Is this the end for Christmas cards?

So, Twelfth Night tonight and I’m taking down my decorations in order, as tradition dictates, to avoid bad luck.

Or was Twelfth Night yesterday, as some believe, in which case I’m already cursed? I’m always suspicious about bad luck superstitions. They must have been started by someone with a vested interest – perhaps a king or landowner who wanted to put an end to peasants’ carousing so they got back to work?

People are so different when it comes to putting up and taking down decorations. One friend follows the tradition she saw on holiday one year in Austria, where decorations are taken down at Candlemas on February 2nd, whereas one member of my family takes her decorations down on Boxing Day. This may sound rather brutal but she does put them up as soon as she takes down her Halloween trimmings.

This week I saw that one of my favourite Instagrammers – Nancy Birtwhistle – had spent a rainy day turning Christmas cards into gift tags for next year. NANCY (@nancy.birtwhistle) • Instagram photos and videos This prompted many comments from her followers and I read them all because I love this activity too. There was a lot of nostalgia, with people reminiscing about doing this as children with their mother or grandmother way before anyone had heard of upcycling.

The comments started me thinking.

Yes, they gave me many more great ideas for recycling cards (see below) and also joy at the kindness shown in many comments,  but I also started to feel slightly anxious for my beloved Christmas tradition of sending cards.

 More than a few of the comments talked about receiving fewer cards this year. A few reasons were guessed at – pandemic hangover, postal strike fears, but also environmental concerns.

One commentor said they now only sent cards to older relatives or neighbours.

Some people said they were getting more Facebook messages or texts instead of cards. I’m with one of Nancy’s followers who said: ‘A message on FB doesn’t cut it for me.’ And another who wondered if this was the ‘death knell of a lovely Christmas tradition’.

Another said that there was ‘something lovely about taking the time to choose and write a card for someone’. This sums up exactly how I feel.

But are feelings enough? I started wondering if I should be looking in greater depth at this issue. I also read an article about eating your Christmas tree (seriously), in which a writer asks whether in a climate crisis ‘when trees are our best armoury’ we should be cutting down thousands a year.  The best way to get rid of your Christmas tree? Just eat it | Christmas | The Guardian

My heart says:

  • Cards are mini works of art to send to loved ones. I love the images, the artistry and the craft involved.
  • I love to see the individuality of the person who sent them; they might be funny/ religious/animal-oriented or supporting a charity that has been important in the person’s life.
  • I also wonder about the effect on charities if people stopped buying cards that support them.
  • What about the contact that cards give me with people I only contact at Christmas with a card and sometimes a letter? Yes, I could send them an email, but would I really? Apparently sales of greetings cards went up during the pandemic when people couldn’t see each other but wanted to send a message to show they were thinking about each other. You can’t put a Facebook message on the mantelpiece or frame it on the wall.

One of Nancy’s followers said they kept cards from ‘beloved friends and relations no longer here and that way they are present at Christmas for ever.’ A beautiful idea that I intend to adopt.

My head says:

  • I just don’t know enough about it. I’ve given myself another resolution – to do more research so I can make an informed decision for next Christmas. A mere 11 months away.

Recycling Christmas cards? Follow Nancy’s followers:

Make banners or bunting (easy to store, put up, take down)/turn cards into mini calendars/ make bookmarks to include with a book gift. Another good idea is to turn birthday cards into Thank You cards

One follower talks about girl guides making mini boxes to give with chocolates inside for Christmas lunch fancies to be given out in care homes.

Activities recommended for schools include:

  •  recycling cards into postcards for next Christmas
  •  making bookmarks

Incidentally, I came up with my own recycling idea as I was dismantling last year’s office calendar for recycling.  It’s a Royal Academy calendar with beautiful pictures. I always use some of the pictures to make a colourful office wall display. But perhaps reading Nancy’s followers’ ideas gave me inspiration.

The calendar pages have images but also the days of each month, of course. I plan to use the pages as personalised gift wrap with the birthday girl or boy’s name emblazoned on the date.

Dreaming of a Green Christmas? Give back to the planet

Christmas Green Johanna

‘Tis the month before Christmas when all through the house not a single thing’s stirring except Rachel’s mouse…

Still on her laptop at midnight, Rachel’s searching for gifts for the family that won’t cost the earth but also won’t cost the Earth.

She’s hit on a solution for her husband Paul’s parents, Dick and Liddy, who are so tricky to buy for. They say they don’t want any more presents because they already have everything they need. And Dick says he doesn’t need any more gloves because he’s not an octopus. Ditto socks.

Increasingly they feel they want to do their bit for the environment, but in a fuss-free, arthritis-friendly way.

So how about a Green Cone food waste digester? It takes all food waste, even bones, and is virtually no-maintenance – no stirring or turning required. It doesn’t produce compost, but that’s OK; Dick and Liddy will be perfectly happy with the nutritious soil conditioner that will seep from the underground waste basket into their flower beds once worms and microbes have broken down the food scraps. Once Rachel and Paul install the solar-powered Cone in a hole in the garden, all Dick and Liddy will have to do is empty their kitchen caddy into it, along with a sprinkling of accelerator powder to add beneficial bacteria.  The fact that the waste basket is underground means smells are filtered out by the soil.

Dick will like the fact that they’re completely in control of their own food waste, turning something that harms the planet in landfill to something that actually helps to heal it by nourishing the soil. Liddy will love the idea that, in their own small way, they’re doing something to save the planet for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The little we can do is a lot, she says every time she reduces, reuses or recycles.

Composting for a busy brother

For her brother Stephen, who is officially the busiest man on the planet, which he would love to save if only he could get the staff, Rachel plans to get a Green Johanna food waste composter. He’s seen Paul and Rachel’s Johanna at work in their garden and has even been known to make himself useful by emptying the kitchen caddy into it. The idea of having a ready supply of his own free compost would definitely appeal too.

The gift of worm-farming for children

Stephen’s wife Jill would also like to save the earth; she just doesn’t want it being traipsed through the house on the children’s muddy boots. So Rachel thought a great present for their children, Billie and Ben, would be a wormery. She managed to sell the idea to Stephen by saying it would get the kids interested in eco-science (anything educational always gets his vote), and Jill agreed when she knew the Maze Worm Farm could be kept in the shed. Rachel knows the kids will be fascinated by the whole process, and if through harvesting their own vermicompost they gain a passion for gardening, well…that’s the very definition of a gift that keeps on giving.

Rachel suspects it might become her job to teach her niece and nephew how to harvest the compost, and perhaps even to make worm ‘tea’ plant fertiliser from it, but it will be more than worth it to see them giggle when she tells them that this nutritious soil food is essentially the worms’ wee and poo. If you’re under 10 it doesn’t get much funnier than that.

Gifts for the eco-conscious young

What could be better for Rachel and Paul’s son, George, than a Compost Tumbler for the back yard of his student house? The compost it produces will come in very handy for all their potted plants and vegetable raised beds.  

And a very useful stocking filler would be a household oil container. Having managed to stop some of his housemates from throwing used cooking oil in the bin or, on one traumatic occasion that still makes him shudder, down the sink, George has taken on the job of storing their used oil in various containers and bottles. But this purpose-built 3L container with its secure lid will make it so much easier to store oil and take it to the local recycling centre where it’s collected to be turned into electricity.

 George has had to educate some of his housemates on this; it’s a sad fact that many people still pour oil down the sink thinking it will somehow be made to disappear by the combined magical powers of water and Fairy Liquid (as if actual fairies were in some way involved). In fact, what happens is the oil binds with other objects that should never have been flushed away, creating huge fatbergs that block sewers. Everybody thinks their own little bit of oil can’t do any harm but try telling that to the engineers who get the lovely job of breaking down these monster blockages so that the rest of us can flush the toilet confident the waste will just disappear. Sewage backflow anyone? Every millilitre adds up. Isn’t this at the heart of recycling? Every little helps or every little harms. What is it Grandma Liddy often says?  The little we can do is a lot – and she’s right. There are no small acts.

‘Black gold’ gift for the planet

For George’s girlfriend, Millie, Rachel will get a bokashi bin. Millie showed great interest in Paul and Rachel’s Maze bokashi bin when she saw it on their kitchen worktop and was fascinated when Rachel explained the anaerobic process which ferments all food waste, turning it into pre-compost. Well, not every girl wants scented candles…

Millie will feed all her houseplants with the diluted bokashi ‘tea’ fertiliser that drains from the fermenting contents of the bokashi bin. The tea can also be used concentrated as organic drain cleaner. Another freebie – what’s not to like? When the food waste has fermented to become pre-compost pulp, she will be able to add it as an accelerator to the Compost Tumbler. The compost that is made will not only feed the pot plants in the back yard, but Millie and George will also take this ‘black gold’ to the community garden where they help out growing food and flowers.  

Paul suggested that with all this festive recycling going on, perhaps he could ‘regift’ Stephen and Jill the delightful Rudolph jumper they gave him last Christmas?

Rachel said no.

Spare Parts