This week, I've been exploring the 'Chinese problem' when it comes to Christmas. How can we joyfully prepare and decorate for the holiday with products made by exploited workers in crowded dormitories far from home, workers who are forced into following the one-child policy, sterilizations and abortions?
I feel grim about the future; the West has been depending on Chinese (and yes, other countries) cheap labor for a long time, turning its face from the harsh realities of worker abuse. I decided I would take a stand about six years ago- I don't buy Christmas or Easter-themed items from communist, anti-Christian China. So I don't buy very much. Here are some ideas that I have used or plan to use. I still love to decorate for the holidays (that's 'holy days' for you, Dad!)
1. Re-use old lights (most likely made in China). There is no sense in filling landfills with working lights. Preserve old lights for the next year by untangling, rolling and putting in a spot where they won't get crushed. My lights that I use are 7 years old. My point with these posts is to discourage readers from buying more Chinese lights.
2. Make a Jesse Tree. This is a great memory from my childhood. A Jesse Tree is a tree (or branch or other way to display the ornaments) with ornaments that the family makes that covers salvation history. We used paper Jesse Tree ornaments that my parents bought years ago. I learned a lot of scripture, and it is a beautiful reminder of the meaning of the holiday.
3. Store all Christmas items together. Yes, I have been doing this for about four years. Before that, Christmas decorations, books and music were scattered. Not rocket science, but it helps creativity if holiday items are easy to get to. Things will be less likely to break, so you can re-use instead of buy like items. I have a friend who has a lot of Christmas books in a big, special tub; she brings it out only for the holidays. The books themselves are decorative because they are different than what is usually around.
4. Use natural items to decorate. Ideas abound at marthastewart.com and even notmartha.org- if you live in the North, decorating with evergreens is easy and traditional. Live in the South? Use the vegetation native to you. Californians can use ecalyptus! Ecologists state that one has to have an (most likely Chines made) artificial Christmas tree for over 8 years before it 'equals' the environmental impact of buying a farmed, natural tree. So, support Oregon's economy and make a natural tree part of your budget.
5. Embrace a Christmas-style minimilism. I would never presume that anyone would prefer an empty, minimilist house during the holidays. The decorations are part of the fun. BUT is it necessary to buy new decorations each year (yes, people do this)? The clutter-free aspect of this comes in when one buys things with intention, not just filling up the cart with the latest sale items. Beautiful, simple decorations would be a simple line of lights (hopefully saved from years past until I can convince Walmart to open an American factory) along the roofline and then a natural wreath on the front door. The over-the-top lighting display, which are fun and festive, actually are counter-productive to the true celebration of Advent and Christmas. Until December 25th, we are actually in a season of preparation/penitence, but that is for other post.
6. Get Crafty. If your natural tree is your center-piece, use old, memory-rich ornaments and let the kids contribute! In my opinion, the new (Chinese made, natch) foam kits just are not pleasing to the eye. Work during the year on easy crafts that lend themselves to be ornaments on a tree. An easy decorating idea is to have ornaments hanging from a cord along the windows- a good way to keep precious ornaments out of little hands. The blog Like Mother, Like Daughter is the perfect place to get inspiration- here's an example of their 'if I can do it, you can too' philosophy.
7. Make time for the important things. Baking, cooking, time with family and friends, playing Christmas music, special devotions- these are the things that are important and what your kids will remember. They won't remember fondly the times we moms struggled at the shopping malls for the perfect new gadget. They won't remember that we cut down on the new Christmas lights. They will remember that we celebrated the birth of our Lord. That is what is important; we can't lose sight of that.
UPDATE: I'm thinking of more ideas- one I forgot was- Go Thrifting! We just got back from the thrift store, buying parts of All Saints' and trick or treating costumes. LOTS of possibilities