Christmas completes the circle of the year. It's a time of celebration, light, festivities and food, followed by the quiet, contemplative days up until the New Year. In this way, it makes sense that we would want to celebrate Christmas in a low waste, sustainable way that is joyous and yet doesn't endanger our future years, future generations and celebrations.
This Christmas especially marks the end of a very hard year where as a world we've all felt the tumult of a pandemic and racial violence. As we slip back into the festive season again this year, it's our opportunity to rest, to be grateful for what we still have and to have hope that the world can be better, while restoring our energy to work towards that future into 2021 and beyond.
To help you complete our 2020 circle with a joyful and sustainable Christmas, here is our guide to aspects you could be thinking about.
Decorating your home for Christmas isn't just for families with children. While fleeting and impermanent, or maybe because they're just that, festive decorations remind us that the present is worth dressing up the home for and this moment is here to enjoy. They're actually counter to a lot of what we do in this society, where we're often striving towards a better future, 'success', or a joy that's still out of reach. Decorations are firmly and intentionally for the here and now.
As you think about decorating your home, look for the possibility that's in nature. Take the time to go out where you can in your local park or the countryside and gather from the ground or just a few berries where they're abundant. A decoration to begin with is a Christmas wreath which is in itself a symbol of cycles and eternity. You can make your own out of fallen willow stems, or buy a willow base and add your own holly, pine cones and fir to it with twisted wire. You might have willow available locally, though on a quick search I found these willow bases online from a willow plantation in West Lancashire.
The tradition of the Christmas tree began before Christianity, and was a pagan tradition of bringing a tree into your home to keep the spirits that lived within warm. In the UK where other trees would have lost their leaves, evergreens were seen as sacred because of their ongoing foliage and again were a sign of the eternal and that life and spring would return after winter. That's why, if you can, see if you are able to bring home a living Christmas tree with its roots intact. Christmas tree rental is becoming increasingly popular around the UK - just do an Ecosia search for your postcode. This means you can keep a living tree and have it taken away without any waste in January. You can also choose to adopt a tree in some places and bring the same tree home each year.
Lastly, an amaryllis bulb was always a tradition in my family growing up and it makes a wonderful, natural decoration or gift. Simply plant your amaryllis or place the bulb above water and it should bloom in the warmer temperature of your home to reveal large flowers. In the depths of winter, we can begin to crave colour and growth, so even planting an amaryllis at Christmas and seeing it bloom in January will help to take you through to the start of spring. You can plant your amaryllis out later on and bring the bulb inside come autumn once it's died back again to repeat the cycle next Christmas. My grandma has a definite knack for this! She lines her windowsills with amaryllis plants that grow back taller and more impressive each year. Even if you don't have green fingers though, this is an easy one to start.
The centre of Christmas is often the delicious food we make and share. When the nights are darker, the scent of a cake baking or the absorption it takes to create a recipe helps to ground us in the present moment and make us feel at home. Last year, I definitely missed the chance to do a lot of this as Christmas is a busy time for us! I won't forget though this year as often the small pleasures in December counter the rush of the more commercial festive season. If winter is the natural season for us to slow down and reflect, then embracing slow living and seasonal treats makes sense as part of the yearly cycle of living.
If you're looking to make your Christmas more sustainable, the best two things you can do around the food you eat are to prioritise plant-based foods and organic food wherever you have the choice and the means. I think that one can supports the other here, as a Christmas with less meat naturally helps us to afford better quality food.
The reason to go plant based is that you're eating closer to the start of the food chain. For example a field of potatoes and some pots of herbs provide us with delicious roasties. On the other hand, food is grown in a field to feed a turkey that then feeds us - there's waste at each step in the chain. If you must eat meat, go for pasture-fed options as this has meant a better life for the animal and is more sustainable and alike to how grazing animals would have lived within the ecosystem. However, with 7.8bn people in the world, there just isn't the land to support the animals to feed every one of us in this way, so reducing the meat you eat will make a huge difference to your impact on soil health and our carbon footprint.
If your family has a lot of traditions and the turkey is one central part of that, a big difference you can make is eating plant-based food yourself for the Christmas meal. Last year was the first I went vegetarian ahead of my family and had a turkey substitute, with all the traditional roast potatoes and chestnut stuffing. Christmas pudding is vegan anyway and your meal can be just as good! Forward a year and seeing this and other influences has changed my family's attitudes too. My dad has gone from a die-hard Peruvian meat eater to working his way to going vegan! This will be our first year with no turkey and it's amazing how quickly seemingly set traditions can make way for better ones.
One of the challenges I've found with eating vegan food is the temptation to eat lots of processed vegan alternatives. While learning to enjoy vegetables as they are is a great thing to build on as you eat more plant-based foods, I don't think Christmas is the time to hold back and vegan alternatives can be the first step to making changes. Just keep an eye on your plastic use! You can find vegan sausages, burgers and lots of delicious foods in the freezer aisle of many supermarkets in nothing but cardboard.
The second point of sustainable Christmas eating is to go organic where you can. Vegetables are generally cheaper and so if you eat less meat, you might have a little spare money to buy better quality food. Organic food means your produce has been grown without pesticides that harm the nature around us and in a way that doesn't deplete the health of our soil. It's better for us as we don't need to peel or wash organic food so thoroughly to remove pesticides, and it's the only sustainable way to provide food. If you'd like to find out some more about this, there's a wonderful Netflix documentary called Kiss The Ground.
Last of all, think about food waste. 270,000 tonnes of food is typically wasted each Christmas and wasted food releases methane which is a greenhouse gas more harmful than carbon dioxide.
Probably my best change this year for reducing food waste has been to create an 'eat me first' shelf in our fridge (learnt from Zero Waste Week). We now make sure to put anything that is going to go off soon on this shelf - such as half lemons, dough and softening vegetables - and we try to include these in our recipes wherever we can. Anything leftover after a Christmas meal tastes delicious stir fried together or whizzed up into a creamy soup with some lentils.
And don't forget crackers for the table! I love these handmade crackers by Francesca White which are made using magazine pages. Inside, she's put treats like tealights, handmade ornaments and slices of our soap bars.
The reality of this Christmas may be that many of us can't spend the time with the people we're closest to. Sometimes on these occasions sending a card or a gift can be a symbol of love or quite literally a 'hug in the post'. Giving gifts has its place if you want to within a sustainable Christmas, and the way you give has the opportunity to contribute to our community in much wider, more long-term ways. Remember when giving - give thoughtfully, shop small and think about packaging.
First and most important is to truly think about the person you're giving a gift to and give them something that is personal. I've definitely been on the wrong side of this in the past making last-minute purchases to satisfy some 'gifting gap' and it isn't a good place to be. Rather, start coming up with ideas early before you commit. When I'm planning our eco-friendly subscription boxes, I like to create a mood board of the month the box will be sent in, what I think the recipients will be feeling and doing in that month and then I come up with lots of gift ideas to choose from. You could do something similar if you have time - where is the person in their life at the moment? How are they feeling? What are they dreaming of? How can you give them a gift that will help?
A simple way towards an individual and meaningful gift is to support a small business (if you're reading this post, you're already supporting us so thank you!) When you support a small business, you're making change as 63p from every pound is reinvested back into your community, compared to 40p from a pound with a bigger brand. This year we're supporting Holly & Co.'s wonderful #CampaignShopIndependent which is out to encourage all of us to spend what we can with small businesses. If you'd like to find some wonderful small businesses to support, I would definitely visit her Instagram and just take a look at the community commenting below, explore their shops and see if anything catches your eye. I currently have some beautiful banners from Happy Sunday Studio and baskets from La Basketry on my list!
If you would like some extra inspiration towards planning your Christmas gifts, do check out our Sustainable Christmas Gift Guide 2020 where I've put together suggestions for him, for her, for teens and the best of sustainable beauty. So many of the products you'll see on our website are made by wonderful small brands who work from home or out of workshops around the UK. It's wonderful to support them and also to have your support!
A last thought with gifts is how you wrap them. Scarves and old packaging paper can make beautiful gift wrap when combined with some pretty twine and fresh berries or a leaf slipped under the bow. You can see how I'm wrapping the gifts in our advent calendar here - I'm using brown paper from the orders we receive and it's been a great way to reduce our overall waste! If you're looking for wrapping paper, make sure to go for recycled or FSC certified paper. I recently rediscovered the artwork from my childhood friend Freya and am in love with her pumpkin paper! Remember with wrapping paper, if you can't scrunch it up, it's going to landfill, so steer clear of too much glitter and shine.
This last of all, and yet probably most important. The biggest gift you can give to yourself and to the people around you this Christmas is time - unplanned and unscheduled time. Energy is your rocket fuel and creativity is your superpower, but just like the land in winter, our minds and bodies also need to lie fallow at points during the year. Let the days between Christmas and New Year be that opportunity to rest and to be present. That way, you will begin January feeling nourished and with fresh energy.
I actually think we put too much hope in January to be a time to get up and go and to make new beginnings, when actually the darkest months of midwinter are naturally still our time for reflection. Instead, January is more-so a time of quiet renewal and, aside from festivities, the treats, winter walks and cosy nights of Christmas are the blueprint for midwinter living. In this way we can create a season that we celebrate in a way that's both sustainable and sustains us into 2021.