A Sustainable Christmas - Part One
Christmas is a special time of year for many people. For some it’s a time of faith. For some a celebration of family. But for most of us, it’s inextricably bound up with consumerism. We learn from a young age that Christmas is about shopping and presents and Santa. And we learn to express our love for one another through the giving of gifts.
We spend our hard earned money on stuff that we think our loved ones might want, but probably don’t need. Meanwhile we try to figure out what to do with the excess of things we receive at Christmas.
People are starting to wake up to the idea that this is neither sustainable nor necessary. And that we don’t actually have to do it. In this three-part series, I will suggest some ways to change how we give, receive and wrap gifts in order to make Christmas less about stuff and a little bit less harmful to our environment.
In part 1, Giving Sustainably, I’ll focus on ways to give gifts without consuming. In part 2, Receiving Sustainably, I’ll discuss how to explain to friends and family that you don’t want to have a consumption-focused Christmas and suggest ways that they can help you to do so. And in part 3, Wrapping Sustainably, I’ll explore some sustainable ways of wrapping those gifts that you do give.
The giving and receiving of gifts is enshrined in culture and is a way in which we cement friendships and celebrate events and milestones. It is therefore quite difficult to simply refuse to take part in gift-giving. If you do, you risk being seen as unkind or mean. But there are ways to take part in the rituals of gift giving without contributing to the mass consumption of stuff that is causing serious harm to our environment. Forget buying cheap plastic stocking fillers and focus instead on giving gifts that are meaningful. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Give your time
Time is the most precious thing that most of us have. It’s one of the few things that we can’t buy more of. And that’s what makes it so special as a gift. Giving any kind of gift that involves spending time with a loved one is the most generous. Take a friend for dinner. Take your Mum to a show. Or babysit a friend’s children so that she or he can have some precious free time.
To make this gift feel more concrete, make a card or certificate outlining exactly what you’re giving and try to set a date right away.
2. Give experiences
If you don’t have the possibility to spend time together, you can still give a gift of time by giving an experience. What about tickets to a show or a movie, to an outdoor adventure, or even a gift voucher for a nice restaurant? These are all really nice gifts that don’t involve stuff and therefore, should be a bit kinder to our environment.
3. Donate a gift
The perfect gift for the person who has everything. Why not celebrate them by giving a gift to someone who doesn't have so much? Make a donation to a charity that is close to their heart. For a football fan, you could donate sports equipment to a school in need. I was thrilled when friends celebrated my son's first birthday by giving baby products to refugee families. Many charities offer packages and gift certificates that you can print and wrap.
4. Give preloved
If you really must give something as a Christmas gift, can you find it preloved? Many of us have so much stuff that we end up giving it away to second hand or charity shops because we can’t handle it all. A lot if this stuff is barely used and certainly isn’t worthy of being dumped in landfill. But that’s exactly where it can end up because charity stores are frequently overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that is donated. Giving a preloved gift has a double impact on this problem: (1) you are giving some of this preloved stuff a new home, and (2) you are not contribute to the problem by buying more stuff that will also be disposed of sooner or later. It’s called a circular economy!
This can be tricky. Not everyone appreciates pre-loved or vintage things but, if you have a friend who does then spending time searching out the perfect pre loved item can really show how much you care. Regifting something lovely that you have received but know you can’t use is also an option. See my earlier post for some tips on the etiquette of regifting.
5. Last resort
If you really must buy something new, please try to do it thoughtfully.
Make sure you buy something that has a positive impact somehow. E.g. buy locally made, fairtrade, climate smart.
Choose quality over quantity. Maybe you can club together with others to buy one better-quality present instead of lots of cheaper, more disposable things.
Don’t be afraid to ask people what they need so you can make sure you don’t buy something unnecessary that will end up being thrown out.
In the next instalment, we’ll discuss how to ask friends and family to be more sustainable at Christmas, without sounding like a Scrooge (hopefully)!
In the meantime, let me know in the comments section, what you think about the suggestions above. Do you already use any of these ideas? Do you think you might do so in the future? And how do you think your friends and family would react?