A Sustainable Christmas - Part Two
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 one, Giving Sustainably, I focused on ways to give gifts without consuming. In this instalment 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. In part three, Sustainable Advent, I’ll show you four of my favourite non-consumption advent calendars. And in the fourth and final part, Wrapping Sustainably, I’ll explore some sustainable ways of wrapping those gifts that you do give.
Receiving sustainably is about daring to be different. About daring to refuse. For many people, me included, Christmas has long been centred around presents. And lots of them. Explaining that you don’t want more stuff can be challenging. People might not always understand and it sometimes feels easier just to go with the flow. But hopefully, these suggestions can help you be brave enough to rock the boat!
1. Explain your reasons
When you ask your loved ones to give sustainable gifts, explain clearly why you want them to do so. Perhaps you feel that you have too much stuff at home already and you would prefer non-physical gifts. Perhaps you want your children to appreciate a Christmas that’s more about quality time and traditions than things. In that case, gifts that involve spending time together could be perfect. Or perhaps you just want to limit our exploitation of the planet’s resources and our fellow humans. In which case, preloved, handmade, or climate smart gifts might be okay.
Whatever your reasons, make sure that you are clear about your motivation so people can understand what you want and why. Your explanation might also inspire them to request sustainable gifts.
2. Provide options
Give your friends and family some options. If they aren’t able to think of non-physical gifts, or don’t feel able to give their time, offer them the option to donate to charity instead. Suggest charities that mean something to you. This might alleviate some of the anxiety of doing something new.
3. Inspire your colleagues
Refuse to take part in the ritual of Secret Santa or other office/work events that centre on the giving of things. This is tough to do but, be sure to explain clearly why you don’t want to take part. Suggest that you and your colleagues club together and sponsor a child’s education with the money you would have spent on cheap plastic novelties that will probably end up in the bin. Accept that your colleagues might have different ideas from you and be prepared to be the odd one out if you stand your ground. This can be really tough but, even if they don’t get it immediately, you might end up inspiring people in the long term.
4. Make a list
Maybe you’re not ready to go all-in with a non-consumption Christmas just yet. Or maybe you know that your loved ones won’t be able to resist buying something! If that’s the case, make sure you get things that you actually want and need. That way, they will get used rather than being tossed or uselessly cluttering up your home. A simple way to do that is to make a list. Tell people what clothes your kids need or what cosmetics you are running low on so they can give something useful. If this feels awkward, give the list to your partner or a parent so that they can tell others who might like to know what to get you.
And remember, if you do still get things that you don’t want, regifting is an option.
5. Be forgiving
It might take people a while to catch on and to change behaviours that they have learned over a lifetime. Go easy on them. Recognise and be grateful for what changes they manage. People are moved more by what you do than what you say, so make sure that you lead by example. Show them that it’s possible to give without consuming madly and they’ll soon catch on.
I am so impressed with how my own family has embraced post-consumption gift giving. We eased into it last Christmas by asking everyone to only buy one gift, instead of something for everyone but I could tell that it was tough for them. But by the time my birthday came around in September, they were all on board! I received a handmade quilt, a weekend away with my husband, lunch with my friends, preloved jewellery and a course in how to care for chickens - we are planning on getting some!!!
Good luck with convincing your own loved ones of the benefits of a sustainable Christmas. Let me know, in the comments, how it goes for you.
Merry (sustainable) Christmas xx