Gifting dilemmas? Endless menu choices? Event-planning mania? Nosy Relatives? Climate Anxiety? Here’s a one-stop solution to it all.
The festive season is all about joy and jingles, lights and love, cardamom and clove, and…is that patriarchy I smell? Capitalism? Consumerism? Unsolicited ‘advice’? Oh goodness! Something’s burning. An overflowing pot. Whisperings.
Let us avoid all of that. In order to diffuse genuine harmony within our families, societies and ecology, we must embrace the festive cheer consciously. It’s alright to slip up, but we can try to use our power to be as sustainable, inclusive, and sensitive as possible. May I suggest you do so by implementing some of the following—‘Re’ strategies—if you will?
Refuse: Firecrackers, body-shaming & insensitive jokes
Skies are full of pretty avian creatures, stars, and fluffy clouds—why artificially light up what is already bright?
Each year, the campaign on banning firecrackers, rises with inadequate success. The Supreme Court chose to preserve the capital city’s atmosphere, thankfully, but what about the rest of the nation? What about the children who are exploited each year, who are forced to work in dangerous conditions, simply to provide a few seconds of shallow entertainment? And the lungs, ecosystems, and noise-sensitive humans & non-human animals, who are harmed by firecracker’s production and use?
The solution is to simply stop consuming it. To advocate beyond just personal reservations. It’s time to stop putting the blame on everything else, when you have the choice to simply refuse this unnecessary, unsustainable, and unethical activity.
I was discussing this with Sustainability Entrepreneur and fellow volunteer at Fridays for Future, Pooja Domadia. “We have all been taught to associate Diwali and New Years with firecrackers,” she commented on the campaign, “but do we really need it?”
If someone cracks some nonsensical joke about how you worry too much, that you are being an oversensitive downer, that nothing happens with just one firecracker, that you should be more ‘feminine’ and shut up, that you should go to the kitchen, that your body is too little this or too that or anything vaguely ableist/classist/misogynistic—respond in classic capitalist fashion by monopolising the sweets thali (platter).
Later, take the three-pronged approach: ask them to stop, educate them as best as possible, or simply stay away to preserve your own mental well-being.
Litisha Bagadia and Siya Joshi, founders of the youth-led environmental non-profit Ayika Foundation, recommend educating children first. “Quit firecrackers, yourselves. Foster the importance of sustainable, gender-neutral cultures in your children’s daily lives—and you’ll see wonders happening in your local community.”
Replace: Gifting strategies and time
Likewise—do you really really need to give that gaudily decorated gift hamper, which comprises more non-biodegradable plastic than it looks? The receiver will look at it once, admire this flimsy monstrosity of the social ‘class’ and dispose it immediately. Impressive gift, truly!
Ask yourselves, again: does that relative of yours really need those imported dry fruits? They likely have a lifetime supply of khajur, badam, kishmish collected already.
Fun fact: a cute bonsai, a utile upcycled tote, a library membership or homemade ladoos in a reusable metal container can be just as flamboyant and well-received. Pooja recommends simply letting your guests know your particular needs or inviting/treating your host to a meal.
The best gift of them all would simply be to visit, laugh, give comfort, and have a jolly good time.
Reduce: Non-local ingredients, electricity and plastic
Festivals are about embracing your roots and celebrating your home: so try to source locally as much as possible. If you’re ordering food or shopping, consider supporting local farmers, artisans, small-scale organisations owned by folks from marginalised communities—as well as your ecosystems.
Purchasing imported, over-processed products essentially means that your product has a higher carbon footprint (given the environmental costs of transport, processing, packaging).
Consider swapping conventional ingredients with whatever is more sustainable. I, personally find that dairy products use up more resources (water, land) and create a disproportionate amount of greenhouse emissions—hence, I switch ghee for locally-available coconut oil. This aligns with my personal ethics, beliefs, environmental values, accessibility to resources and non-human female animal sentiments. Yes, I am that vegan who will gift you a fine bottle of wood pressed extra-virgin coconut oil.
There’s no hard-and-fast solution, simply, look around yourself and understand the food on your plate. I challenge you to make one basic but festive dish, completely out of locally-sourced, sustainable ingredients. I also challenge you to keep your electricity usage in check. While lights are important to the festive cheer, remember that a few hours of lighting vegetable oil or coconut wax lamps would be just as well as keeping billions of on-all-night-long fairy lights.
Unless you happen to own solar-powered ones, probably go down the ancient route with non-electric sustainable earthen diyas instead.
“Sanitation workers and people living around the dumping grounds have a tough time round the year, but particularly during festivals. The delivery workers who work hard during the surge in impulse purchases during digital sales. Not to mention the little babies, senior citizens, homemakers, people with disabilities, our pets, strays and wildlife. We ought to be more sensitive. A little mindfulness in the choices we make for celebrating go a long way in ensuring the festive season is festive for everyone.”Pooja, Sustainability Entrepreneur
Festivals are not so much about waking up the next morning to overflowing bag-full of filthy fifty plastic-lined ‘paper’ plates, disposable spoons, bowls, and food waste. Or having every home bestowed with shiny new plastic pine trees(just reuse last years’!), every December. Perhaps, avoid the waste entirely?
It might be difficult to navigate low-waste terrains—but increasingly, we have access to local entrepreneurs and online blogs that break it down for us. For instance, search up easy at-home food waste composting and you’ll get several explainer videos in several different languages. Pooja sent me her own process from her instagram account (@slow_n_conscious_living), a while ago.
And if you really want to contribute to the economy, she advises, “Hire someone to help with washing the (rented) dishes and pay them well, but don’t buy things that will just increase pressures on ecosystems and landfills.”
Reuse: Clothing and decor
Speaking of landfills—did you know that every second, the equivalent of a rubbish truck load of clothes is burnt or buried in landfill? (Ellen McArthur Foundation) Or that garment workers, particularly those from marginalised genders, are exploited and overworked?
Hardly casual conversation starters, and certainly not what you want to be contributing to this festive season.
As I study my wardrobe through this lens, I realise that I already have all that I need. If I pair that top, with that tie, with those pants, with that necklace, with that pair of shoes, I have provided myself with sufficient space for creative expression and invention. Why spend hours in a bustling crowd at some lucratively explosive fast fashion festive sale or scrolling through an annoyingly resplendent overly-(in)convenient website—when you can just upcycle, borrow, re-design what you already own?
Withal, the slightly worn saris or cloth materials make for great drapes for a colourful, cosy ambience. Or simply, reuse last years’ decor.
Ah! Cool festive activities: make your own clothes! Fashion your own DIY decor!
Recycle: Old ideas, and waste
As a host, consider organising a pot-luck instead. Prioritise spending meaningful time together—with lesser time working away or conversing about work. Instead, invite everyone (regardless of gender!) to contribute to building the event—gather folks to cook with each other, for each other; dance away to old tunes; or engage children with creating a zero-waste rangoli.
Chuck out old-fashioned standards of femininity and masculinity—just have fun!
When it’s all done and dusted, remember to recycle and compost as much as possible. Pooja, who also works in waste management through Hum Prithvi Se, sends me tips: “Remember to plan a little in advance. Source your products with low-waste in mind, make provisions for segregation and reach out to a local recycling organisation to ask if they have any specific requirements from your end.”
“We tend to forget some people in society—” Pooja deliberates towards the end, “sanitation workers and people living around the dumping grounds have a tough time round the year, but particularly during festivals. The delivery workers who work hard during the surge in impulse purchases during digital sales. Not to mention the little babies, senior citizens, homemakers, people with disabilities, our pets, strays and wildlife. We ought to be more sensitive. A little mindfulness in the choices we make for celebrating go a long way in ensuring the festive season is festive for everyone.”
(Try to) Rethink everything: Remember that festivals are not a ‘product’
A common thread in both of my conversations was to question the existing systems.
What constitutes a festival? A celebration? Its history? Its culture? Religion? Rituals? Family? People? Sustainability? The Self?
What signifies it for you? What will you prioritise this year? And will you preserve this ecology for future generations? Would you, perhaps, modify these traditions into more sustainable, positive, inclusive, and accessible cultures to pass on to the children of this world? At the same time: don’t get too wrapped up with micromanaging everything—do as much as possible, but remember to truly enjoy the whole process of re-discovering festivals in a new, sustainably inclusive light.
Thank you so much to Pooja and Siya & Latisha for their time and contributions to this article and the environment. You can find their work on @fridaysforfuturemumbai and @ayika.foundation on Instagram, respectively!
FFFMumbai is a local chapter that amplifies young people’s voices.
Ayika Foundation has conducted 7+ drives and cleared 1000+ kgs of waste.