(This blog has been hi-jacked. This is not Lis in Asturias!)
I have sat down a number of times over the last fortnight to write about a sustainable Christmas with children. Straight-forward, I thought.
It is not.
There is potential to sound like a really ungrateful, privileged, preachy kill-joy, and so I apologise profusely in advance. (It is also not easy writing anything with young children, so please go easy on me).
Like many children, Christmas forms an immensely exciting period in my little ones’ calendar. Children and Christmas is a magical combination. Plus, to be honest, we could maybe all do with a bit of Christmas cheer this year, couldn’t we? In this strange and difficult time, the idea of coming together, reaching out to loved ones and neighbours, and spreading a bit of happiness is a wonderful thing.
Yet, each year, a gnawing sense of unease grows and grows in my stomach. I don’t know if the consumption is worsening over time, or I have grown more aware of it; as we continually try to make other areas of family life more sustainable, and the environmental crisis becomes more startlingly evident. Christmas feels like an unstoppable wave of consumption, shiny plastic and waste. So far from the point.
In the non-Covid Christmas run-up there’s a stream of parties, fairs, concerts, Christmas dinners and Santas distributing presents. That’s without more recent “traditions” of advent present calendars, lights being turned on, glittery oats for reindeer, elves on shelves, Black Friday and Christmas Eve boxes. Then the day itself, and a mountain of presents. It feels like a marathon of overexcited, sugar-filled, tired and over-whelmed children; and so much stuff. I breathe a sigh of relief when we get to January. There have been Christmases in the past where the aftermath of bin bags full of packaging and wrapping has made me feel sick, and the pile of presents has been more than my children could need in a lifetime (not to mention no room to store it). It has also resulted in some undesirable behaviour and attitudes that I am desperate not to encourage.
Ok, before I go further. I realise this sounds incredibly ungrateful. I am not. My children are RIDICULOUSLY lucky to have so many wonderful people in their lives who love, and want to spoil them. I also appreciate that too much fun and too many presents is hardly a “problem”, when so many people suffer true hardship. This topic is tricky to navigate, but all the more reason to try and create balance.
My own favourite Christmas memories involve things like Christmas baking with my Mum, choosing a tree with Dad, seeing extended family, playing board games, Christmas carols, nativities and yummy food. Yes, of course I was excited about presents, but I can hand on heart say that a bigger pile wouldn’t have made Christmases any more special, and I think the same applies to my children.
The following are statistics for the Christmas period in the UK, found here: https://www.gwp.co.uk/guides/christmas-packaging-facts/
We generate about 3 million tonnes of extra waste over the Christmas period. We waste:
- 125000 tonnes of plastic food wrapping
- £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents (into landfill)
- 8 million Christmas Trees
- 500 tonnes of Christmas lights
- 108 million rolls of wrapping paper (we use 227000 miles each year, an average of 4 rolls per household).
- 40 million rolls of sticky tape
- 54 million plates of food
- 1 billion Christmas cards – the equivalent of 33 million trees
- Two-thirds of people throw away part of the 10 million turkeys we buy
- 7 out of 10 people admit over buying food
- 14% of people bin their fake Christmas tree each year
- We use 189 million batteries
Earth Overshoot Day fell on 22nd August this year. This is the day when humanity’s use of resources outstrips what Earth can replenish in a given year. We are well beyond this by Christmas.
Between April and September this year, the Trussell Trust website states they provided 1,239,399 emergency food parcels to people in the UK. 2,600 parcels daily for children for the first 6 months of the pandemic.
Microplastics seem to be everywhere.
We are seeing more bush fires, flooding and droughts – most likely a result of climate change, and some of the poorest communities are already suffering due to climate change (despite being the least contributors to the problem).
Irreplaceable ecosystems such as the Amazon are being burnt to grow soy and rear cattle, and rainforests in places like Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations – to feed our consumption (yes, this includes us in the UK). There are also plenty of incredibly sad environmental issues closer to home.
So. What to do? I haven’t got all the answers! We are most certainly not perfect, and any suggestions very much appreciated here, but these are some of the things we’ve tried so far:
First, I was worried about doing this: I talked to family members about maybe downsizing presents. Thankfully everyone seems to be understanding. I had moments of guilt where I worried I was being some overbearing Victorian character, depriving my children and potentially seeming like an ungrateful grouse to my family. Maybe we’d end up with NO presents under the tree. The children would cry. I’d have to explain that I’m actually the Grinch. In reality everyone understood in their own way, and happily, recent years have been far less overwhelming.
No competing – I don’t try to keep up and Santa doesn’t try to keep up with the most generous of gift givers.
Making gifts/cards. Now, I don’t have any photos of this. Crafty, bakey sessions in this house are nothing like those beautiful wholesome snaps you’ll find littering the internet. It. Is. Utter. Chaos. My children love it though. I think with time (I hope) the mess, the melt downs, and the oven not cooking things fast enough will be forgotten, and these are the moments we’ll look back at fondly. My children are always so proud of their creations, and so excited to give them to grandparents, cousins, friends etc. They look nothing like those arty online photos, but they are made with love.
Give to charity. We’re filling a shoe-box for Help Our Homeless Wales, plenty of local charities, foodbanks etc look for donations over Christmas.
Alternative advent calendar. I saw a lovely idea a while ago, where you write down an act of kindness to do each day – smile at someone, put a coin in a charity box, leave some seeds/a piece of apple for the birds etc.
Buy second-hand. Here, Father Christmas does his shopping in charity shops, local buy and sell/swap groups, and online auction sites. (Plus local food shops). No-one has filed a complaint. Once, a book arrived in a stocking (that was a second), it turned out that the cover had been put on upside down, so when biggest-littlie opened it, the pages were the wrong way up. After a moment of confusion, we hypothesized that maybe it was an elf playing a silly trick – this resulted in lots of giggles and the book thought no less of.
Buy second hand for other people’s children. Felt weird about this initially, but have established with a few like minded people that we are all happy with this (we had no problems receiving second hand toys/books etc at all, just felt uneasy about giving them).
Give time – last year my children’s gift from their cousins was a swimming trip with them. For my smallies as toddlers, a trip to the park, feeding ducks, or playing silly games with a loved one would be the best present ever!
Buy less but better – opt for more sustainable options.
Adults – many of the adults in my family have decided for a while that we won’t do presents, this really takes the pressure off. Previously we have tried things like a £5 limit and a secret santa between us.
Take part in community events, call in on neighbours, maybe bake them some mince pies. Sadly not a great year for this.
Nurture that cosy feeling, like the Danish hygge……wrap up warm and go outside to star gaze (if fortunate to live somewhere with no light pollution), or maybe go for a walk to spot Christmas lights, go for a wintery wander in the woods together – preferably with a warm flask, share a coffee with a loved one, dim the lights, cosy up under a blanket and drink hot chocolate. That kind of thing.
Decorations – we have some second hand wooden ones bought years ago. They will last us a lifetime, and if the Christmas “fashion” changes then so be it. We make a few things – mainly involves being creative with bits of hedge and lots of paper snipping. Paper chains are fun if you can track some down.
Odds and ends. We don’t do crackers etc. Wrapping – I hoard last years’ wrapping to reuse and any bits of tissue paper that make their way into our house. If necessary, plain brown paper is effective, economical and can be composted at the end of it’s life – sadly haven’t seen any recently not sold in cellophane. If you scrunch up paper and it unfurls by itself then it can’t be recycled, glitter is actually evil plastic micro particles – I avoid like the plague. Paper tape is great. Old cards make good tags.
We eat local, sustainably produced food, don’t over-buy and waste nothing.
Continue watching other areas of life – electricity use, heating, etc.
So, there we go. We are not perfect, but I hope we can find a balance. A balance between keeping Christmas magic alive for little imaginations, but also eliminating a lot of consumption and destruction. Hopefully with more meaning, kindness and love along the way.