5 alternative holiday traditions: All the joy, none of the forced labor - FreedomUnited.org

5 alternative holiday traditions: All the joy, none of the forced labor

  • Published on
    December 12, 2023
  • Written by:
    Krysta Bisnauth
  • Category:
    Forced Labor, Slavery-Free Goods
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‘Tis the season – to buy, buy, buy. Whether it’s gifts, decorations, or outfits for holiday events, there seems to be an ever-growing list of things we need to spend on to participate in the usual festivities. This can quickly grow expensive and stressful. But the Freedom United community has an additional burden: how do we navigate the pitfalls of supply chains tainted by modern slavery without being a total Grinch?

Fortunately, the Freedom United team has some ideas! Here are the top recommendations from my colleagues for a holiday season that prioritizes meaning over materialism.

Join us for a holiday filled with purpose, care, and a resolute commitment to a world without forced labor.

1. The handmade holiday way


In a world that often races toward the next big thing, our Campaigner and News Editor, Ellie, is all about savoring the present moment, one stitch at a time.

“Lately, I have become very interested in becoming more self-reliant. For instance, my goal is to one day be able to make my own clothing. So, this year for the holidays, I am gifting handmade items, as well as crochet/knitting starter kits. This practice forces me to slow down and be more present, forces me to think about how things are made, the time and labor it takes to make something, and how to foster my own personal style. Not only that, it is the literal embodiment of slow fashion!”

Ellie’s new tradition is a gift for both you and whoever receives your inspired creation. Are you a baker or painter or, like Ellie, a crocheter? Whatever your preferred outlet, the act of creation brings a unique warmth to the season. Sometimes being hands-on helps take us out of the day-to-day grind and helps give us perspective and, best of all, you’re bound to feel somewhat useful which, if you’re like me, you might need when the world seems to be upside down. And how can your loved ones not be moved by such a thoughtful expression of care?

2. Deck the halls – with books, not bills

Books as gifts

Our Advocacy Officer, Kiki, believes the heart of the season beats in the stories we share, not the things we buy.

“Instead of buying a gift for the sake of buying a gift, my friends and I are starting a new tradition this year – a book exchange. The idea is that everyone gifts one of their favorite books and gets one of their friends’ favorite books in return. Gifting a beloved book is not just about sharing a story – it’s a personal journey I’ve cherished, and passing it on feels like extending a piece of myself. There’s something special about offering a well-loved book; it’s not about buying something new, but about sharing a part of my world that has left a mark on me. It’s an emotional gesture, saying, ‘This story meant something to me, and I hope it resonates with you too.’ Choosing a book that aligns with the recipient’s interests adds a thoughtful touch, creating a shared experience that goes beyond a physical item. It’s a way to connect through the pages, sparking conversations and perhaps introducing your friends to a world they might not have discovered otherwise.”

There’s nothing I love as much as a good book though maybe having someone to chat about it with is a close second. But to share a special book is to share a piece of yourself. This goes beyond walking away from the conveyor belt of generic gifts, to something deeply meaningful that’s sure to last longer than the rush you get from a new purchase. So, this one is a brilliant tradition that I am definitely going to steal – how about you? Not a big reader? Maybe swap stories that have changed your lives or made a lasting impact – it could even just be the news like the ongoing saga of U.K. anti-immigration policies or governments not doing enough to safeguard the vulnerable against modern slavery risks.

3. The joy of scaling back

Scaling back from overconsumption

Executive Director Joanna and her family have no time for the conventional rules of gift-giving.

“Our family decided that the gift giving over the holiday season had got excessive. With so many siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews it was time to put a stop to the old tradition of everyone buying something from everyone else. Instead, we started a new tradition. Each family member has one designated family member they buy a gift for. It has turned what felt like a shopping marathon into a much more enjoyable experience where you can put more thought, time and even funds, into that one family member and, hopefully, get them something much more special. It’s put the joy back into giving and feels nice to take a step back from the pressure of consumerism.”

Joanna’s tradition echoes the very essence of Freedom United’s missions — breaking the chains of one of the drivers of systemic forced labor: mindless overconsumption. The world today may seem to run on racking up items in carts but that is an illusion that disguises the reality of extreme exploitation of many for the profit of a few. It’s always useful to ask yourself, ‘Could I do without this?’ Cutting down on your purchases is good for your wallet and good for your forced labor footprint.

4. Walking into a secondhand wonderland

Thrifting instead of buying new for the holidays

As the Senior Advocacy Officer leading a campaign against Uyghur forced labor and championing a fashion pledge for more ethical consumption, I am hyper-aware that 1 in 5 cotton garments are tied to the Uyghur forced labor system and that virtually all clothing companies are implicated. At the same time, the reality is that the stores on the very small list of forced labor-free entities are often beyond my budget. What’s a girl with nothing that fits her to do? Plenty it turns out! My new favorite is thrifting. Not only does it get me out of supporting forced labor fashion supply chains, it’s also better for the environment and, oddly, forces me to think beyond trends and influencers and really sort out what I actually prefer and enjoy. For me, thrifting offers a buffer against the noise of trends and influencers.

Beyond thrifting, if you do need new clothes for holiday events, there are rental companies cropping up and local Buy Nothing community groups. And, of course, there’s always wearing what you’ve already got hanging in that closet!

5. Getting into the spirit – of community

Giving back for the holidays

For our Senior Campaign and Policy Counsel, Bob, getting into the holiday spirit means extending the joy beyond the borders of friends and family.

“During the holidays, we often give in large ways and small to various groups and organizations. Giving at the holidays, whether through monetary contributions or the gift of time and talent, allows us to support worthy endeavors. By sharing directly and indirectly with others, we also affirm our own membership in a society grounded in understanding, compassion, and generosity.”

Bob’s tradition is a call to give not just to loved ones but to the broader community, reminding us to keep our hearts and hands open during this season of goodwill and giving. This is a timely reminder when celebrations can ring hollow for many given the state of the world today. Whether it’s a monetary donation to organizations making a difference or volunteering for a worthy cause, I think giving back, especially to organizations and causes that align with our values, is a great way to actively push back against the narrative of division and indifference. What better time to foster community spirit than during the holidays?

How are you celebrating the holidays?

As we navigate the holiday season, let’s rekindle the spirit of joy and connection while consciously choosing traditions that defy the shadows of forced labor.

Do you and your family have a great tradition to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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Cheryl Mathews
Cheryl Mathews
6 months ago

My family doesn’t do gift giving these days. We just look forward to having a nice Christmas lunch together of locally sourced seafood (it’s too hot in Sydney for a traditional Christmas dinner :)).

Laura Holland
Laura Holland
6 months ago

I am celebrating by starting new workshops to help people mend and alter their clothes in the New year.

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