The New Yorker recently published a piece on hygge, a Danish word that denotes coziness, indulgence, and thankfulness. Although the word has no direct English translation, I understand it by associating it with Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas music. It is the feeling of sitting in my grandparents’ living room after Thanksgiving dinner while she is playing throughout the house. The fireplace is hot on my back, the Lions game is on television, and, over the music, I can hear my family laughing and telling stories of the past year. The cheeks of the adults are warm from one too many glasses of red wine, and the children’s hearts are racing from one too many scoops of vanilla ice cream on their pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving is an icon of American culture. We have so much to be thankful for, and in a culture that seems to never stop moving, it is so important that we pause for a moment and experience this hygge.
But to what extent does our thankfulness harm others? Americans, specifically the sector of Americans that can afford to celebrate Thanksgiving this way, are blessed with massive privilege. Each Thanksgiving, we have a choice: we can use our privilege for good or we can use it in ways that directly harm the world around us. Here are a few simple ways to choose the former without sacrificing the hygge:
1. Support ethical businesses on Black Friday
Black Friday seems to be one American tradition that we all acknowledge is harmful and yet we shrug, laugh, and participate in it anyway. However, you don’t have to ditch the tradition of getting up early and buying Christmas presents to be ethical. Instead, be more mindful of the businesses you are supporting. While big brands are infamous for human rights violations, there are plenty of small businesses that pay their workers living wages and engage in fair trade. The easiest option is to head downtown and support local businesses. If you live in Ann Arbor, there are plenty of businesses on Main Street and in Kerrytown for you to support and, if you’re anywhere in Michigan, Zingerman’s is known for its fair business practices. Additionally, Huffington Post has compiled a list of 50 ethical brands that are worth your money this Black Friday (or Cyber Monday!).
2. Cook a plant-based dish
According to a study published by the Georgetown Environmental Law Review, animal agriculture is the leading cause of a large number of environmental problems we face today. In fact, a study from Carnegie Mellon University states that the average Thanksgiving dinner in Michigan emits 47.3 pounds of CO2, which is the equivalent of driving about 60 miles. This number can easily be lowered. The Minimalist Baker offers many delicious recipes that use plant-based ingredients to create full, decadent meals and desserts that don’t have nearly the environmental impact that traditional recipes have. Her archives include recipes for green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, and dinner rolls.
3. Ditch turkey altogether
Perhaps there was once a Thanksgiving where turkey was unavoidable, but it’s 2017, and we have phones that recognize our faces and will soon have drones delivering our groceries straight to our homes. Surely we can adjust our Thanksgiving meals to accommodate the forward-thinking, innovative spirit we are so proud of in every other area of our lives. Although animal welfare is often viewed as a laughing matter, we cannot deny that every Thanksgiving dinner is the direct result of a life full of suffering for sentient beings with the ability to experience pain. Why contribute toward this when you don’t have to? There are several main courses that are equally delicious and much more in line with progressive ideals. Perhaps consider a mushroom and lentil shepherd's pie, a creamy quinoa broccoli casserole, or a creamy leek and potato pie. Still find yourself missing the taste of turkey? Try a tofurky roast!
4. Be aware of where your sweater came from
Like the turkey on your table, the clothing on your body may have a dark past. Although we don’t often think about it, our clothing is made by real human beings who often undergo tremendous suffering in the process of making it. The fashion industry hurts young women in developing countries more than any other group–and on a day of giving thanks for freedom and safe working conditions, why should we be stripping others of those same blessings? Luckily, brands like Levi’s, Patagonia, and Stella McCartney provide high-quality, ethical clothing. It may be a bit more expensive, but if the question is between purchasing clothing that doesn’t hurt other human beings and having a little more “fun money” each month, the answer is simple. Plus, these brands are available for much less at your local thrift store or TJ Maxx. If you are in need of more brands to choose from, check out this list.
5. Participate in Giving Tuesday
If your thankfulness doesn’t compel you to pay it forward, then what’s the point? Imagine how amazing it would be if Americans would spend nearly as much on Giving Tuesday as they do on Black Friday. However, before you donate, make sure to do your research. Websites like www.charitynavigator.org provide information on different nonprofits, such as their transparency, accountability, and effectiveness. You want to make sure you know where your money’s really going! Choose a cause that tugs at your heartstrings, such as hurricane relief, cancer research, or human trafficking, and choose a highly-ranked charity to support.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, but it’s important that we don’t allow our contentment to give way to complacency. Instead, let’s enjoy our hygge with the knowledge that we are doing as much as we can to make the world a better place. We are blessed with so much, so let’s use our blessings for good.