed the children to talking openly about value-laden topics. Then, when it comes to holidays and celebrations, it is not so strange to discuss the values inherent in our styles of celebration.
While there exists a gap between our values and those of our children, there are, in the words of Sidney Simon, two things children need before there is a possibility of their changing their values: the first thing is nourishment, and the second is alternatives.
Nourishment is something we provide when we listen to and relate to our children, as well as when we provide them with nourishing meals. Emotional nourishment comes about as we build a relationship - as we care about one another, listen to one another, and share. The alternatives come as we disclose our values, as we discuss different ways of doing things, as we read good books together, and as we try alternative ways of celebrating.
At Halloween we have tried to adapt the traditional candy giveaway in a variety of ways. Instead of candy, we have baked nutritional goodies and handed out raisins, nuts, apples, and homemade popcorn. We have talked about UNICEF and have tried to focus on Halloween as a time to give to and collect for UNICEF. The Gerhards of Walla Walla, Washington, inspired us; they pass out a copy of this note:
We are giving 50 cents to UNICEF for every child who comes trick-or-treating at our home. Because you have come other children around the world will receive a gift of food and medicine to help them have the joys of life which you have. Thank you for coming to our home and helping us to help other children like yourself all around the world.
Another alternative was suggested by a friend in Eden, New York. She was disgusted with the tradition of the birthday child handing out candy to classmates, so she arranged with the teacher to give, instead, a real celebration. She invited a guitarist to visit the classroom and lead the children in singing. Following the singing, each child was given a donut carefully set on a circle of cardboard. In the middle of each was a birthday candle. Following the singing of Happy Birthday and the eating of the "cake," the children were able to appreciate the picture on the cardboard circle. My friend had covered the circles with wrapping paper decorated with butterflies. To carry out the butterfly theme, 25 butterflies were drawn on a large sheet of shelf paper. Each child was invited to write his or her name in one of the butterflies and a birthday wish. The mural was hung for the duration of the day and then taken home by the birthday child as a permanent momento of the class's good wishes.
At Eastertime we have sought alternatives to the needless chocolates in the Easter basket. The solution has been gradually to cut down in number and ultimately to eliminate the candy by replacing it with other items which focus more on the meaning of Easter. One year it was a large button-pin with a picture of bunnies and the phrase, "Love is the answer." Another year it was an inexpensive ARCH book entitled Kiri and the First Easter, purchased at the local religious supply store. Another year it was a poster that read "Sharing is Caring."
Our Christmas celebration changes began by adding things that were more meaningful and by eliminating that which was least threatening to do without. As we could talk more about the meaning of Christmas and about the effect of our consumption-oriented celebration, we were able gradually to substitute homemade gifts. One of the early nonthreatening changes we made was a shift from the use of Christmas wrapping paper to the use of the colored weekend comic pages of the newspaper for wrapping. The change made sense to our children because they had been involved weekly in recycling newspapers as well as old school papers and mail. They had observed the piles of wasted paper and recalled our saying that it takes 17 trees to make a ton of paper.
House decorations were also an area where early changes were made. We ceased buying the expensive plastic commercial items and instead surrounded ourselves with homemade decorations and those which reminded us of the religious meaning of Christmas.
The cutback on gifts was accompanied by discussions about our family budget and priorities, and the addition of an "Alternative Gift Certificate" to all of our relatives and to our own family. (Alternatives for Simple Living issues Alternate Gift Certificates which allow the recipient to receive a book or make a donation to a designated justice or hunger group.) The presence of such a certificate under our own tree gave our children an opportunity to discuss which life-supporting group they wanted to see receive our gift.
The shock of fewer toys and things under the tree was reduced by inviting family and friends for Christmas dinner at our house on Christmas Day. It made the day very busy, but the hustle and bustle was centered on preparing for company instead of on the hurried tearing open of boxes. An after-Christmas trip also involved us in the joy of reuniting with friends, and it saved our children from counting their presents and comparing their "loot" with that of their neighbor friends. By now they are becoming accustomed to nonmaterial gifts.
Last Christmas we designed and mimeographed this gift certificate for use by others:
This certificate entitles the above named bearer to receive:
from me, with warm Christmas greetings.
I heard that the gifts given by way of the certificate ranged from back rubs to promises to cook or clean!
On our last wedding anniversary, our daughter, wanting greatly to give us something, went to the garage, sawed a piece of scrap wood, added two clay sculptured faces, and "engraved" the plaque with gold paint; it read, "The Great Parents Award." We like to think that her creativity was a result of our introducing alternatives throughout the year to the traditional "buy-a-gift" syndrome.
We like to think that what we believe and what we do has an effect on the lives of our children. If we can relate to our children in a trusting and respectful manner and provide them with alternative ways to view the world and relate to it through our celebrations, our children will be open to our values. It is even possible that they will one day apply these same values more vigorously and with more commitment than we now have the courage to do. Perhaps they will ultimately lead us!
Get to know Milo at Post #181.
Once upon a time, "family" meant mother, father, boy, girl, and dog. Today, one parent may be absent, or people may live in an extended family (with grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends) or in a blended family (with "your children,"my children, and "our children"). It can be pretty confusing for children and adults alike.
When you are adjusting to a different family configuration and at the same time, trying to consciously simplify celebrations, it is most important to maintain your focus on the word celebration. The event, whether it is a birthday or religious or civic holiday, must never take precedence over the feelings of family members. This means that it may be necessary to celebrate when it is best for everyone, rather than when the calendar dictates.
Many of us have difficulty dealing with extended family members (including former spouses) when their values are different from ours. Step-parents particularly may have a difficult time in staying focused on the joyous aspect of the event. The alternative, however, is to remember that many of us become extra sensitive around holidays, and to ask for help when it is needed, whether that is physical or emotional help.
Celebrations are not always steps to reaffirming and strengthening ties in the extended family. Conflicts about how to spend limited time or whose traditions to follow (in addition to the issue of quite new patterns of celebration), are commonplace, but not easy, issues with which to deal. Making this more complicated are blended families in which children's time must be shared between former spouses, and perhaps four sets of grandparents. Tension between former spouses and differing values can make celebrations times of extreme anxiety.
There are no easy answers! It does little good to rail at the high divorce rate, or the fragmentation of the nuclear family. If celebrations are to be occasions for nurture and fun, sensitivity and acknowledgment of these problems are essential. The following suggestions may help in avoiding potential problems:
1. Before you talk with extended family members or ex-spouses, have a clear idea of your own about the significance of the event. Invite the children into a discussion. Hear from them what is important about celebrating with you.
2. Let extended family members and ex-spouses know about your ideas well in advance of the event.
3. Sensitively discuss with your children the different perspectives and practices they may encounter in their celebrations at Grandma's or at their other parent's home.
4. Eliminate a tone of self-righteousness about your new way of celebrating.
5. Be flexible in the dates of your celebration. Alternatives can also apply to the day of celebrating.
6. Even though your immediate family unit may be in the minority, hold fast to your own plans for alternative celebrations!
7. Resist cultural pressure to out-spend the other parent in order to prove your affection. Extravagance cannot compensate for separation. Try talking to your children about this difficult issue.
8. Be courageous as you face changes to your celebrations, but perhaps most important, keep your sense of humor - no matter what. Do your best to make the celebration work; view it as an experiment in growth, and look for the humor and joy in whatever happens.
This story takes place in Maybe-Maybe Land. (It couldn't have happened in Never-Never Land, as you will see.) Maybe-Maybe Land is made up of ordinary folks who try to enjoy life as much as possible because life is good. And because they love each other and enjoy life, they have lots of occasions for celebrating. These celebrations are a very important part of the fabric of life for the Maybe-Maybe Landers. The celebrations are often quite gay and frolicsome, not frivolous, but essential to the balance of life. There is something they all have in common. All seem to call for lots of fine food, dressing up, and above all, lots of gift-giving.
There is just one thing amiss in the lives of these happy people. Although these celebrations are very important to everyone, and all share in the celebration, the women must do all the work! And after the parties are over, they must clean up the mess.
But perhaps the worst problem for the women of Maybe-Maybe Land is their culture and its influence on them. You see, Maybe-Maybe Land culture is afflicted with something known as the "Supermom Syndrome." Supermoms are good wives and mothers, beautiful and well-dressed, even when scrubbing floors or cleaning up after birthday parties. They never become cross or short of bouncing energy. Kitchen floors always shine like mirrors, and even while putting on spectacular celebrations single-handedly, Supermoms keep up with the prophylactic qualities of toothpaste, mouthwash, and laundry detergent.
How did the Supermom Syndrome become a Maybe-Maybe Land culture? Some of it certainly filtered down from the ancestors who worshipped hard work and independent effort. But there is something else. Maybe-Maybe Landers' homes all have little moving-picture sets telling stories about families, supposedly just like their own - all with Supermoms. To make things worse, companies pay to make the stories possible, and broadcast their own "mini-stories" to sell products to mothers and children.
Now the women in our story are intelligent, and know the stories they see are not true. But they still are influenced by the Supermom image that is pushed upon them. They often feel frustrated because they cannot keep up with the image that surrounds them. They want their families to be happy and well-cared-for, and they really want every holiday and celebration to be a special occasion. They keep trying, but the harder they work, the more separated they become from their families at those important moments for loving and sharing. Their frustrations make them feel cheated and guilty because they can't enjoy the festivities.
Now the women of Maybe-Maybe Land got fed up with the Supermom Syndrome. (You remember they are all very intelligent - so it stands to reason that they would not put up with the nonsense forever!) And better still, their husbands and children got fed up with the exploitation too. Being bright, creative people, they got together to change the situation.
Some wanted to throw out celebrations altogether, feeling women could handle things if there weren't extra burdens. Their view was not popular. Others wanted to rotate all jobs concerning family living and celebrating. But this sometimes became very complicated.
After much thought and discussion, the Maybe-Maybe Landers realized that it was all right to want celebrations to be special occasions. What had been wrong was their assumption that you had to be a Supermom for it to happen. With family sharing, they could all help mom, and have more fun to boot!
They had come up with an idea for alternative celebrations and there was no stopping them! The possibilities were fantastic! They noticed that "community" and "whole family" celebrations discouraged competitive cooking and decorating. They also discovered that they saved a great deal of money, and were more creative and original as they shared the joy of making gifts and sharing chores and ideas. They also found that their religious celebrations became more meaningful, and they felt much closer to God and their neighbors.
In a nutshell, they discovered, through their alternative celebrations, that in truly authentic and joyful celebrating, the preparations and the occasion itself cannot really be separated! When everyone shared equally in the planning, preparation and work of celebrating - just as they had always shared in the fun - there was no way to distinguish between the preparation and the fun!
Bob and Kathleen Keating
Much emphasis is placed on holiday parties, and often they result in unnecessary exhaustion, even sadness. On the other hand, December has become a season of celebration, a time for getting together with special friends. So, ask:
- Is my party one more of many which bring the same people together, or is it for a certain number of friends who otherwise won't see one another?
- Is my party to repay invitations and could it as easily be done another month, or is it to include people I especially want to be with at this time?
- Can I afford the money, time, and energy right now? Will the entertaining be a pleasure for me as well as for my guests?
- Is there an innovative approach I could use, such as taking the party to a seniors' home, or to a hospital where everyone could sing and celebrate?
- Does the invitation list include people who might otherwise be forgotten?
- Will the invitation include children?
- Will I ask people to bring potluck, or to contribute by bringing finger food?
- What is the single most important thing I can do for myself in order to be relaxed and enjoy my own party?
If you decide to entertain, it should be done in your own style, whether that involves careful planning or spontaneity. A way to avoid tension is to be honest about doing things personally. Just because our culture holds up images of elegant decorating and serving, or of having dozens of family members together on Christmas, doesn't mean that's the only way or the best way for you. Try for integrity and you'll enjoy it more.
If children are included at your party, you may want to try making a piñata. Make one with the children and fill it with sugar-free candy, nuts, little bags of popcorn, toasted soybeans, fancy crackers, etc. Invite the neighborhood children in on Christmas Eve to break the piñata. The use of the piñata is a Spanish custom, and this should be explained to the children. (A piñata is a decorated shape made of papier mâché. Libraries have instruction books in the crafts section.)
Alternative Celebrations Catalogue 3rd Edition
Each day that passes, the evidence mounts up that it is time for our society to start giving back more than we take from our planet and her people. Our taking (buying, having, discarding) appetite has always hurt Earth and those we trampled. We are now reaping what we have sown, and the impact of our gout is both physical and spiritual.
It is almost painful to recall that for thousands of years great and small people of wisdom have declared that the "good life" could not be bought with money and things. Economist E.F. Schumacher, in Small Is Beautiful, expanded this idea to include freedom and peace: "Only by a reduction of needs can one promote a genuine reduction in those tensions which are the ultimate causes of strife and war."
"Creative deprivation" for children makes good sense for adults as well. It keeps the senses and mind free of material goods that overwhelm us, in order to have room to experience creative uses of the imagination.
Declaring yourself in the camp of those committed to creative simplicity will happen when you admit that there are limits in life which you have violated. Jettisoning the excess baggage for new ways is a process both liberating and painful and it continues until we die. Fruits come from the daily labor of nurturing the lifestyle which is life-giving. And, as in any garden, there are always weeds and bugs to contend with.
Following is an alternate celebration checklist to stretch your imagination toward specific actions:
- Cut out the junk food.
- Give yourself.
- Make gifts.
- Thank your friend's parents for her/his life.
- Emphasize the uniqueness of the person.
- Create your own wedding celebration.
- Ask friends to help with food for the reception.
- Request gift money be sent to one of your favorite people- and Earth-oriented projects.
- Avoid buying new clothes.
- Make your own invitations.
- Write your own vows.
- Give homemade, self-help craft shop, or recycled gifts.
- Give yourself (paint their apartment, for example).
- Donate to the couple's favorite cause.
- Give those wedding gifts you never used.
- Offer to take photographs, prepare food, or clean up.
- Give fruit or homemade cookies.
- Organize collection for hunger project.
- Plan a block party.
- Give your "treat" money to a hunger project and tell children about your decision.
- Donate organs to the living.
- Donate your body to a medical school.
- Have your body cremated.
- Be buried in plain pine box.
- Ask that donations be made to a cause or charity in lieu of flowers.
- Contribute memorials instead of flowers
- Start a dialogue in your congregation and community about funeral reform.
- Start a memorial society.
- Give the surviving parent, friend, or child a blank book for journaling.
- The age-old tradition of cooking and baking still holds; prepare some food.
- Donate a book to a library, school, synagogue in memory of the deceased.
- Organize an alternate graduation and donate cap and gown, class ring and invitation money to a project.
- Encourage family and friends to give to a project in lieu of a gift.
- Give the graduate a membership to an environmental group.
- Give a good book or a magazine subscription.
- Make a personal gift.
- Contribute to person's favorite cause.
Hanukkah and Christmas
- Drastically reduce spending.
- Make gifts.
- Give yourself: your time, talent, skill.
- Shop at self-help craft outlets.
- Give a gift certificate for environmental or justice work.
- Organize an alternate Christmas or Hanukkah in your congregation.
- Establish family tradition of giving "unspent" income to people- and Earth-oriented projects.
- Create new family traditions which are person-oriented.
- Do not buy candy and commercial cards.
- Make homemade alternatives.
- Contribute to a prison reform project, or programs to help ex-offenders.
- Encourage your neighborhood school to organize an alternative Valentine program on prison reform.
Birth of your child
- Make your own announcements.
- Encourage contributions to projects which help less fortunate children.
Birth of anothers' child
- Offer to help the new parents - be specific.
- Give the mom herbal bubble bath.
- Give babysitting certificates; parents can call you when they need a break.
- Write a prayer, make a quilt, knit or crochet a gift.
- Give a book.
- Write a letter to the baby, telling how you felt when you first saw him or her.
- Plan a meatless dinner.
- Give a donation to hunger and First Nations projects.
- Organize an alternative Thanksgiving campaign.
Passover and Easter
- Plan meatless meals.
- Don't buy candy.
- Don't buy new clothes.
- Contribute to human welfare.
- Plan an alternative children's celebration.
In addition to discussing the checklist with your loved ones, you may also wish to discuss the Shakertown Pledge. This pledge was written by a group of religious retreat leaders who felt badly about being members of a privileged minority in a nation guilty of the overconsumption of the world's resources. They recognized that their own lifestyles were part of the problem. They named their pledge the Shakertown Pledge in honor of their original gathering place and because the Shaker community had believed wholeheartedly in lives of "creative simplicity." You, too, may want to sign it, or create a different one that suits your particular family. We suggest you hang it in your kitchen:
Recognizing that Earth and the fullness thereof is a gift from our gracious God, and that we are called to cherish, nurture, and provide loving stewardship for Earth's resources, and recognizing that life itself is a gift, and a call to responsibility, joy, and celebration, I make the following declarations:
1. I declare myself to be a world citizen.
2. I commit myself to lead a life of creative simplicity and to share my personal wealth with the world's poor.
3. I commit myself to join with others in the reshaping of institutions in order to bring about a more just global society in which all people have full access to the needed resources for their physical, emotional, intellectual , and spiritual growth.
4. I commit myself to occupational accountability, and so doing I will seek to avoid the creation of products which cause harm to others.
5. I affirm the gift of my body and commit myself to its proper nourishment and physical well-being.
6. I commit myself to examine continually my relations with others, and to attempt to relate honestly, morally, and lovingly to those around me.
7. I commit myself to personal renewal through prayer, meditation, and study.
8. I commit myself to responsible participation in a community of faith.
A surprise package with an unlikely postmark was left in our mailbox last December. Since I was rushing to town to select the perfect gift for our friends, I opened it hurriedly, anxious to get on with the shopping.
The package contained four handknit ponchos and four wooden pipes (also hand-made). Yola, who made and sent these to us, is our friend who washed and ironed and made life easier for us while we were in Bolivia. Her salary was 80 cents a day, more money than she'd ever made before! The moment I realized what she'd done, I burst into tears! Here in my quiet kitchen, I was completely overwhelmed with the love and effort these gifts represented - and how could we, with a kitchen full of food, a more-than-adequately-comfortable home, children with more than enough clothes and "things" - how could we continue to spend the time, energy, and money for these meaningless gifts (for which I was shopping) in the name of Christmas?
During the year we've been unable to locate Yola. The only meaningful and honest thing we know to do, the only way we know to reach Yola and Bolivia and all the other people in the world in the same plight, is to send the money we'd ordinarily spend for gifts this year to LAOS, a nonprofit, ecumenical volunteer agency.
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Page updated 22 Feb. 2014
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