Other perhaps some other pagan holiday options? Perhaps we could consider Saturnalia. Or, if it must be organized religion, then the Flying Spaghetti Monster whose mockery-loving followers are known as Pastafarians. “Around the time of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, Pastafarians celebrate a vaguely defined holiday named “Holiday.”
That last line is perennially funny to me. It’s a new winter tradition.
Whatever you do, happy winter holiday, everyone. And consider the reindeer. They may not be with us that much longer, and Santa’s North Pole appears to be melting.
PS in this long warlike year of intolerance on the part of organized religions, Stephen Fry at 07:17
“The journey towards a sane sustainable future begins with a single step. It could all start with a personal challenge, such as this: make a vow to yourself to participate in Buy Nothing Day this year. This November 23rd, go cold turkey on consumption for 24 hours … see what happens … you just might have an unexpected, emancipatory epiphany! … Join millions of us in over 60 countries on November 23/24 and see what it feels like. Then, after Buy Nothing Day, take the next step … for generations, Christmas has been hijacked by commercial forces … this year, let’s take it back.”
My extended family did a Christmas like this a few times. My nephews were 6 and 7 years old the first time. You had to make all presents with things you found, and nothing could be bought. No bought wrapping paper either–everything had to be recycled. These are the best Christmases we ever had. Inventive, hilarious and fun.
I’m not sure that personal choice alone is going to effectively challenge consumer capitalism, but it’s worth a try. North America’s profligate spending and wastefulness is truly repellent.
Also, from a design standpoint, departing from consumerism produces the happy result of automatically creating better design. Every time. At the risk of stating the obvious, our anti-consumerist design/gift guidelines could be:
• Less is more. This is almost always true.
• Buy less and when you do buy, buy items of significantly high quality, items you’ll never tire of and that will improve with age. The expenditure is worth it, and in the end you’ll find this has actually cost you the same or less than the sum of many cheap expenditures.
• Nothing substitutes for the handmade
• Artisanal, high-quality, local production from carefully chosen materials can be far better-looking than factory-produced brand name goods or furniture (but some artisans have to stop adding busy, funky, weird detailing to everything. (3 different woods/materials in one table; curlicues.) Awkward aesthetics are wasteful too–we tire of them, so they work against longevity).
• If you must buy new, try to buy mostly things made/grown in your own town/region/country.
• Use found objects. Items with some history bring some humanity with them. So many spaces are utterly dead because they lack the marks of their natural origins, or of the human hand, history and use. Bring a fallen treebranch into the house. Google “biophilia” to found out how seeing natural objects is beneficial to health and serenity.
• Don’t buy anything made of chipboard! Better to find solid wood items at thrift shops. At IKEA, some items are far better quality than others. Avoid anything made of cheap laminates.
• Older couches and chairs often have solid hardwood under-structures. Collect these! Instead of buying a new couch, get an old one re-sprung and re-upholstered. This also supports local labour, and you end up with a far better product with longevity; perhaps even an heirloom. Or just throw a nice blanket over the thing.
• Collage a card for a friend/relative rather than buying a present. In the long run these mean far more to people than objects do. I know I don’t want anything bought new. It’s never right.
• Old second-hand books are a fantastic present. We should support local bookstores in general.
• Enjoy your improved surroundings. They will make you happy.
These are a few of my favourite things. Above, a white painted branch with Kraft-paper wrapped gifts is a minimalist advent calendar, by the inventive DIY Brigg from Norway via The Style Files. Below: Simple garland fencing at Axel Vervoordt’s recent Winter Exhibition; photo via Belgian Pearls. Both are from an article at Remodelista on Scandinavian Christmas traditions.
By the way, Ouno is now on Remodelista’s Design Newsstand; have a look under the “Critics and Observers” section (which should probably have been titled something like “Opinionated and Acerbic”). But I’m not the slightest bit bah humbug about this time of year, unless we’re talking about what’s going on at the mall. My holiday wish is for us to stop buying plastic knickknackery and disposable junk from the mega-factories. It just encourages them! It would be so nice if we could buy a lot less, but of much better quality, and make the rest ourselves. The evergreen garland fence below is just brilliant.
This is a Japanese tradition we desperately need to adopt in North America – re-using textiles to wrap presents. It’s an art form, but it’s worth learning because it dispenses with all the annoying and wasteful tape and paper and ribbon, it’s a fun skill to learn (for kids too), and it’s an educational conversation piece – you might have to explain to the recipient what it is, but that’s probably worthwhile. Christmas is a forest disaster when you combine its Christmas trees and its paper usage. Any textile will work – just use some old fabric, recycle some scarves, or buy scarves/shawls from thrift and then watch some furoshiki tying videos. Any size of cloth will do – for the larger bags/wrapping you should look for the 40″ size of scarf shawl. In Japan, furoshiki were traditionally used as practical carrying bags as well as ceremonial wrapping. For the more utilitarian uses, people would carry a furoshiki cloth around with them, just in case, and tie it into a tote bag as the need arose. This habit will become very useful here once plastic bags are banned, and that’s soon (see the videos below to see how to tie a quick tote bag). Last year’s post on this topic is here and instructional furoshiki videos are here and here. Video directly below is great – Mick Jagger bought a furoshiki at this shop – but I hate the part where they walk away from the furoshiki shop with their purchases in glossy cardboard envelopes and paper bags! Photos here are all Creative Commons licensed on Flickr, by kirainet and vaneea.
To read about my book project on Vancouver's UN-Habitat Forum event of 1976 concerning just and sustainable urban settlements, click here. Few know that Buckminster Fuller, Margaret Mead, Mother Teresa, Paolo Soleri and Maggie & Pierre Trudeau, along with many thousands of others, came to Vancouver in 1976 to talk about better, safer, fairer and greener cities worldwide. In fact it was the founding conference of UN Habitat, an agency built around a foundational document called The Vancouver Declaration. My book is about what happened that year and is a snapshot not just of Vancouver but of how people around the world began to view cities and themselves differently in the wake of, among other things, the first oil crisis.
This blog is a long, somewhat messy photo essay on the history and politics of design. The socio-historical context of design - that is, the origin of the design of objects, dwellings and cities - seems too often ignored. Historical knowledge can be fugitive in the New World, with everything so decontextualized in the flow of commodities. Don't even get me started on tumblr and pinterest.
In the interest of not wasting anyone's time, aesthetically speaking I am more interested in the modern/contemporary and the ancient than I am in many of the eras and styles that lie in between. I somehow don't understand the appeal of cathedrals and the baroque, which I find garish and oppressive. I like the space-age and the futuristic on the one hand and the rustic on the other, but also the utopian and the anti-utopian, the unstuffy and the unstaid, the frugal but sensual, the possibly-not-entirely-lost promise of the 1960s and 70s, the creative, the practical, the ingenious, the mixed, the unorthodox, and the way people actually live in real spaces. I am interested in bricolage, in making do, hacks and the way necessity constantly mothers invention.
I appreciate the sheer level of cultural borrowing evident in design, the undeniable impurity of design traditions long considered pure, and just generally the wild miscegenation of everything.
That's not to say that all mixing is a good idea. I'm definitely not talking about the faux-historification of our cities, the demolition of our actual past followed by its replacement with a faux nineteenth-century 'originality'. That's when you get elements of the past and the future, combining to make something not quite as good as either, as the Mighty Boosh would say.
Because design is never divorced from anything else, this long essay is also about urban planning, philosophy, art, political economy, architecture, sociology, geography, neurology, pyschology and anything else that pertains to design, which is everything.
The word "ouno" is a name in both Finnish and Japanese, two of my favourite nations for design. Apropos of nothing, the word also contains the symbols for both zero and one, and it's the same right side up as upside down. My dad was a mathematician in love with puzzles, so please excuse the nerd quotient here and the arithmophilia.
Speaking of which, this blog makes no attempt to avoid being nerdy or critical. There are plenty of nicey-nice boosterist design blogs out there and if that's what you're looking for, you will happily find many of those out there on the internet. I wouldn't blame you for going there. I just think that without critique and complaint, the design of dwellings and cities in North America won't get any better. And it needs to get a lot better than it is—less creatively impoverished, more democratic and a lot more pleasurable. We do after all spend almost all of our lives in buildings and towns and cities and altered landscapes, all of which have a overwhelming impact on our conscious lives, our unconscious lives, our health, intelligence, creativity and our social interactions. These things affect us every moment of our lives whether we're aware of them or not. And not only do we need more humane spaces in which to live, we need—above all—to ensure affordable housing for all. Without this, all our interest in decor is just privileged fiddling while Rome (or insert your city here) burns. Housing is a human right. Public policy and regulation are the only ways to insure people are housed and can afford to live in the cities where they work. The market and private industry are not going to get us there.
We all need to fight the worsening property speculation! Dear Canada and the USA and beyond, quit letting developers run—and ruin—this show.