Christmas joy – and sustainability – to the world

The Great Green Team

7 December 2022

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Christmas recycling

Does an eco-friendly Christmas mean nibbling on foraged roast chestnuts and trimming up with last year’s holly?

Right now many of us are once again trying to find the middle way between a bleak midwinter season and one that sends tonnes more waste to landfill.

 This is obviously the most challenging time of year if you’re attempting to live sustainably. It’s especially hard for parents of young children who are trying to find planet-friendly ways of providing festive joy as well as keeping their heads above water financially.  

Can Christmas ever be sustainable?

If you look at what like-minded people are doing, you’ll find you’re far from alone.  

One of my favourite composting influencers (yes, it’s a thing), Compostable Kate, usually buys her children’s toys second hand, but she admits it’s a constant balancing act as you don’t want your children to feel excluded from what they see going on around them.

And I laughed out loud reading Jen Gale’s account of the time her young son saw her online post about not buying so many presents, and shouted ‘Presents are the whole point of Christmas. They bring the joy!’

 Is there a child who would disagree with him?

 Jen’s book The Sustainable (ish) Living Guide has some great tips which I’ve incorporated into our family traditions.

Make presents

Play to your strengths by sewing or baking gifts to give.

These are the best presents (depending on the skill of the maker…) Last year an Asian neighbour, remembering that I had told her my dad would much prefer spicy food to the traditional turkey, came round on Christmas morning with platters piled high with freshly-made samosas. Samosas go great with roast turkey dinner, we discovered. The thoughtfulness of this homemade gift really made our Christmas.

Reverse Advent calendar

Jen’s suggestion of a reverse Advent calendar is absolutely on-trend with the Christmas message.

 Put an item of non-perishable food into a box each day of Advent and then donate to a foodbank. If that isn’t teaching your children the true spirit of Christmas I don’t know what is. And when you think about what Jen’s son said –  ‘Presents bring the joy’ – he didn’t say it was only receiving presents that brings the joy.

Offer your time

Adults would love the offer of baby sitting or gardening services, for example. You could also buy experiences as opposed to material gifts, or arrange for the family to do a Secret Santa.

Dial it down

My own tip is to focus on what means most to your family at Christmas. You don’t have to dial everything up to the max just because that’s what the adverts show. In fact, tread carefully with all those ads. They are lies and damned lies. I feel the stress-ometer mounting with every female face I see smiling beatifically as she feeds the 5,000 sitting down to dinner. It’s not just the feeling that I haven’t bought enough, won’t have cooked enough and it won’t be good enough, it’s also the sickening thought that much of what does get cooked over Christmas will end up in the bin.  

And that’s another thing – remember that no one’s stomach expands magically like Mary Poppins’ bag just because it happens to be December 25th. Let’s not forget that those ads will change on the stroke of midnight, as fast as Cinderella’s ballgown, from encouraging you to gorge yourself silly to suggesting it’s high time you joined a slimming programme and a gym, Fatty.

Reusing Christmas cards:

Make them part of the Christmas decorations – The large picture over our mantelpiece shows an African landscape at sunset. It doesn’t exactly scream Christmas, and I’m afraid it is important to me that our house in December should scream Christmas. So, to get that Screaming Christmas feeling, I now create a display on top of the picture’s glass by blutacking cards onto it. This works so well I started doing it to all the glass-covered pictures all over the house. With a bit of creative manoeuvring you can’t see the original picture underneath. Ok, you might be able to see the odd bit of original picture but this guide is not meant for perfectionists, whom I would direct to the safe, loving attentions of Kirstie Allsopp instead.

Top lazy cheat

As a great fan of lazy cheats, I’m proud to have found one of my own. A few years ago I bought a lovely glass Christmas candle lantern decorated with a wooden reindeer. I decided it was too nice to keep only for Christmas, but I didn’t want the reindeer staring at me all year long. I reasoned that if I turned it round, no one could see the reindeer and would be none the wiser.

Then I applied this logic to cushions. Last Christmas I sewed some scraps of fabric onto plain cushions in the shape of holly leaves. I was planning to unpick them in January, but then thought, why bother? Why not just turn them round too? Granted, this isn’t a method for everyone; some people might get the vapours if an untrained family member happened to inadvertently turn a cushion round to expose (gasp) holly in July, but this guide is only for the very lazy and seasonally-liberal. Life’s too short, isn’t it?  You’re welcome.

Now if only I could work out a way to keep the tree up for the other 11 months of the year…

However you choose to celebrate – enjoy. It’s Christmas!

Julie Halford

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