As we approach yet another holiday during a global pandemic, I realize that moms are really trying to make a lot of additional magic here. Part of the magic, as we know, came from the additional people that we saw and visited with during traditional holidays like Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas. And now, either we embrace the time as rest, or we are trying to make sure our children get to still experience that same level of happiness and memory making that normally comes with these holidays.
It all comes with a lot of stuff, and a lot of waste. I've been a mom for just four years and a bit now, and I also know how much additional work it adds to an already overflowing plate. It's not until Christmas is over that I realize just how much that time of year adds to things; it's like I just got to quit a part time job, and now I can focus on my other two full time jobs - parenting and ya know, the day job. There's still the clean up, the packing away, the garbage bags. But then the next holidays come around - now Valentine's cards and crafts and writing love notes to put on children's doors, foil and glitter decorations we put up and throw away, tiny packages of treats and piles of plastic wrapping. Then it is leprechaun green plastic glittery clovers and gold foil coins filled with cheap chocolate and plastic hats, glasses and necklaces. And now, plastic Easter grass and rows of cheap stuffed animals and pastel plastic eggs at every store checkout. Throw a few birthdays on there with the matching themed wrapping paper, plates, balloons and treat bags filled with on-theme items that are plastic, cheap and usually filled by mamas and papas everywhere just trying to 'keep up.'
Unfortunately, we usually end up on our phones to disconnect, and see the multiple advertisements for each of these events, and then see the intimate photos of what everyone else is doing and getting for these holidays on our social media, and it really doesn't feel like there's any other way to do things. Ya look at the calendar, see what event is next, order a bunch of stuff online (or grab a ton of it last minute at one of those checkouts), put it together for a few photos and a short period of magic, and then dump it all in the garbage.
I promise there is another way to do things. Unfortunately so many of us mamas just want what's best for the family that we spend so much time worrying - that we are spoiling, whether we are going to far the other way and being too minimal and depriving our kids, or we are simply exhausted and we don't really have too much more to give. Maybe these are all generalizations, but I have felt all these feelings, and have muddled our way to something different over time, because things really have to change.
The silver lining to the pandemic? We can look at these holidays and rewrite what we want them to be, change them up so that we aren't left with the same results. Do you get overwhelmed, or resentful, or tired out - or, do you feel your values get shredded a little bit with the commercialism and the garbage and the cleaning up afterward? Or, do you feel filled up and rested after your holiday? What can you do to improve this, so that the magic is also something you get to enjoy, too?
Easter: A Plastic Nightmare
Let's just look at the plastic eggs to get started, shall we? Anyone with a toddler knows how much babies love these things. For a few years, the eggs stayed out for multiple 'fake' egg hunts, and then ya had to hide things in the eggs for them to open them all up in joy, and then they got carried around in toy shopping carts and I'd be finding them in tractor wagons and on the dog bed and in my kitchen cupboards. These things are never meant to last, and they are often single use, judging by the vast numbers that are produced each year to meet the demand.
Bleyer Industries was once the only North American manufacturer of plastic eggs, and at its height in the early 2000s, it was making 250 million eggs a year. However, it has since gone bankrupt because it was unable to compete with the cheaper plastic eggs coming out of China (this really blows my mind - how things can be so much cheaper out of China but still experience and have the added cost of across-the-world shipping on top of that - it really shows how little the workers are paid and how much the environment is taking some of the cost). Given that Easter spending has increased every year for the last few decades, it is logical that even more plastic eggs are being sold each year. Most of these eggs have single packaged treats put inside, but up to half of Americans are adding cheap plastic toys to these for the big egg hunt, as well (National Geographic, 2016).
And then, we have all of the plastic, foil, and glittery decor that isn't meant to last (with many families opting to do Dollar Store trips for decorations each year that are almost always thrown out in the first two years of use or too cheap to consider packing away for use the following year). Bags and bags of plastic grass that is stuffed into throw-away quality, cheaply dyed Easter baskets. Plastic glittery eggs and bunnies stuck into flower arrangements and if you're more privileged, in rows of decorations throughout Home Sense and Winners. So many of us complain that things just don't last like they used to, but if we keep buying this quality of good, they will keep being produced and sold by all of the department stores across the land, because they are simply just meeting the demand, right?
I think I'll leave the impacts at these couple of paragraphs, because I have a really hard time striking the right balance of 'we need to change this' and 'scaring people in an overwhelming way back into the norm of doing things.' If all you manage to do this year is save a few dollars and reuse what you already have, you're already taking steps towards a better impact. There are lots of ways to remove yourself and your family from this cycle, and for me, it helped me to calm down when it comes to the holidays. I don't feel any longer like my values have to be set aside to create some magic, and I feel the focus is more on family than when I am tiring myself out and irritable for the sake of 'the magic.'
Luckily, Easter falls at the start of spring, and that's a bit of the joy of the holiday. Flowers can really bring that sunshine inside and to your Easter table, and they degrade, right? Perfect choice - if you're cutting them from your own garden at home or looking to shop small.
It really depends on the flowers that you're buying when you try to weigh the impacts of our choices. The absolutely best choice when buying is to choose something that is potted so that the carbon footprint of the purchase is considered (from producing and shipping to getting it to your home), like paper whites, daffodils or lilies. The longer the lifespan, the better. An extra bonus is if you can find them at a small shop (which you can, before they sell out, at LSP Designs). Most smaller shops are making the efforts to wrap their bouquets in paper, whereas it's at the big boxes that you'll find the plastic picks, the foil wrapping, and plastic pots. Choosing a smaller arrangement from a small shop that's nearby (or even better, from a small flower farm, like Dahlia May or White's Creek if you're more eastern) has a much stronger impact on your community than choosing the big, 'cheaper-for-a-reason' bunches at Costco or the big box grocery stores.
The next area you can make a big impact in is skipping the Dollar Store run or Home Sense aisles to browse whatever new stuff is available for the season. If you can use what you have, that's awesome. If you really wish to buy some new things, consider making them or avoiding the glitter (which is a microplastic once it is out into the world as waste), throw-away quality stuff, on-trend for a year or so items, and buying new all of the time. If you're Christian celebrating this holiday, Bethany Menzel has a great printable (and aesthetically pleasing) Easter cut out.
If you want to do some crafting, send the kids outside to grab some sticks and little stones. You can add seeds and if you're into it, mixable Earth Paint that can be watercolour consistency or thicker to produce a more tempra-like solution and make some great scenes (or add cardboard and egg cartons and toilet paper tubes from the recycling). There are some sweet little jute/twine baskets on Pinterest that you can make with a used coffee cup. There are tons of ideas that don't require the craft supplies that you need to purchase or figure out how to throw away after their short lifespan. We were lucky to find the Earth Paint company last year, and now we have a set of wooden eggs that we paint year after year. There are lots of options to create your own veggie dyes with real eggs as well, and this will lessen the impact of those shells once they are in their waste cycle. You can check out Earth Paint in our shop, their natural egg dye, or the wooden egg set. None of it comes with the plastic garbage pile at the end (just some veggie degradable packaging), and adding other natural elements to create with is good for your kids to practice and learn, too, when building children that will respect the environment.
The Egg Hunt + Candy
The egg hunt is the big thing, eh? We didn't do an egg hunt growing up, but it's something we started with our family and keep doing because it's just such a good thing to get everyone outside and the kids excited. I really struggled with the plastic eggs, trying to find a better option. Wooden eggs that opened and shut like the plastic ones were expensive, so I would have had to really limited the length of the hunt, and I also worried about them being outside on the wet spring ground. The best option I found was Eco Egg, which is a bio plastic, made completely from plants instead of petroleum-based plastics. The difficulty with these guys is getting them - we got ours at Bed Bath and Beyond (this was almost four years ago) and I'm trying to find a link to share with our Instagram community right now. It is something to buy and stash away every year and I really think that's the best first step - not buying plastics with the thought in mind to have them be a single-use thing. If you can get a better, thicker egg and take care of them and not buy every year, that's already a step away from the 250 million produced each year for this holiday alone.
Now, what to put in them? Bulk candy! Try to skip the single wrapped stuff if you can. Due to the pandemic, Bulk Barn is still not allowing BYOC and so the option is plastic there, but even that one plastic bag is less than piles of mini egg wrappers at the end of it. There are a ton of little bulk stores that you can hit up that are selling in paper baggies - some small ones to mention that are within my region are Tara Natural Foods in Kingston, Food Smiths in Perth, and Oats and Honey in Madoc.
If you're shopping for chocolate and want to lessen your impact there, you can also go local. The chocolate trade is kinda a big thing too for social impact and massive difficulties for workers in third worlds where cocoa is produced just for our sweet treats; fair-trade is your best option if you're looking at bigger bars at big box shops. Our little store has a few fair trade chocolate bars too by an awesome company that sends proceeds to assist in endangered species preservation (but they are dark chocolate, so keep that in mind if it's for your kids).
Easter Baskets + Gifts
Finally, the basket. We know what those basket displays look like, eh? Thin, dyed, plastic woven, not-meant-to-last basket heaps that are so annoying to store afterward that many just don't. Or, you're looking at a quickly broken handle within the first two years and a swift kick in the garbage from there.
A great option to swap for these guys is a forever-basket that you can find at a lot of thrift shops. Value Village has rows of baskets on the coat racks that are from a time when things were much more durable, for a thrift shop price. Plus, most of them are just wicker, so if you have more kids coming in the future, they are still pretty easy to match, haha. We grabbed a couple a few years ago and we use them in the summer to collect veggies and then to store little trucks and toy veggies in as needed with our toys, as well. The hardier nature of these baskets makes them very easy to clean and they will last.
A great option to swap out the plastic grass if you use it, is a natural raffia. It is compostable and produced in a minimal way, meaning that there is no coating or off-gassing that comes with it into your home. Plus, it is very reusable and still looks great on the next use. If the wicker basket and raffia look is too neutral for you (which I always have to keep in mind because I'm such a neutral Nancy approaching all of this stuff in my own life) is to use some yarn or ribbon. You can put this back in your Easter 'bin' to save for next year, reuse it as a craft item, or stick it with your wrapping supplies and use it on your next presents to wrap.
If you do fill your basket with gifts, shopping small and plastic free is a great place to start. We try to just keep it on the minimal end because our kids have so many toys and stuffed animals and books already. In my family traditionally, we got a bathing suit or some outdoor activity, so this year our boys are getting some suits from Bather (which has great sales if you watch and are made in Canada) and little metal and wood bug houses from Fishtale Shop. If you can first determine how much you want to spend on the gifts, you can decide from there how to spend the same amount of money on better quality, small shop items instead of more from a big box, garbage-bound option. You end up with less waste, less stuff, a better impact in your own community and region, and the kids are still just as happy, seriously.
When it comes to Easter, there is usually a feast. To lessen your impact in this area, you can do a few things. First, only buy what you need; the leftover situation doesn't work in every family (some eat it, some don't, and some things never get eaten) and holidays create tons of food waste. Buy locally as well - if you're buying less, you can spend the same amount of money to buy better quality at a smaller shop this year when it's just your family getting together.
Carrying Simplicity over to other Celebrations
So much of the joy of any holiday or celebration comes with the traditions that are involved and the people we are with. For us, finding ways to reuse things over and over brings the element of tradition into our environment without having to do a thousand events to recreate a tradition. Reusing is an additional way to avoid all the extra shopping, and time spent doing that (and making the money to do that), too; it means more rest, more time at home, more of what fills your soul. Less time on your phone scrolling to find craft supplies and activities, and more time to just wander around and collect things outside to craft with the family or time to dye the eggs or bake cookies and enjoy that instead. Finding what is most important to your celebration is the key - there's always a way and an option to make it more sustainable. Once you figure out what you're going to do to make it more sustainable, the years will go by and your impact will grow for the better. And if that doesn't help fill you up when the holiday is over (and you're not looking at the same piles of garbage headed out the door and cheap items to throw away constantly as those little toys and decorations break apart in your home), know that you're also inspiring and teaching the people that are part of your celebration to lessen their own impact, as well.