I had a suggestion to write about what Christmas is like up here – is there a traditional non-christmas holiday? How is Christmas different up there? Are people just as crazy-consumeristic about Christmas as they are down south? Is it fun? What does this mean for the whole waste thing? This post isn’t purely waste-related, but it might be interesting for a change.
First, a bit of background: Iqaluit is a pretty multi-cultural and multi-religious community. The numbers say that between 65 and 80% of residents are Inuit, the rest comprising many ‘newfies’ and Quebecois, with a smattering of Ontarians and less folks from Manitoba westward or other countries. Many of the cabbies seem to be newer Canadians that found their way to Iqaluit via Montreal from pretty warm countries. They have their own micro-communities and represent several different minority (up here, anyway) religions. Among the Inuit residents, as is typical in many “frontier towns”, I would say that the colonial christian missionary influence gained an early foothold, and maintains it still. There are several places of worship in town, but since I don’t attend any of them, I can only say that I am aware of those I pass frequently on my walks – a catholic one, and an anglican one which is shaped like an igloo. There is a strong Roman-Catholic-Philipino community here, and an active south-asian-indian community (several faith groups).
Q) Is there a traditional Inuit non-Christmas holiday?
A) I haven’t heard of a holiday that I would categorize as a direct alternative to Christmas, but because Christmas evolved from the attempted displacement of the many other cultural celebrations related to solstice, midwinter, or other festivals of light and/or darkness; there is a natural, ancient, spirit of celebration around the return of the light that you could say is related to christmas and that is alive and well up here. (One of my favourite blog posts from Clyde river about the sun’s return.) In Iqaluit, we don’t ever completely lose daylight. A bit more northward, the community of Igloolik has an annual return of the sun festival including traditional cultural activities and performances by their resident circus troupe!
Q) What is Christmas like up there? How is it different?
One thing that seems strange when coming from a larger city is the inordinately HUGE amount of radio air-time that is dedicated to call-ins from anyone who wants to pass on Christmas greetings in the week leading up to, and following (!), Christmas. For days while I made christmas cookies, I’d have the CBC on and there would be hours and hours and hours of families leaving messages (Inuktitut smattered with expressions of “merry christmas” “I love you” and “I miss you”) for each other. From this, I can see that the true spirit of Christmas – that of togetherness, love, and goodwill – is alive and well up here, and that it’s a really important time of year for family. I’d even venture to say I can “feel the love” more tangibly here than down south. There is also a really nice community feeling of inclusion. I felt this at holiday parties where as a newcomer, I felt very welcome. I also felt it at the Christmas Games.
Q) Are people as Christmas-consumeristic?
My opinion is that it’s not as bad up here as down south. If you have cable TV, I’m sure you still get the glut of advertising, and the stores still whip up the christmas displays full of crappy plastic doo-dads right after halloween, but there are only two main stores and three gift-shops, so the larger factors discouraging consumer overload are that:
(1) things in general are really expensive up here and
(2) the higher incidence of poverty leads to a less obscenely consumerist display.
As you may have gathered from this post, some people spend $100.oo on a real live christmas tree. The biggest display of consumer frenzy I’ve seen, however, was at the Craft Fair three weeks before Christmas. Pleasantly it was full of traditional items and art like mitts, kamiks, parkas, amautis, carvings, art, jewelery and ornaments from the college jewelery & metalwork program. In this sense, at least the money spent at the craft fair supports the continued development of traditional arts and skills, and stays largely within the community.
There are over-the-top christmas light displays for the town lights contest (the prize was a round trip ticket to Ottawa, worth $1.5-2K!!!). There are plenty of parties, a santa claus parade, free Community Games all week, a Christmas concert/play, and if the bay had frozen, there would have been a Snowmobile Parade. There’s time off for sledding, skiing and snowshoeing, and fireworks for New Year’s Eve. Fun? Yep!
Q) Zero Waste at Christmas?
I managed to avoid a lot of food-related waste by doing a LOT of home cooking and baking (I even used my home-made cookie cutters). We are still producing the occasional non-reusable soft plastic scraps from grocery items, but that’s about it, and Christmas wasn’t much of an exception. We really don’t buy much else, so that slashes the non-food-garbage category (and our self-gifted new vaccuum cleaner came in very wise packaging with no foam and very little plastic).
There is possibly an (enigma, conundrum, paradox, synergy?) of consumerism and zero waste up here. This is the great feeling I get from spending lots of cash . . . supporting traditional lifestyles and skills at the craft fair. One really important way of reducing waste associated with throwaway items and packaged, imported goods is certainly through traditional knowledge. The knowledge and pride of traditional skills can be kept fresh and alive in new generations instead of trying to convince ourselves to “go back” to it. Let’s avoid forgetting the ways of a balanced, self-sufficient lifestyle in the first place! Up here, true on-the-land life skills are only a few short generations removed from necessity, which is more than can be said for most urban and suburban southern Canadians. Valuing these skills, knowledge, and traditions is to value a way of life that was much more in balance with the natural world. Even if these skills are being used increasingly for tourism-related economies, they are still used day-to-day by people in northern communities; they are NOT tokens but practical, modern, relevant, and something to be proud of.
Every pair of handmade kamiks is one less ‘made-in-china-from-coal-electricity-and-petroleum-products-with-cheap-labour-shipped-around-the-world-supported-by-massively-ecologically-inefficient-industry’ pair of boots. I sometimes feel like that is the real hope for a way out of the wastefulness of our modern world – remembering and celebrating the cultural history of living from the land in harmony with (and at the mercy of) nature. Maybe one day we’ll be brave and wise enough to get back to it.