Saturday, 31 October 2009

Simple, Green, Frugal and Festive

by Francesca

Can we be simple, green and frugal, but also festive?

skeleton costume
~ We make our own costumes. This is a skeleton costume I made for my son some years ago, from a long-sleeved T-shirt, an old pair of yoga pants, and various scraps of white fabric. We studied up on human anatomy a little, turning our costume-making into a fun science project ~

This question occurs to me today, as Halloween is celebrated in many parts of the world, and a season of celebrations begins. And it’s a question that I’m posing to the readers of this blog, which aims to explore ways to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle. How do you celebrate your holidays in a festive fashion that's also simple, green and frugal?

~ We don't actually carve pumpkins: our local variety are too tough, and far better for dinner than for decoration (the flesh is great in soups, and roasted pumpkin seeds, lightly sprinkled with sea salt, are a favorite snack). Last year, my sons painted a Jack o’ Lantern on them instead. Pumpkin peels are compostable ~

First of all, some facts:

In the US of A (the country for which data is available), Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday after Christmas, and has spread to many other parts of the world (here in Italy, for instance, enthusiasm has skyrocketed in the last fifteen years, and is now serious competition for Carnival).

According to the National Retail Federation, the average US consumer will spend $56.31 on Halloween this year, for a total of $4.75 billion nationwide (you can read the complete report here). The NRF says this money will be spent on three main categories: costumes, candy, and decorations. The impact on the environment will be heavy, considering that countless candy wrappers, plastic decorations and Jack o' Lanterns will end up in the landfills.

Can this be what Halloween, or any other holiday, is really about? I don't believe so. One of the wonderful surprises about living a frugal and green lifestyle, we've found, is that simplifying our lives doesn't bring hardship or privation, but actually helps us to concentrate on the important things.

wild boar skull
~ This summer, on one of their walks in the woods, my boys found this wild boar mandible in a stream bed: the perfect decoration for Halloween this year ~

As we prepare tonight to knock on the doors of neighbors we rarely see otherwise, our houses imaginatively decorated and our children thrilled with wearing special costumes, it seems to me that Halloween is a tradition that celebrates community spirit, creativity and fun for children and adults alike. All of which, we’ve found, can easily be achieved for far less than $56.31 per person, and with almost zero waste.

Wishing you a simple, green, frugal and very festive Halloween, wherever in the world you are!


Lorna said...

We are living in the United Arab Emirates where Halloween is not celebrated (except by small groups of expats!). It also happens to be my birthday, so my children and I choose to do a few simple things to make it festive and special. We wear orange! And we bake a cake or cupcakes and have fun decorating them. Total cost: $0. Everything we use we already have. And the best part? I get to spend a fun birthday with my family. I couldn't ask for anything better. Happy Halloween!

nicola@which name? said...

the boar's head is perfect for this holiday, francesca! i think every holiday can be simple, frugal, green, and festive! it is all about how each of us chooses to celebrate it. we grew out pumpkins, decorated using junk pulled from our house in a structural repair, and costumes are hand me downs paired with creative homemade fillers. pumpkins are carved at the last minute, because we then bake and use the flesh of the pumpkins in cooking.
as for the meaning behind halloween...i have no idea what it is, other than pure fun. the day of the dead follows and has more purpose and meaning to it.

Emily said...

I really liked this post (and I love the way the wild boar turned's very creepy!).

We celebrate Halloween in our house and, as you said, I think it's a great way to build family memories while also connecting with the community. In that spirit, most of our preparations happen in the kitchen: we bake cookies and pumpkin bread, toast seeds, and this year we even made ice-cream bowls out of carved orange rinds for an impromptu party dessert (and of course we ate the oranges).

For decorations, we hang homeade cloth bats around the house and my four-year-old makes lots of at-home crafts to help celebrate the season--all of which we re-use year by year. We tell stories, dress-up, and trick-or-treat with abandon. So, yes, I think holidays can (and should!) be frugal, green--and festive.

The candy wrapper issue is a problem for me though and I'd love to hear your other readers' thoughts...or their solutions!

Francesca said...

Emily, the candy wrapper issue is a difficult one to tackle, from what I've read. For safety reasons, many parents will not allow children to eat homemade treats that come from unknown sources. There are a number of environmentally aware companies - like fair-trade or organic ones - that produce healthier and hopefully eco-packaged treats.

GooseBreeder said...

See my blog for an explanation of how we spend the festive season, frugally,enjoyably and without debt.We don't do Halloween.

avocadoandlemon said...

This is something that's been on my mind for a few years now. We've since split up, but I had a boyfriend who hadn't previously celebrated Christmas, and when it came time to decorate our house I just couldn't get him excited about it. He eventually revealed that it was because he thought all the plastic tinsel etc were both a waste of money and terrible for the environment.

So we bought a small pine tree in a pot and I folded origami stars out of Christmas paper. Very easy, and fun! It was lovely.

GinaCeramics said...

We let each child take a pomegranate from a bowl. Much healthier and no waste.


Kimberly said...

We choose not to celebrate Halloween, but we love to celebrate Thanksgiving & Christmas! I think the key to being SGF&F is planning. Waiting until the last minute means that a lot more will be purchased. By planning through the year, or at least starting now, we can have wonderful festivities with simple, homemade delights. When we remember that it is all about our relationships-with God & one another, the extras matter so much less.
(I think not having tv also helps as everyone is less bombarded with ads for stuff.)

Annodear said...

Fabulous "candle holder" :-D

utahlawyer said...

Here in the US, Halloween is my favorite holiday. We go all out. This year, we grew our own pumpkins (as organically as possible), and roasted the seeds to eat. When the jack-o-lanterns are through, they will go on our compost. We create costumes from clothing that we already have or second-hand finds. We save a lot of our cast off clothing to use as costumes.

We also make many of our decorations from items we already have around the house. Candle holders line our mantle sporting blood spattered tappers (use the stub from a red candle to drip wax down some white candles). A telescope box makes a coffin for a skeleton while his head rests on an old pillow.

When we purchase new decorations, I look for things that will last many years without needing replacement.

Unfortunately, due to a proliferation of an urban legend claiming that people tamper with and poison Halloween candy, most people will not accept treats that are not store bought and individually wrapped. I would love to give out our homegrown apples (we have 10 bushels this year) or other home made threats, but, I know that they would go in the trash. I haven't thought of a good, consistent, alternative.

Jen said...

Luckily we have moved to such a small place that no one will trick-or-treat at your house unless they know you. So I decided to make popcorn balls this year, which was always my parents' forte when we were kids. I was happily surprised when my kids came home with a candy apple each! I love it here.

We do carve our pumpkins, but we do it the same day we light them and then bring them in to cut up and cook the flesh the next day. And of course we roast the seeds with lots of sea salt. Yum!

Tree Hugging Mama said...

Well since I live in the Good Ole USA I will counter.

I have alwasy made my children's halloween costumes and they use them in their dress up boxes after halloween. I have always made them from second hand items. This year the girls were Mario Bros princesses, 1 dress we had, and we bought gloves (on sale which they will get loads of use out of, and when they fall apart will become a template for more gloves), and a wig for my oldest (again this joins the dress up box).

I buy decorations the week after Halloween, when they are on sale, and I use and reuse the decorations. We have been using the same spider web for 4 years now.

The one thing I would like to change is the wrappers on all the candy, but everything in this day and age has to be wrapped, its not safe otherwise, although more and more people are giving out items instead of candy, not necissarily better, since these are usually cheapy toys made by people getting paid less than good wages, but I intend to start making scrap wood puzzles (like my grandfather used to) to give out for next year.

I also reuse items for decorations, egg crates and toilet paper tubes become bats (a fun project for the kids). We do carve jackolaterns (and roast the seeds), the left overs hit the compost pile after the season.

So while data is available on the US's consuption and waste, we are not all participating.

Francesca said...

Hi Tree Hugging Mama, the data I discussed is pretty terrifying, I think, and it's intended to provoke readers into sharing their alternative solutions and, especially, into evaluating whether a festive spirit can be achieved at a lesser cost for our environment. It's one earth and one environment, above and beyond our different nationalities, and if we all took steps like the ones you and the other readers suggest, all of us and our planet would be much better off! My post didn't imply any kind of criticism of your country. said...

So true! My mom buys used costumes for our nieces & nephew so as not to buy new. She does buy lots of candy though.

We don't decorate or hand out candy here, we're in a rural area so no children come around.

Where I grew up in South America each street had a block party on halloween. It was like a pot luck dinner a time of fellowship and fun.

Love that boar's head by the way - very very cool!!! And that skeleton costume is lovely.

Maeve said...

A solution to the home-made goodies (or fresh fruits): make labels that have your address and phone number on them, and stick them to the baggies, or fruit, or whatever. That way, parents would be able to call or stop by if they had any concerns.

Tree Hugging Mama said...

Francesca - I took no offense, at your post. I agree with your post. America is one of the most wasteful countries you will find, because being able to buy something for the purpose of throwing it out is prosperity, at least that is what our society has become. My comment was to show that those numbers represent a majority of Americans, but not all Americans, which makes them all the more frightening. I took no offense and meant no offense.

I grew up in a small community, we got handmade treats (there were all 10 of us kids in 3 families in our neighborhood) and we went to a total of 10 houses (over 2 miles) and it took over an hour. We started at the farthest house (we walked there) and ended at the Apple farm with cider and donuts and our parents waiting for us.
But then we had a community there. We had 1 house non of went to, the people were not nice. But if we were out doing something we weren't supposed to be doing any one of those neighbors could have grounded us and sent us home.
We have lost community and I would really like to build that here where I am. It is something I am working on. I have gotten to know many of my neighbors and I would not hesitate to let my kids take homebaked goods from them.

darkpurplemoon said...

For me Halloween is a sacred festival - Saimhain and I made a wreath of fallen leaves to give as a offering - you can see it here

That is truely scary data on the cost for halloween, like many holidays it has become completely commercialised.

I love the boards head though!


Sharon said...

Long time lurker, but I don't think I've posted before. I live in Ireland where Hallowe'en has, up until recently, been a fairly traditional affair. When I was little (and I'm only 24, so we're talking the early 90s) my dad was a big fan of all the traditional stuff like bobbing for apples and our costumes usually involved a black rubbish sack :) Also we used to carve lanterns from turnips which apparently is the 'original' way to do it, pumpkins not being native to Ireland. So we were being simple, green and frugal mostly by accident!

In recent years though, we seem to have caught up to the consumerist bandwagon with tons of shop-bought costumes at exorbitant prices and plastic accessories everywhere. Also I think the community aspect has been severely diminished - I live in a large housing estate in a fairly big town, but this is the second year in a row we've had no trick or treaters at all.

I think it's a shame, really, because Hallowe'en has the potential to be a beautiful festival that's fun for everyone but now I think it's starting to feel like Christmas, just a silly marketing merry-go-round designed to bully you into buying more Stuff.

(I don't have a blog but I don't like to post completely anonymously either)