Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'm dreaming of a made-in-China-lights-free Christmas

Imagine your beautiful evergreen decorated with ornaments collected over the years, the latest kid-made creations, twinkling lights, and a star or angel at the top. You sit on your comfy couch with a mug of cocoa in your hand, listening to Nat King Coles' Christmas album and watching the kids look at the gifts and try to guess what they contain. You wonder: Midnight Mass or morning Mass? Caroling with the Smiths or the Murphys? Do we have time to make tamales with the Rodrieguez family this year?

Contrast this lovely image with the reality of working at a Christmas lights factory in China. Not only are you far from family and living in cramped and unsanitary dormitories, you don't know what this "Christmas" is; you would be in trouble with the party if you insisted on celebrating the religious aspects of this holiday off of which your country and corporations make so much money. Your fingers are cramped with the constant twisting to make the Christmas lights that Westerners seem to buy every year. You've heard that some people buy new ones simply because the old ones are tangled; it is easier to buy new ones on sale than to untangle, so countless strings of lights fill landfills. You don't want to think about the lead that you are exposed to every day; your family needs the money you send to their poor province.

When I look at my Christmas tree, I remember everything that happened in past years. Every ornament has a memory attached to it. I have an ornament we bought on our honeymoon; I have old ornaments that I made myself.  Listening to songs from the old country, we talk about times past while we decorate the tree and drink the required eggnog (regular store-bought cut in half with milk and with nutmeg on top). I want my Christmas memories to be built on love, not the discrimination of workers far away.

Why am I focusing on Chinese-made Christmas lights? We have to start somewhere. Also, the manufacture of the Christmas lights is especially environmentally dangerous to the earth and the workers.  I haven't purchased Christmas (or Easter) decorations or other holiday-themed items made in China for the past six years. My breaking point was a commemorative John Paul II ornament made in China sold at the local J.C.Penny. I just couldn't take it anymore. I know that the United States has basically sold itself to China for its cheap goods and labor. I know that wood and even fish from Oregon and Washington are sent to China to be processed and then sent back to the U.S. to be sold. I also know that many other countries (yes, even the U.S.) is discriminatory  to its workers in the name of cheap goods (dollar store, anyone?).  But the combination of China and Christmas feels especially ominous this year. 

China is now an economic superpower, thanks in part to the West's love of cheap goods that they supply. We tolerate their strict communism on social issues because the Chinese government seems to have become capitalists on the grandest scale. Many might be envious of Chinese-style full-scale capitalism that is without the fetters of environmental regulations and workers' rights. We ignore their one-child policy and everything that that entails. A woman can be forced into an eight-month abortion because she already has a seven-year old child. We look the other way and wait for the Christmas lights to go on sale at Walmart or Target or our favorite store that is so much hipper than Walmart and Target. 

What can we do? The problem is huge; the horse is out of the barn, and China will always supply all our Christmas 'needs'. That might be true, but we should start somewhere. I am challenging all my family and friends and blog readers to start by not buying Christmas lights made in China! 

In later posts, I'll give some alternative ideas to made in China Christmas lights. In the meantime- please contemplate my challenge. Please vote in the poll to your right- I'm curious what you think. Thanks for reading this far- God bless you!


  1. My husband and I did not buy products from China for many, many years. Our family and friends(all Catholics)made fun of us. They thought we were crazy, said it wouldn't make any difference, that we were wasting time trying to find things made in the USA, and wasting money buying non-China made shoes for our 8 kids. My kids look to see where something was made before asking if they can purchase it. We did decide that we needed to relax a bit on it when we could no longer find any tennis shoes non China made. My kids just wanted to be able to play games in the park! Anyway, I told my husband at that time that we had tried, but I felt defeated. We still check, and we only have a couple of items that we make exceptions for. Because of the persecution and imprisoning of Christians, and the slave labor market our "code words" for something that was made in China are "made by the Bishop's own hands". We usually put it back on the shelf pretty quick!
    There is a Catholic gifts store online called Aquinas and More and they do not carry anything made in China. I try to purchase things from them when I can. It does make me ill to see the frenzy of consumption at Christmas and almost all of it made in a country that persecutes the Church so violently.

    Oh, by the way, hi! and I have been enjoying your blog for a few weeks now.

  2. Thanks anonymous! It is a huge challenge to buy non-China-made goods, so I started with holiday decorations.

    Wearing hand-me-downs or thrifting is a good way to reduce sweat-shop buying in many areas. It's not always possible, but we save a lot of money this way. And when my son gets stains on a thrift store buy, I don't get upset!

  3. Many of the abuses that happen occur with the knowledge and apathy of American and European and other Western governments. And governments of all stripes and leanings are complicit.

    The government of George Bush's greatest supporter (sycophant some might say), Australia, deported a woman who was 8 month pregnant to China. She was claiming asylum because she would be forced to have an abortion, upon return.

    An independent Catholic senator supported her case. The government claimed that it received assurances from China that it would not happen. So the woman was deported and on her return, she was forced to have an abortion. When the news came back to Australia, the government did nothing, it did not even complain to the ambassador.

    As you have indicated, money and economics have corrupted society to the extent that choices have become limited - and if one is under any economic pressure (such as having children) it is not feasible.

    Another insidious narrative has emerged - that children are bad for the environment, and that numbers of children need to be limited to save the planet.

  4. I need -- I mean, I would like -- new lights for the Christmas tree. I would like to get lights that aren't made in China. Any suggestions?

  5. Peony- I'm writing a post (probably put it up tomorrow) about alternatives- They do exist (but not at Dollar Tree)! Preparation is key- but that is what Advent is all about.

    Anonymous 2- Thanks for the info- a very interesting and sad piece about China's Lost Girls can be found at Netflix instant streaming- a national geographic special with Lisa Ling. I had my older girls watch it and they were shocked.

  6. Thank you for this. You are so right - we have to start somewhere. I've honestly never given this issue much thought (well, the Christmas tree lights specifically - of course, I've given lots of thought to avoiding MIC stuff).

    Thanks for opening eyes to this!

  7. I feel exactly the same way...so much so that I started a business to help others find Made in the USA products for babies and children! It can be done, you just have to be willing to make some changes. Hope you will visit my blog and website...I have lots of Christmas gift ideas...ALL made in the USA!



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