WORDS KAREN LOCKE PHOTOS HONEY ATKINSON
It has begun. In fact, it crept up on us almost two months ago now. First you spy a few oversized decorations, then the shelves start filling with the latest and greatest must-have gadgets… then one day you walk into your local shopping centre to an assault of plastic Christmas trees and American Christmas carols. Ugh.
Now, if you’re anything like my extended family you’ll be thinking ‘great, here comes the fun police…’ and will have already started rolling your eyes. But I promise I’m not here to bum you out. I’ll leave it to articles like this one full of seriously uncomfortable truths about pathological consumption to do that (definitely worth a read!).
In all honesty though, I love Christmas. Actually let me clarify. I love the part of Christmas that’s all about taking a well-earned break from work, and spending quality time with friends and family.
Sadly, it seems that’s not what Christmas is about anymore. Somehow, over the past few decades, Christmas has morphed into a massively over-commercialised, ecologically rapacious beast. Over-spending, over-eating and over-consuming has become the new norm.
Even the most conscious of consumers amongst us can undo much of the good that we’ve done throughout the year when Christmas rolls around. Our culture of consumption enables and indeed, encourages us to purchase things without considering the consequences of any of our bad choices.
In case you need convincing of this over-consumption and it's affect, this is a great 20 minute video to watch on The Story of Stuff. It really puts things in perspective. Seriously, watch it! And then nag all of your friends and family until they've watched it too.
While I'm far from perfect, our family strives every year to make conscious, sustainable choices during the festive season. I've listed just a few ideas on this below. If you have any that you think we should add, please let us know!
We're hopeful that you will join us in ditching the consumerist culture this Christmas - and share it with us! Tag your photos #wwffchristmas so that we can share them with our community too.
Here’s some good news to get you started. By choosing organic, locally sourced ingredients you can make a big, positive impact at Christmas time. This is the time of the year when people indulge and eat a lot more than normal, so your choices can have a serious impact on the environment and on your local community. To make sure that impact is a positive one, simply follow three steps:
- Buy local, sustainably grown food wherever possible.
- Limit how much you buy to avoid food waste.
- Ditch the disposable plates and cutlery.
Say no to artificial trees. While you may be able to use them year after year, they cannot be recycled and once in landfill, they pretty much never degrade. Not to mention that they're usually made overseas and therefore need to be transported here.
We have an artificial tree that we purchased about 11 years ago now and it’s (surprisingly) still going strong, so we’ll continue to use it for now. But it’s a purchase I regret and I’ll never buy one again.
So what’s the alternative?
- Buy a live tree from a responsibly, ethically farmed tree farm.
- Choose a tree that you can plant in your garden after Christmas.
- Buy one in a pot that you can reuse year after year.
- Get creative and make one from found or recycled materials.
Depending on what tree you choose you're going to want to decorate it – especially if you have children, because what child doesn’t enjoy this?! The best thing here is to simply avoid buying plastic ornaments from the stores and instead look to sustainable, recyclable options. Look after the decorations you already have so that they last, and if you have children, get them involved in making ornaments from found or recycled materials. Be creative with your decorations, it makes your tree much more unique and meaningful.
One of my favourite things to do at Christmas time is to make our own wreaths – what’s not to love about a good Christmas wreath?! They’re insanely easy to make and can be made using foraged items from your garden or surrounding areas that can easily be composted after the festivities are over. I usually make several in different sizes to have around our home, as well as garlands made from the same foraged items.
* A note of caution here - the current trend of foraging large bunches of roadside flowers or foliage can have a serious negative impact on our native flora. It's also illegal in some states to pick native wild flowers.
The Christmas Table
Again, foraged and collected natural, sustainable items are the best thing to decorate your Christmas table. In my opinion at least, there's nothing better than simple, handmade decorations and greenery for a festive table.
If you're using candles at your table, make sure you burn clean! Most candles sold in Australia are made from bleached paraffin, a retro-chemical by-product, and emit nasty toxic, carcinogenic smoke when burning. If you're lucky enough to have bees you could make your own, or buy from a responsible Australian producer such as Queen B.
While handmade or recycled items make the best, most sustainable gifts, we live in the real world and this is not always possible or practical due to lack of time, skills or availability. Sometimes a practical need must be met and an item needs to be bought new. In these instances, as much as possible try to remember - friends don’t let friends shop at chain stores.
All of the items from stores are made by real people – don’t forget that. If something is cheap for you, then someone else is inenvitably paying for it dearly. Seek out Fairtrade options, buy handmade, small-batch items, things made from renewable, recycled materials, and choose eco-friendly options over their mass-produced counterparts. And buy quality over quantity by choosing things that will last and are therefore less likely to end up in landfill.
As much as you can, get creative with your Christmas gifts. Here are just a few suggestions...
· While it’s harder with children, most adults appreciate a thoughtful gift such as potted plants, or food gifts.
· Gift experiences as much as possible. Usually these don't produce as much waste and result in lifetime memories, bonding and stronger connections.
· Give the gift of your time – a voucher for babysitting, mowing the lawn, cooking a meal – in a time when most people are time poor, sometimes this is the best gift you can give (especially for those of us with children who would seriously love some kid-free time!).
· If you’re buying clothes for yourself or others, ensure you find the most ethically sourced options you can, or buy second hand at an op shop. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting in the world and is often dangerous for the people who are making the clothes. Before you pick up that $2.95 Christmas shirt for the kids (yup, seriously), think about who is paying the real price.
· Wrapping paper – get creative and make your own, recycle old maps or sewing patterns that are no longer needed, or use fabric for wrapping. For a fabulous read on the environmental impact of gift wrapping and some stunning alternatives, I'd highly recommend you read this post by Ellie from Petal Plum.
The whole ’12 days of Christmas’ gift trend that has become such a big thing really drives me nuts. Stop it. You do not need to extend the Christmas gift frenzy by starting it 12 days early, as much as the retail industry wants you to think you should.
A few years ago, when my son was about 6 years old I had a ‘wake-up call’ of sorts. Watching him rip open present after present, barely stopping to really look at each gift, just seeking out the next thing …it was pretty horrifying. I knew then it was time for a mindset change.
Not only did we greatly cut down on the number of gifts our children receive each year, we also introduced a tradition of our own, the '12 Days of Giving'. Stay with me here, it's not lame (which is what my husband said when I originally suggested it).
It’s important to me that my children understand how fortunate they are, that they should consider the needs of others, and also that they experience the joy that can come from giving. We have a list of 12 things that we do in the lead-up to Christmas day (which I sometimes move forward if we’re going away for the holidays) and the kids really love these activities. Our list changes a little each year, and I'll post soon with our list for this year to give you some ideas if you'd like to try it.
THE SEASON FOR JOLLY
The Christmas season can be stressful, filled with a marathon of events, shopping, cooking and visits from extended family. Make it a priority to balance your time, prevent overwhelm and allow yourself to say 'no'. You do not need to go to every party. Being rushed leads to compromises, impulse buying and poor purchasing decisions that you’ll likely regret.