It's Lit: A Conscious Hanukkah Gift Guide

Written by Magdalena Antuña in collaboration with Elizabeth Stilwell. 

Every holiday season, I visit the lone Hanukkah display at Target. I don’t shop, I visit. I pine over the 'Oy Vey' aprons and wasteful, jelly window stickers. I hover until my spouse calls my name, trailing off into another aisle. Target knows that the modern Jew has at least a little “fear of missing out.” We want our own glitzy, holiday kitsch.

Now, this statement, my rabbi might chide because Hanukkah is not a holiday for gift-giving, wrapping paper, and materialism. The only thing we have given each other, historically, is gelt (chocolate coins). Through this loophole was born an industry and a tradition of giving Jewish kids small gifts to rival serious Christmas FOMO.

So, every year I skirt the line of celebrating the holiday as it was intended and giving into my inner Fran and kvetching—I want a gift guide too, damn it! So, here is my compromise: a list of practical, beautiful, conscious items that you can use to celebrate the miracle, your loved ones, and yourself.

We have a bevy of menorahs for you to choose from. The traveling variety, possibly, being my favorite. Each year, my spouse and I trade off holidays: Thanksgiving with one side, Chrismukkah with the other. On years in which Christmas and Hanukkah coincide, this is a lifesaver. There’s an entire outfit for your favorite gossip, complete with evil eye pin and ‘oy vey’ earrings. Pro-tip: If you don’t know one, it is you—you’re the yenta. In the spirit of this festive conundrum, you can give your favorite tyke a gift that screams “I’m the Jewish kid!” for them. You can even send your best cousin a ‘Top of the Latke’ care package or gold-brushed gelt.

Head over to Selva Beat to see what Magdalena chose as gifts to treat her own Christmas FOMO. 

 
This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you buy anything through the link (it doesn't change the amount you pay). I only include brands that I believe in, that I would use myself, or think might be of interest to you. 
 

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Giving Trumps Gifting

To my constant and utter dismay, money talks in our society. Money — bits of paper and metal with no real value on their own until we collectively assign it — has more power over politicians and policy than it ever should. In light of our recent presidential election, I'm resigned to the idea that if the government won't fund what we believe in, we'll have to do it ourselves. I'm not naive — this is what the ruling class wants. Most wealthy people want to keep their money (build on the backs of workers and public infrastructure) and let the rest of us fight it out. After all, poor people are more vulnerable to capitalist exploitation. I believe that together our money makes a bigger impact, so I approve of greater taxes on wealth to help less fortunate people. But with a billionaire in the White House, I doubt wealth redistribution is on the table. It is unconscionable to me to allow those in need to suffer unnecessarily, so (along with many other people) I feel the pull to donate to causes that will be directly impacted by the new administration of the United States. 

The photo above is from a campaign I recently participated in for Marteau. Artist, jeweler, and my friend, Ariana, explains:

It seems naive to believe that money is not one of the most powerful ways to effect change, so I am putting my money where my mouth is. From now until Trump’s inauguration, Marteau will be donating 20% of all of our sales to causes that have been directly compromised by the agenda of our president-elect. Center for Reproductive Rights, Southern Poverty Law Center, Peace over Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and The Natural Resources Defense Council.

As privileged Americans we have become accustomed to the luxury of not having to fight for justice, not having to affirm our human rights, not having to long for clean water. But today we live not in luxury but in knowledge that we join the majority of the world in the uncertainty of our rights. Let us not forget in the coming weeks and months what it feels like to be on the other side of privilege. Let us be grateful that we live in a place where our voices and our dollars do have power. Let us use them. We must band together right now to defend the laws, the institutions, and the ideals on which our country is based.

Read the rest of Ariana's bold statement on Marteau

In addition to a political climate that is motivating more giving, it is also the holiday season. Many of us, myself included, don't need physical gifts. I shared with you before how I have simplified the holidays with the help of my family. This year, my work-family, the Ethical Writers Coalition, is sharing their personal favorite organizations (researched on Charity Navigator or Guide Star) to support giving over gifting. Offer these suggestions to friends and family instead of gifts, give charitable donations as gifts this year, or just do it to support what you believe in. Remember, if you itemize your U.S. taxes, you can deduct charitable donations if you get them in before the end of the year. 

Elizabeth of The Note Passer

The most pressing cause for me is supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who are on the front lines protecting their land and everyone’s water from the Dakota Access Pipeline. Watch this video to find out more about the situation in North Dakota. Similarly pressing, these charities are helping the people of Syria right now. Next, I want to support all vulnerable displaced people through organizations like Refugees International and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. Third, a climate denier in our highest office means we have to support environmental work directly. Everybody Solar creates a ripple effect of change; they promote solar infrastructure by gifting solar power to nonprofits which eliminates their electricity costs so they can maximize their total impact. Solar One helps New Yorkers move in the direction of energy efficiency and greater sustainability through school programs, green job training, building efficiency programs, and solar panel installations. Finally, I want to fund independent journalism through organizations like The Center for Public IntegrityPro Publica, and the Global Press Institute, which employs local women journalists to produce ethical, accurate news coverage from the world’s least-covered places. 

Alden of EcoCult

It’s hard to narrow it down from the dozens of worthy charities, but I’m asking for donations to the Environmental Defense Fund. It seems like the most appropriate for the situation, because the environment will need the EDF’s pragmatic, science-based approach in the next four years. They help craft bipartisan legislation, fund educational initiatives, and partner with corporations to make incremental changes that ripple across the business world to make a huge impact. They also have a score of 95 in Charity Navigator, which is excellent.

Of course, I should also add that I’ve had a recurring donation to Planned Parenthood for three years, and that is not going away. I believe giving families and women the tools to only have children when they are ready emotionally and financially is the key to raising the next generation of engaged, healthy, and responsible citizens. Planned Parenthood is under threat from VP elect Mike Pence. So do him a favor and make the donation in his name, with his office’s address, so he knows how you feel. 

Stephanie of My Kind Closet

I’ll be asking for donations to Earthjustice, the nation’s largest nonprofit environmental law organization. Earthjustice works tirelessly in and out of the courtroom to fight for wildlife, clean energy, and healthy communities, representing all of their clients for free. In recent cases they’ve protected threatened coral reefs in Florida, defended the waters in West Kauai from pollution by agribusiness, are fighting to convince the E.P.A to ban neurotoxic pesticides that are harmful to people, and are representing the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their fight against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Earthjustice is the organization behind many landmark environmental victories and we’ll need them now, more than ever, given the incoming administration’s anti-environment and climate-change-denying stances. So much is at stake, but I feel confident knowing that an organization like Earthjustice exists and will continue to demand accountability for those who break the law, and ensure that our planet and all her inhabitants are protected.  

In addition, I ask that friends and family become more active in the causes that are important to them. One way to do this is to call your government officials to demand they block Trump and his administration from hateful and divisive policies and to protect policies already in place regarding civil rights and the environment.  As we’re gearing up for Thanksgiving, I am specifically requesting that friends and family call officials in N. Dakota to demand that law enforcement stand down in their abusive treatment of peaceful protestors. 

Nichole of Green or Die

The day after the election, I set up automatic monthly donations to three organizations who I feel need our help now more than ever. I have become a member of the  Sierra Club, the grassroots organization that helped pass the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act, because I trust they can (and will) get things done (with our help). Earth Justice is a non-profit that takes on legal cases to help protect the environment. Their slogan reads "Because Earth needs a good lawyer," and in today's political climate (pun intended) that could not ring more true. Thirdly, the Anti-Defamation League is one of the leading organizations fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate crimes the U.S.A.

This holiday season I am asking for donations to any or all of these three organizations. They can use all the help they can get.

Catherine of Walking with Cake

I’m a native Texan and we’ve seen a lot of our basic rights threatened or disappear over the last few years. I love my state and support local and grassroots efforts here, in an effort to improve things where I live. Battleground Texas, Texas Democrats, and Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas are on my regular contribution list. I’m also an advocate of independent news and support my local public radio and television stations, as well as The Guardian. Finally, as the mother of two young children, I’m concerned for their future. Their local school is a wonderful resource in our town, and I give my time and money to support it. I encourage everyone to support your closest public school, whether you have children or not, because you’re directly investing in the future.

Leah of StyleWise

On a local level (Charlottesville, VA), I’ll be asking for donations for the Shelter for Help in Emergency. Through my work at a local charity shop, I’ve seen firsthand the great work they do providing survivors of domestic violence with emergency necessities like clothing and household goods, and I also know that they do an excellent job finding long term, safe housing for their clients quickly and efficiently. I’ll also be personally contributing to and asking for contributions for the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU is well respected for their broad and impartial human rights work - they have a 94% score for efficacy on Charity Navigator - and given the current political and social climate, there’s no doubt in my mind that their work will continue to be vital to building a kinder and more just America.

Holly of Leotie Lovely

At this present moment in time, apart from us ripping each other to pieces through wars and disagreements, us little Earthlings have - for the most part - avoided talking about the biggest threat humanity has ever faced. Despite popular belief, that threat isn't Isis (you have more chance of being killed by an asteroid than a terrorist), it's a much bigger and badder bag of worms soon to be unleashed in all its fury due to the global warming process. Thus far, America's trumpet President-elect has called global warming a Chinese hoax and threatened to scrap the regulations put in place to reduce US carbon dioxide emissions - including the Clean Power Plan. He has also vowed to to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency entirely and repeal all federal spending on clean energy. Without the United States leading the world with fortitude and passion into alternative energy sources and reduced meat and dairy consumption, we're headed towards huge ramifications which can only be described as apocalyptically troubling. The rise in temperature we’re due to see if our habits aren’t reversed and policy is not put in place is set to put 30% of animals at risk of extinction, will cause oceans to acidify, wildfires will get bigger, droughts more severe, and drown entire countries due to sea level rise. Donald Trump has tapped a climate change denier as his environmental advisor and thus donating to projects which protect your health and that of the planet through their work is paramount in fighting the evils put in place for profit over people. Thus, I’m asking for donations to EPA/EWG, and THE DAVID SUZUKI FOUNDATION (which is Canadian but has a huge influence on research and education worldwide), and EARTHJUSTICE, all of whom research, educate and lobby for the greater good in law and policy.

Chandra Fox of These Native Goods

Wildaid raises awareness about the consumption of wildlife products, fighting back against the illegal trade by strengthening enforcement and bringing these issues to light. Whether it is for sport (ahem president elects son) or for profit, the killing of endangered species needs to stop before it’s too late. Rainforest Action Network is helping to combat the increasingly devastating effects of the Palm-oil industry, among other causes. Modern day slavery, the displacement of indigenous peoples as well as wildlife, and catastrophic environmental damage are all results of this industry. With large western junk food brands being one of the biggest contributors to the destruction. Along the same lines of protecting the environment and her inhabitants, there is the North Dakota pipeline. Some of the other writers already talk about this heartbreaking issue but I wanted to add another donation idea for the cause. A photojournalist that I know is currently at Standing Rock, she is working with the water protectors to build up the camps and prepare for the freezing winter temperatures. She set up a GoFundMe for much needed supplies, please read the updates section of the fund for a full understanding of how your donations will be used to help the people.

Renee Peters of Model4GreenLiving

As an animal lover and environmentalist, I cannot think of a more pressing time to give back to charities fighting to preserve the natural world. According to the WWF’s 2016 Living Planet Report, “Populations of vertebrate animals—such as mammals, birds, and fish—have declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012. We’re seeing the largest drop in freshwater species too: on average, there’s been a whopping 81% decline in that time period.” The mass extinction occurring on Earth cannot be reversed with more climate change denial and corporate lobbying in the White House. Organizations standing up for nature need our help, now more than ever, if we are to keep its continued destruction at bay.

One organization that I have personally volunteered for, The Wild Bird Fund, is taking local action for wildlife right here in NYC. “The WBF rehabilitates over 3000 sick, injured or orphaned wildlife and releases them back to the wilds of New York City. NYC is a major stopover on the East Coast migratory flyway, and over 355 bird species live in the Big Apple or take refuge here during the spring and fall migrations.” Supporting the Wild Bird Fund not only heals injured birds, but positively affects the people who try to help them, and shows a desire to take responsibility for the impact that we have had on the environment of our precious wildlife.  

On a global level, Conservation International is doing great work to protect our planet, and I also ask for support for them. “Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, they empower societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the well-being of humanity.” Donations made to either of these organizations benefit our planet and ensure that its wildlife and ecosystems are cared for.

 

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30 New Traditions to Make Your Holidays Zero Waste

Created with the generous support of Greenvelope.

It’s Christmas morning in my childhood home. Presents are torn open, their shiny mangled wrappings strewn across the room along with ribbons and boxes. Christmas cards from family members and friends hang on the wall broadcasting annual greetings via glittery paper and stamps. The tree is bright with lights, store bought candy canes, and ornaments. After breakfast, my family will drive over to my grandparents’ house for even more presents and a meal. These are the holiday traditions of my youth.

Traditions are important because they connect people to behaviors or beliefs with origins in the past. The word "tradition" derives from the Latin word tradere which literally means to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping. While the traditions my family carried out during the holidays were a mix of cultural and familial rituals, the purpose behind them is what truly connected us. The giving of presents is a tradition in service to the spirit of giving, decorations signal celebrations, cards are a means of communication, and meals prepared and eaten together promote intimacy and fellowship.

As sacred as traditions may seem, holidays are not exempt from my quest for a more sustainable existence. It's healthy to question the usefulness and purpose of rituals as we learn and as our circumstances change. If a tradition you participate in is stressing you out, making you feel uncomfortable, or is no longer a part of your identity, I urge you to communicate your concerns with your friends or family. By doing so in my own family, we have simplified holidays to encompass simply time, travel, and meals together. Below are some traditional holiday rituals and suggestions for creating fresh new traditions that are simpler and more sustainable. 

 

The Tradition: Holiday CARDS

I used to send yearly holiday cards which served as annual check-ins with far away family members and friends. While this ritual may keep the post office busy, the paper (which requires water, energy, and other resources) was sent and recycled within a month. In addition, the glitter, paint, and other decorations on holiday cards mean they are often not even recyclable. The amount of resources that go into even post-consumer recycled paper is not sustainable given the short amount of time we keep and enjoy the cards. Thanks to technology, we can now digitally send holiday cards — no paper required. While the vehicle may have changed from analog to digital, the tradition of connection with family members remains the same.

Greenvelope is an eco-friendly digital stationery service that can help you connect with loved ones while also saving trees, time, and money this holiday season — and all year round, really. Since its founding, the Greenvelope team has physically planted 135 trees, saves an average of 962 pounds of CO2 per month with their employee commuting program, and has helped customers save 180,000 pounds of paper. Thoroughly dedicated to the environment, they joined 1% for the Planet in 2014 and also donate a percentage of every sale to Mountains to Sound, a non-profit organization that conserves and maintains forests.

 
 

Their selection includes every occasion from mitzvahs to holidays and consists of a wide range of designs. Greenvelope works with designers on different collections and keep up with trends in style and culture — I mean, they even have a whole set of Friendsgiving cards! With each choice of design, you have the pleasure of personalizing it with a matching envelope, as well as with features like music, maps, photo galleries, and gift registries. I especially love that you can customize the color palette of your design and edit photos with filters after you upload them. After you send your cards, you can manage your guest list, messages, and RSVPs within your account.

Greenvelope offers both personal and business accounts. (Sustainable party planners take note!) Cards for up to 20 people can range from $9-19; up to 100 people will cost $49-99. Yearly memberships start at $120. Use the code note15 or click here to get 15% off mailings or memberships (excluding custom design services). Valid until January 15, 2017.

The New Traditions

1. Take a family photo together and send it out via an e-card.

2. Send e-invites to your holiday parties and easily manage RSVPs. 

3. Give a Greenvelope membership as a gift to your most hospitable friend.


The Tradition: MEALS

Building new zero waste traditions around cooking and baking should feel natural since many of our holidays center around meals. Even if the foods change, the fellowship of coming together around a table does not. Cut down on packaging waste by buying in-season, local foods and making dishes from scratch. Reduce post-holiday meal waste by freezing leftovers or packing them up for guests to take home.

Big family celebrations can be stressful enough without leaving stacks of dishes and linens to be done. I get it. But instead of looking at it as a chore, see cleaning up as another activity to do together as a family. Those who don’t cook can do the clean up. Kids can help load the dishwasher, put away clean items, or fold napkins. At the end of the meal, remember to compost and recycle waste.

The New Traditions

4. Instead of buying cookies, have a cookie baking party and make them from scratch. Use this cookie stamp to create a delicious customized message and send them home in a reusable cookie box

5. Put together pre-dinner snacks of nuts, chocolate, granola, and dried fruit made from foods available in bulk bins.

6. Reduce meat consumption by upping the number of savory side dishes, like this cauliflower puree with sauteed mushrooms.

7. Use real tableware and linens.

8. Using scrap paper, create a chore list or choose a chore out of a hat so everyone knows where to pitch in.

9. Have everyone bring containers to the meal to take leftovers home in.


THE TRADITION: DECORATIONS

Garland, ornaments, centerpieces, lights — holiday decorations signal times of celebration, but can be a source of a lot of waste. Achieve zero waste by switching to decorations made of natural materials which you can compost or recycle after the holidays.  

Real Christmas trees are by far preferable to artificial ones. One life cycle assessment of both real and artificial Christmas trees revealed that one must use an artificial Christmas tree at least 20 years to leave an environmental footprint as small as a natural Christmas tree. If you have a yard, consider buying a living tree and planting it to decorate outside next year. If you buy a real tree for indoors, switch to a sustainably raised organic tree (look for them at your local farmer’s market or tree farm) and after Christmas check with your city’s recycling program for a pickup day or drop off location for tree mulching. If you’re crafty, DIY your own unconventional tree from wood pallets, cardboard, or any number of materials. Alternatively, Jubilitree and Possibilitree both sell wooden trees while Cardboard Christmas sells options made from recycled cardboard.

The New Traditions

10. Gather and decorate with found objects or natural materials like fruits, pine cones, branches, wreaths, and flowers.

11. Look for sustainable alternatives to standard holiday items: menorah candles made of soy instead of paraffin wax (a petroleum byproduct); mica and flower petals can stand in for conventional glitter which does not biodegrade.

12. Reduce waste by making your own candy canes and Hanukkah gelt

13. Be unconventional in your Christmas tree choice (sustainable, plantable, cardboard, or wood). 

14. Return to the tradition of trimming your tree with dried fruit, apples, and other foods to nibble on (or make fragrant cinnamon ornaments, which can be composted). Make garland and ornaments out of newspaper and use paper tape to keep them together so you can recycle them when you are done.

15. Plan a day to “undecorate” together after the holidays. Make snacks, listen to music, and responsibly recycle or compost your leftover waste.


THE TRADITION: GIFTS

A few years ago, I asked my family if we could rethink the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas time. We all agreed that the most important part of the season for us was spending time together. Now instead of giving gifts, we put our money and energy into holiday planning, cooking, and traveling.

If your family wants to continue the tradition of gifts, that’s great too. The gifts are in service to the spirit of giving, so no matter what you receive, the important part is that someone took the time to select and wrap something just for you. Whether it is homemade, bought new, or an experience, the spirit of giving remains intact. 

The New Traditions

16. Think outside the gift box with experience gifts, SoKind Registry, or Small Token.

17. Give local produce or foodstuffs from farmers markets and roadside stands. Create a basket made up of organic seasonal fruits like oranges, pomegranates, and apples; add herbs, flowers, or pine branches to create a centerpiece as a host gift.

18. Show your love by creating your own gifts. Mix up tea blends, can veggies or jam, mull some wine, knit a blanket with recycled yarn, or create beauty products using common ingredients like salt, sugar, and coconut oil. 

19. Buy flowers or plants from a florist on slowflowers.com.

20. Support local agriculture by gifting a membership to a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, which provides locally-grown produce year-round.

21. Give of your own skills (photograph the holiday, play music, babysit, knit, bartend, etc).

22. Pool your money so everyone can travel to be together.

23. Opt out of expensive holiday travel and take a trip together another time of year.

24. Get active and go ice skating or on a hike as a family.

25. Look for kids’ toys made from materials like cloth, wood, bamboo, or cardboard, or just give them experience gifts too.


THE TRADITION: Gift WRAPPING

Over the holidays, about 227,000 miles worth of wrapping paper get thrown away — much of it unrecyclable because it's dyed, laminated, or contains non-paper additives. You can make your wrappings zero waste by getting creative and upcycling the paper you already have around the house, or buy reusable or recyclable options. 

The New Traditions

26. Use existing materials like bags, newspaper, packing materials, magazines.  

27. Tie up packages with scrap fabric strips, twine, or ribbon. Or use natural materials like twine, branches, and leaves. 

28. Have a wrapping party to pool all of your leftover paper and notions.

29. Buy reuseable gift wraps like plantable seed paper or a furoshiki (learn how to make one here). 

30.  Buy sustainably made gift wrap like Wrappily, which is printed on local newspaper presses.

Consider this: the volume of household waste in the United States generally increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – about 1 million extra tons. But the holidays don’t have to be synonymous with waste. Rethinking and simplifying our traditions can reduce waste, which will help us all have a little peace on earth.

 

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