Solutions We LoveNew holiday traditions to match values, compassionate morticians, thousands of women run for office, and morescroll down arrow

Photo from Moles Farewell Tributes

5 Ways

I Made New Holiday Traditions to Match My ValuesYou Can Have a De-Stressed, De-Commercialized, Go-Your-Own-Way Holiday. No, Really, You Can

Illustrations by Veronica Grech and Calvin Dexter / Getty Images

Illustrations by Veronica Grech and Calvin Dexter / Getty Images

Throughout my childhood, my paternal grandmother always made sure the family had a “good” Christmas. For her, that meant everyone received a gift — especially the children. We would meet at a relative’s house each year on Christmas Eve and at midnight exchange gifts. Money was often tight, and sometimes the holidays brought more of a burden when having to choose between buying decorations and gifts and paying bills.

For my own daughter’s and son’s first Christmases, I wanted them to have a good Christmas, too. I went overboard in trying to make this happen by buying unnecessary things. After that, I stopped buying gifts, and although I would still visit family for that holiday, I didn’t exchange gifts.

But these days, I’m starting my own traditions, which include observing the African American cultural holiday Kwanzaa. That doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate Christmas; it’s just given me a new approach to doing so.

In 1966, Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa (derived from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits”), a weeklong celebration to introduce and reinforce seven values, called Nguzo Saba, of African culture. Karenga is a professor and chair of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach. He said he created Kwanzaa specifically for African Americans, who did not have a day that celebrated their unique history and experience in the United States. While the early years of the holiday was in resistance to racism and White supremacy and rejected Christianity — therefore Christmas outright — the holiday has evolved to embrace all people of African descent no matter their religion.

Not everyone stresses about what the holidays demand of us, but the good news is, no one has to. Here are five ways the Nguzo Saba can inspire you to participate in the holidays without feeling financially and emotionally overwhelmed. Reclaim the holidays as your own. I did.

1. Don’t Buy Your Gifts — Make Them.

You don’t have to give in to the holiday shopping tradition of overspending. Make meaningful gifts. Be creative, be intentional.

The principle of Kuumba (creativity) “teaches us to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial for future generations than we inherited it.”

2. If You Must Buy Gifts, Shop Locally.

Jobs and opportunities are created when dollars circulate locally. This creates healthier environments and builds community.

The principle of Ujamaa (cooperative economics) “teaches us to build and maintain our own stores and other businesses and to profit from them together.”

3. Be Intentional About Your Gifts And Charity.

Look for decision-making opportunities that influence outcome. In building racial equity, these opportunities are called Choice Points. They’re a tool that is used to help us turn away from our same old choices/actions and make an equity-driven choice/action. If you’re used to giving to a charity or organization that is made up of mostly White people, instead consider organizations that benefit people of color and are run by people of color.

The principle of Ujima (collective work and responsibility) “teaches us to build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.”

4. Attend Or Participate In A Holiday Celebration Outside Of Your Own Community.

If you’re Catholic, change it up and visit a Protestant church, particularly one with people of color. If you’re atheist or agnostic, go with your churchgoing family members. If church is not your family’s thing, go together to visit a community center or an organization that helps displaced people.

The principle of Umoja (unity) “teaches us to strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.”

5. Do Something Special For Yourself.

It’s been a hell of a year. Take this time for self-care and reflection. Read a book of fiction. Spend time with friends with whom you don’t have to talk about politics. Take a trip; doesn’t have to be long or far. Drink wine … or tea. Journal: What are your personal goals to contribute to a just and sustainable world? Or write a letter to yourself reminding you of the good of humanity in the face of the year’s catastrophic events. Dream again.

The principle of Imani (faith) “tells us to believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

People we love

Compassionate MorticiansNot everyone likes talking about the death of a loved one. A few people in the funeral industry have taken it upon themselves to make those uncomfortable conversations easier and to offer more options for making those difficult decisions at the end of life.

Green burial coordinator Brian Flowers, left, escorts the body of environmental activist Lorrie Otto, covered in a shroud and flowers, during her burial in 2010.

Green burial coordinator Brian Flowers, left, escorts the body of environmental activist Lorrie Otto, covered in a shroud and flowers, during her burial in 2010. Otto was interred unembalmed and without a casket at The Meadow Natural Burial Ground at Moles Greenacres Memorial Park in Ferndale, WashingtonPhoto from Moles Farewell Tributes

Nora Menkin

Nora Menkin

Giving death care back to the people

What if the high cost of dying could be taken down with an alternative business model?

The Co-op Funeral Home of People’s Memorial in Seattle is one of the only nonprofit, member-owned cooperative funeral homes in the U.S., and anyone can join. Members of the People’s Memorial Association own the co-op, paying a $50 joining fee to access discounted, transparent pricing for traditional and green burials, carbon-offset cremations, and other services.

“We don’t tell people what they need,” says Nora Menkin, the co-op’s managing funeral director. “We provide them with their options so that they can come at making these decisions from an educated place.”

As a founding member of the watchdog Funeral Consumers Alliance, the association has been working to ban predatory practices and update outdated and culturally discriminatory laws. It also offers popular end-of-life planning workshops to help members write wills and designate powers of attorney.

For Menkin, the daughter of a hospice physician whose house calls were sometimes her play dates, death was never an uncomfortable subject. At the co-op, she sees how much it means to families to be able to afford and choose their own approach to funerals. “That’s what keeps me going,” she says.

Brian Flowers

Brian Flowers

Where cemeterians and conservationists align

In 2009, when Brian Flowers founded The Meadow Natural Burial Ground in Ferndale, Washington, it was one of only a dozen green burial grounds in the country. Undaunted by the lack of how-to resources, he approached Moles Farewell Tributes, a family-owned funeral home, about dedicating part of its cemetery grounds for green burials.

Moles later hired him as their green burial coordinator. As former president of the Green Burial Council, Flowers educated other funeral professionals and land trust organizations on how to offer certified green burials, which increase native plant diversity in the burial ground.

“Green burial has an appeal to something pretty essential in our humanity,” Flowers says.

A green (or “natural”) burial eschews caskets, vaults, and toxic embalming fluids for biodegradable materials: a muslin shroud, a cardboard casket, a quilt. Weeks later, all but shroud and skeleton will have decomposed.

Flowers wants his body naturally buried when he dies. And he’s including a ritual for his living self: “I want to make my own casket, and keep it in my environment as a meditation of my own mortality,” he says.

Caitlin Doughty

Caitlin Doughty

Creating healing roles for unheard voices

Americans have been cut off from powerful rituals because they don’t interact with death. Caitlin Doughty seeks to change that. “Sitting with the body and digging the grave by hand, and standing there pushing the button for the cremation to start,” she says. These, and other alternatives, are options at her nonprofit funeral home, Undertaking LA, in Los Angeles.

Doughty’s own path to death acceptance took her from macabre child to medieval history student to hauling bodies as a crematory operator. She answers awkward death questions in her funny and honest “Ask a Mortician” web series, and she founded The Order of the Good Death collective and the Death Salon conferences to spread the word on alternatives to the mainstream funeral industry.

It’s all about creating a “death positive” culture, she says.

“What it means is that it’s okay to have this real interest in your mortality, and it’s not morbid or weird to feel that way,” she says.

It also means becoming educated about death care options, deciding for yourself what “dignified” means, and having knowledgeable people in our communities to take care of bodies.

The Trump Effect

Thousands of Women Run for OfficeOne year ago, following Trump’s victory over Clinton, women saw how much the country needs them.

On election night last November, Nadya Okamoto gathered with friends in the dining hall of her dorm at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Okamoto, then 18, wore a Hillary Clinton T-shirt — earlier that day, she’d voted for Clinton — and felt “pumped that the first woman in history would be elected.” Two years before, she had co-founded a nonprofit, PERIOD, that provided tampons to homeless women and girls. She’d helped launch a movement to destigmatize menstruation and, like many women, was troubled by the way Donald Trump talked about women during his campaign.

Christa Hillstrom

Christa Hillstrom is an editor at YES! Magazine.

As the results came in that night, her exhilaration drained. “I was so sad, angry, I was crying,” she said. But as she looked around at her devastated classmates, her body kicked into fight mode. She wondered what she could do.

It was the same story across the United States.

In Piedmont, California, Gina Scialabba, an attorney who volunteered with Clinton’s campaign, started out the evening celebrating. By the end of the night she was heartbroken and confused. As the weeks went by, she worried about the future of health care and marriage equality under a Trump administration — and whether her own plans to marry her partner would be threatened. She began to express her opinions more openly.

“You should run,” Scialabba’s friends told her.

In the year since Trump won the presidency, groups working toward women’s political empowerment have reported an unprecedented surge of interest in politics, especially at the local level. Thousands of women who had not considered or embarked on bids for office began stepping up, nominating themselves for everything from school boards to U.S. Congress. Deborah Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said the day of the election she worried that women would “just pull the covers over their heads.”

Instead, she saw the opposite: The following day, she started receiving applications for CAWP’s Ready to Run campaign training camp. By the end of the year, the number of registrations had surged upward by a factor of 10.

Kimberly Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights, a group focused on Black women’s political participation, was contacted by dozens of women interested in running immediately following the election, and more than 1,000 women came to one of her leadership seminars. The defeat of “the most qualified candidate either party has ever put up in history,” Peeler-Allen said, “has had women — particularly Black women — saying, ’If I don’t step up, who will?’”

In Cambridge, Okamoto was worried about gentrification and had been sending ideas to her local leaders. “People said, ’If you have so many ideas, why don’t you run yourself?’” she said. “So I was like, OK, fine. I’ll run for office.”

Neither Okamoto nor Scialabba knew exactly where to start. They joined an incubator run by the organization She Should Run, which recruits, trains, and shepherds women through the process of running for office. When the group launched its first programs in 2011, it typically drew 50 to 100 interested women. In the past year, they have welcomed around 16,000 women into their campaign training programs.

“It’s truly been a moment where we’ve seen women begin to own their potential for elected office,” said Clare Bresnahan, the organization’s executive director. She Should Run helped Okamoto launch a campaign to be the youngest member of Cambridge’s city council and is guiding Scialabba through a yearlong exploration of her political future before she makes a bid for office. “A lot of what She Should Run does is about giving a community to women, who are really encouraging one another to go big,” Bresnahan said.

The defeat of “the most qualified candidate either party has ever put up in history,” Peeler-Allen said, “has had women — particularly Black women — saying, ‘If I don’t step up, who will?’ ”

When women and men are not equally represented in government, the resulting policies do not fully promote women’s interests. One of She Should Run’s goals is to, by 2030, help achieve parity in politics — women holding at least half of the 500,000 elected seats nationwide. Going into the off-year election season of 2017, women occupied just 105 of the 535 seats — 19.6 percent — in the U.S. Congress, 24 percent of statewide elective executive offices, like governor and attorney general, and 25 percent of state legislative offices. Only 20 of the country’s 100 largest cities had female mayors.

It’s not that women can’t win elections. In fact, research shows that when women run, they have an equal chance of winning. The problem is that not enough step forward.

There are plenty of reasons why that is the case. Many women already juggle full-time jobs and raising children, which puts campaign work out of reach. A 2009 CAWP study examining paths to state legislative offices found that women are on average 50 years old when they first run for office, while their male peers tend to launch political campaigns at much younger ages. “We used to hear that what women needed was a wife,” said CAWP’s Deborah Walsh.

Groups like She Should Run hope the networks of support they’re building among thousands of future candidates can change this landscape. This year, legislative elections in New Jersey and Virginia provided a first glimpse into what we may see more broadly in 2018: Both states had more women running than before, and Virginia saw a 60 percent increase from the previous election cycle.

But Bresnahan cautions against putting too much stock in 2018. What’s important, she said, is seeding the pipeline for the long term — planning for the “decade of the woman” rather than the “year of the woman” — and preparing millennials for a lifetime of active engagement. She wants them to say, “Wow, my friend thinks I can do this. My neighbor is doing it. I could do it, too.”

Scialabba hopes to run for office in the near future; meanwhile, she’s getting involved with her community however she can. Earlier this year, she applied for a seat on the Piedmont public safety commission. One of her first tasks was helping launch a dog-walker safety program.

“Every time someone asks if there’s someone who can do something for the community, I raise my hand and do it,” Scialabba said. “The best way I can be a part of it is to literally just show up and do it.”

The 2016 presidential election provided a wake-up call for women across the country. But rather than showing that women can’t win, it has proved to women like Scialabba and Okamoto that now, more than ever, they are called to do more than root from the sidelines.

Nadya Okamoto

Sydney Claire Photography

Nadya Okamoto

Cambridge, Massachusetts

When the Harvard freshman saw fellow classmates displaced by gentrification in Cambridge, she launched a campaign to become the youngest city councilmember.

Gina Scialabba

Gina Scialabba

Piedmont, California

Scialabba, who serves on the public safety commission in Piedmont, California, dreams of becoming the state’s first lesbian senator and wants to fight for fair access to health care. Her mother died of breast cancer after struggling to get quality care.

Carol Surveyora

Photo by Cat Palmer

Carol Surveyora

Salt Lake City, Utah

Surveyor’s mother was murdered on the Navajo reservation in 2015. Now she’s running for Congress in Utah’s 2nd District to fight violence against women and stand up for environmental sites sacred to Natives.

Ryen Rasmussen

Ryen Rasmussen

Washington, D.C.

Rasmussen, 12, was exposed to politics when her mom founded the Girls in Politics Initiative, which encourages girls’ leadership. She’s passionate about women’s rights, and Trump’s win pushed her to run for student council — she said her 7th-grade class has a “dangerous habit of only electing males.” Rasmussen’s Twitter profile reads, #futurepresident.

Christa Hillstrom

Christa Hillstrom is an editor at YES! Magazine.

The Page That Counts

The Numbers That Define Our World

Year in which the FDA instituted guidelines that barred women of childbearing potential from participating in pharmaceutical safety and efficacy trials (later reversed) 1977 1

Ratio of neuroscience studies that use only male animals compared with ones that use only females 5.5-to-1 2

Americans 65 and older who have Alzheimer’s disease5.3 million 3

Americans 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease who are women62%

Change in American deaths from heart disease between 2000 and 2014-14%

Increase in number of American deaths from Alzheimer’s disease89%

Confederate monuments in the U.S.718 4

Confederate monuments that have been removed51 5

Number of U.S. states with laws that limit or prohibit the removal or alteration of monuments7 6

In Ukraine, the number of statues erected to honor Russian Communist Party founder Vladimir Lenin1,320 7

Those monuments that have been removed100%

Date on which Lenin Street in Zakarpattia was renamed Lennon Street in a tribute to John Lennon3/2/2016

Average rate of high school completion in Canada84% 8

Average rate of high school completion among First Nations people living on reserves 41% 9

Probability that a First Nations student who lives on a reserve and does not speak an indigenous language will do well in school62% 10

Probability that a First Nations student who lives on a reserve and does speak an indigenous language will do well in school70%

Indigenous languages in Canada that are endangered74 11

During the 1992–1994 recovery, rate of new jobs created in counties with more than 1 million residents 16% 12

During the 2010–2014 recovery41%

During the 1992–1994 recovery, new jobs created in counties with fewer than 100,000 residents27%

During the 2010–2014 recovery9%

White working-class Americans who say they trust the federal government more than half the time20% 13

Those who think the government should take a more active role in solving the country’s economic and social problems50%

Complete citations at

1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 2011 3. Alzheimer’s Association 4. Southern Poverty Law Center 5. The New York Times 6. The Atlantic Monthly 7. The Independent 8. Statistics Canada 9. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada 10. Aboriginal Policy Research Consortium International 11. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami 12. Economic Innovation Group 13. Peter Hart Research Associates