Christmas means different things to different people. Whilst it is deeply religious to some, for others it is the celebrations, food and rejoicing that makes it the favourite season. It could be the time of the year-end reflections to many, while a few might find the presents under the tree or the upcoming holidays to wash off a year’s cargo excite them like none other.
Whatever your source of motivation, there is no denying that most people look forward to celebrating this season. I am no different; I long for filling my home with Christmas goodies, setting up a tree, baking some treats, doing a big lunch, and catching up with friends and family.
The month of December is also the prime shopping time when money is splurged on materialistic pleasures: a hand bag that has been eyed for a long time, that sophisticated watch for the partner, the expensive sneakers for the kids, the luxury baubles to decorate the brand new Christmas tree, a new set of fancy lights to light up the home, the largest turkey in the supermarket to roast. Everything sounds justifiable at that point in time; until the feelings of shame and guilt kick in. And the final blow comes when we see the credit card bills for December.
Bearing witness to how everything picks up during the season and the loads of ‘stuff’ I buy, with each passing year I am becoming more and more of an advocate for a sustainable Christmas. Boring it sounded first to me too, as I thought it lead to a Christmas sans glitz. But I was wrong – sustainable Christmas is not only just as beautiful, it helps nurture creativity and innovation too.
Here are my tips for an eco-friendly Christmas.
Season to deck up
Pick a live, green pine tree to start with, which can be planted after the season. If you prefer artificial trees, invest in a good tree that can be reused for at least 10 years. Consider lighting up the tree (as well as the home) with fewer strands of lights, preferably LED lights which consume less energy. To decorate your tree, look beyond plastic: there are heaps of alternatives – hessian, ceramic, glass, paper, cardboards, fresh flowers, potted plants and so forth.
Stunning centrepieces on the dining tables and coffee tables state celebrations big time. The best part is that these can be made with the most natural finds. An easy centrepiece with a red table runner, a few pine needles, some wooden artefacts, cinnamon rolls and some pillar candles, will stand out for its originality. Or think fresh gum tree leaves, some potted plants, and wooden curios for a closer-to-nature look.
Season of giving
For presents, think something that will create less clutter and more living. One well-thought out choice will tick the box instead of many small gifts that will end up in the thrift shops or on Gumtree. How about gifting ‘experiences’ this time round –a gift of tickets to a show perhaps, or activities for children, spa/massage vouchers for a colleague.
Ever thought how dear a handmade gift will be? Try potting a few succulents/herbs, baking cookies/gingerbread men, or making relishes/jams/preserves ahead of the season. These will be much appreciated. A ‘green’ gift made from recycled products will hurt the earth a little less. Choosing a locally made gift to support the local economy is another option.
The wrapping paper that gets ripped up in an instant is a source for massive waste: try using recycled wrapping paper instead. Maps, newspapers, brown paper, clothes, if used tastefully, can create beautiful wraps too. Furoshiki, the art of sustainable wrapping, growing in popularity these days, considerably reduces waste caused by wrapping paper.
Season of fine eating
There is no denying that the best meals are shared over Christmas. However, indulgent meals often result in massive food waste.
Planning ahead to cut down on the food waste, getting the guests to take home doggy-bags, or using left-over food creatively to whip up something different, and composting the food scraps can all help. Instead of large supermarket chains, purchase from local farmer’s markets, which will help feed the farmers’ families too.
Season of holidaying
The virtual, indoor world of television, play stations, Nintendo and online shopping are too compelling, but nothing like a taste of the real world outside. Plan to spend more time outdoors, which the whole family can enjoy. Think of activities you have been wishing to do or trips you have been putting off. Visiting rural towns and shopping locally will infuse a fresh bout of energy into the rural economy as well.
Season of spreading cheer
I was once invited to go sing carols with a group that performs in the local nursing homes, and it was an experience like no other. Singing a few songs there, and spending some time with the elders may have been a trivial thing for most of us in the group, but it was invaluably appreciated by our audience. Tears trickled down the eyes of the elderly, many of them bedridden or on wheelchairs, while they sang the songs with us – a real, original gift we could give to people who were in need of it.
These days there are other innovative initiatives for those of us that are tech-savvy. Kiva is an online lending platform that encourages gifts of loans as small as $25 for small businesses, where the amount will be repaid and you can re-lend it. Or give a gift of charity donating to The Hunger Project. Participate in Australia’s own Share the dignity enterprise where a handbag can be filled with essentials for girls and women and donated, or be part of the local council’s toy drive.
At the end of it all, just as you count the blessings of the year, you can count your carbon footprint, and spend some bucks to offset those through Carbon Neutral.
And as you tread softly on the planet this festive season, here’s wishing you a greener Christmas!
Photos: Amal Wilson, Geevarghese Kollannur