I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas….

(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.

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Lichen…because lichen’s pretty cool. Plus better for Rudolf’s digestion than glitter.

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.

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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.

Ahh, wouldn’t this be lovely? A Covid-free cuppa together.

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.

Old-school snowflakes

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.

Nothing to do with Christmas. Here’s a relaxing Autumn picture to finish.

Cool Yule #2: let’s keep it simple

Traditions can be lovely things. Coming from the Latin tradere meaning ‘to deliver,’ there is something very comforting and fundamentally human about the idea of activities and customs being shared and passed down through generations; a gift of history, if you like. They give us a sense of continuity, familiarity and of who we are, a cherished sense of belonging within a family, community, nation, language or faith. Christmas, of course, is packed with tradition and I understand completely the excitement and anticipation of, for example, tasting that first mince pie or decorating a tree with bright-eyed young children. They are very special moments indeed.

However, the Latin tradere also means ‘to betray’ and I think it is a useful reminder that there are two sides to every coin; traditions are great but they shouldn’t be allowed to morph into tyranny. After all, just because something is ‘traditional’ doesn’t necessarily mean it is good or right. They are not set in stone, either. Like everything else in life, traditions change: turkey has only became popular for the UK Christmas meal since the 1950s (it was goose and game previously); mincemeat, that sweet confection of dried fruit and spices, was just what its name suggests ~ meat; carols were dances; Christmas trees were lit with candles; in northern climes, holly was the red plant material of choice, now it’s poinsettias, those ubiquitous South American hothouse pot plants (which are an environmental disaster all of their own, but that’s another story!).

For me, it’s still holly every time.

I am willing to put my hand up and admit that during my lifetime, I have been part of what has led to the current climate crisis. I can’t undo the damage that I have caused, but through changing my attitude and lifestyle and committing to a simpler and more sustainable approach, I hope at least to do some good for the future. Where Christmas is concerned, the same story applies. Yes, we had the ‘big’ Christmases; we always grew our own vegetables (and eventually, trees), did home baking, made decorations and tried to create homemade gifts that were personal and meaningful . . . but, there were still the piles of presents, the shiny wrapping paper, plastic tape and ribbon, the mountain of cards to write and send, the crackers and party poppers, the special tablecloths, the extra food bought in and a whole host of other things that, quite honestly, just weren’t necessary but we did them anyway.

Local greenery and pine cones ~ a simple, natural decoration.

Now things are very different and on reflection, I think it’s refreshing and also perfectly acceptable to stand back and think about what Christmas truly means to us and how we can celebrate this in a personal way. It is okay to break with tradition and the perceived ‘right’ way of doing things, especially if it means a reduction in the stress that so many people feel, the unfettered consumerism and the negative impact on the planet. These days, Roger and I like to mark the festive season with a midwinter feast, in line with the old Yule which celebrated the return of the sun a few days after the solstice. We send messages to close family, enjoy a long walk in a wild place, bring in greenery, light homemade candles and cook a lovely meal together. That is it . . . and it’s blissful.

Homemade beeswax candle (and festive tablecloth!)

One of the pertinent statistics from the Mintel survey 2018 is that almost a fifth of Britons find Christmas stressful because they spend it with family members they don’t get on with. Where such time together genuinely brings comfort, enjoyment, happiness and relaxation in a loving affirmation of close bonds, then it is a blessing that money can’t buy. However, if it is a case of false hopes and expectations, forced jollity, resentment and tensions in a highly charged atmosphere, then who does that truly serve? In an earlier post, I wrote about kindness; Christmas is a time for compassion and charity but they really do need to start at home. Only through loving ourselves can we love others, the rest of humanity, life and the planet, so if sitting at someone else’s table in a paper crown or listening to cheesy songs or eating Brussels sprouts or going to social functions or battling round hot shops or whatever really don’t float your Christmas boat, then just say no. It is allowed.

Roger and I no longer send cards or exchange gifts, neither do we have a tree, tinsel or turkey. We don’t own Christmas jumpers, but we do get to share in the fun of some spectacular examples . . . 😃

God jul, Sam (and nisser friends)!

What interests me is how when I share the sort of Christmas we choose to have, so many people’s reaction immediately defaults to bah, humbug! Why? The point is, we are not miserable or mean or tight-fisted, neither is our celebration of the season boring, sad or empty. Quite the opposite in fact: by paring back all the unnecessary stuff, our Christmas has become so much more meaningful. Simple, stress-free and kind to the planet. I like that very much.

Goodbye shiny paper and plastic tape: plain brown wrapping paper folded and tied with a homemade decoration is more personal and can be re-used.

Our simple Christmas doesn’t mean we forget family and friends either, we just do things a little differently. Instead of sending gifts, we agree to have a lovely time whenever we can next get together – perhaps go for a meal somewhere or a trip out for a walk or picnic, or simply enjoy each other’s company preparing and sharing food (we’re a very foodie bunch!) then playing games. It’s a lovely way to spend time together without all the added pressure and stress the festive season tends to bring. I do try to put a special gift in the post for the littlies, homemade and quirky but always something that has been made with a lot of love.

Mini stockings knitted from yarn scraps, ready to be stuffed with little chocolates and sent northwards.

For me, this is one of the beauties of doing things in a simpler, greener way, the chance to be creative without any pressure to produce or perform . . . and just to prove you can have a lot of fun, here is one of my favourite ideas. If you have a freezer (or a spell of arctic weather!), creating ice lanterns is a lovely thing to do; they are one of the most beautiful seasonal decorations and are ridiculously simple to make. Whilst traditional greenery and berries are an obvious choice for decoration, the only limit to creativity is imagination ~ it’s incredible how simple things are transformed when caught inside bright ice. The basic idea is to trap water between two freezerproof containers, stuff decorative bits into the gap and freeze to create an ice block with a central hollow for a tealight. For the demonstration photos in the following instructions I used a small plastic tub and spice pot as we are currently very short of freezer space, but for bigger versions like the one below, ice cream tubs and plastic mixing bowls are ideal; play around with shapes and sizes, there are no rules here!

To make an ice lantern you will need:

  • Two freezerproof containers, one small enough to sit inside the other with a good gap all round but large enough to hold a tealight
  • A jug of cold water; previously boiled and cooled water will give clearer ice
  • Small weights such as pebbles
  • Sticky tape (optional)
  • A poking implement such as spoon handle, knife, skewer or knitting needle
  • Decorative bits and pieces (in the lantern above I used holly leaves and berries, ivy leaves, mistletoe, sprigs of pine and rosemary, small pine cones and rosehips)

To make a lantern:

  • Place the small container inside the larger one and pour water around it, not quite to the top.
  • Place weights inside the smaller container to stop it floating completely; it needs to sit in the water but not on the bottom of the bigger container as it’s important to have a good thickness of ice on the lantern base. The trick is to weight it evenly so it doesn’t keel over!
I used a couple of pebbles and a shell as my weights.
  • With bigger containers, it can be easier to tape the edges of the smaller container to the rim of the bigger one to keep it central. Warning: I once followed instructions to use duct tape for this and spent several years subsequently trying to scrub sticky residue off a perfectly good mixing bowl! 😣
  • Gather your decorations together and sort through them, cleaning or trimming if necessary.
I foraged bits and pieces from our wood: green and brown ferns, ivy leaves, oak and chestnut leaves, Spanish heath sprigs and fallen eucalptus seed pods and holly berries.
  • Now for the fun bit! Push the decorations into the space between the two bowls, poking them down and arranging them with your tool if needed. Don’t panic if the smaller container starts wandering aimlessly off centre or the plant materials either sink or float in a clump. Have faith, this will work! What you should find is that as you add more stuff, it all settles down, the inner pot stays central and the decorations spread out. Don’t fret about organising them too much, random is good here.
I added a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme from the garden to pad things out a bit.
A reasonably transparent container allows you to check the levels of everything.
  • Very carefully, transfer the whole lot to a freezer (or similar place of extreme cold). If your freezer is anything like ours, you might need to jiggle things about a bit to ensure the container sits flat and upright. If things have moved about in transit, just gently push them back into place. Shut the door / lid and leave to freeze solid.
  • When you want to use the lantern, remove from the freezer and dunk the container in a bowl of hot water to release the ice from its mould. Gently pour a trickle of hot water into and around the outside of the smaller container to loosen it so you can pull it out.
  • If your lantern is very frosty, a quick ‘polish’ with warm water or your hand will soon have it sparkling.
  • Now pop in a tealight and you’re ready to go!
  • If using indoors, place the lantern on a shallow tray or similar to catch any ice melt. We tend to use ours outdoors (mulled wine and mince pies under the stars, anyone?) so we just plonk them down on a slate on our picnic table, a flat stone, tree stump or on the ground.

These lanterns last an amazingly long time, even in warm environments, so it’s perfectly possible to remove the tealight and put them back in the freezer for further uses. When you’ve finished with your lantern, leave it in a bucket or bowl to melt (essential if you have used non-natural decorations as they will need to be fished out and rescued / disposed of ) or just put on the ground outside or directly onto a compost heap.

By the way, this is a lovely idea to use with children, especially during a spell of really cold weather. Let them collect ‘found’ natural objects like leaves, flowers, seed pods, twigs, empty shells, feathers and so on, then freeze in small containers ~ yogurt pots are ideal. If you drape a loop of string into the water before freezing, the resulting ‘ice art’ can be hung up outside and admired. It’s a brilliant home-ed activity, there is so much science, discovery and creativity involved and it’s fascinating to watch as the creations slowly melt away. If you include a few unsalted nuts and seeds in the mix, the birds will be happy to feast on the leftovers once they’ve dropped.

So, to anyone who finds the usual trappings and traditions expensive, stressful or questionable, then I say, be the change! Drop those things that do not serve you and embrace, foster and enjoy the things that do; make Christmas your own, and let the resulting peace and joy ripple outwards to others. For many people, Christmas is a cold, lonely and miserable time because of circumstances beyond their control; instead of stressing ourselves over choice of presents or stuffing a turkey, perhaps we could be asking what we can do together that costs little or nothing and helps us to reach out and to strengthen our relationships with others and nature? Simple. Possible. Powerful. (And yes, of course you can still wear your crazy jumper! 🥰)