How can we participate in this magical, and much-needed holiday period without falling prey to the excess? For a while now, I have been aware of the consumerist trap that Christmas has become. For many middle class and affluent families, Christmas has become less about the true spirit of the holiday and more about excessive gift giving and indulgent overeating. Shops and corporations benefit, families go into debt and a lavish lifestyle becomes the standard to which everyone aspires. The tragic truth is there simply aren’t enough resources in the world for every person to live the ways of the wasteful rich and middle classes, and not even for the rich and middle classes to continue living lives of excess. As it stands we are already using the resources of 1.7 earths. And this has to change. We need an overhaul of our consumption habits. So, here are some of the ways I am trying to celebrate in a simpler and more sustainable way:
This year we have planned a road trip up the coast before we will meet my family at a game farm in Limpopo. We chose to road trip considering the fact that is more cost effective and lower in emissions than flying. I have also made a concerted effort to research all of the places we are stopping at to ensure they practice responsible tourism. Whether it be their waste management practices or the fact that they are completely community owned, I believe in choosing tourism establishments that are good for environment and their surrounding communities. There are so many other ways to tread lightly while travelling. Some of which can be found in this this article Top tips for Sustainable Travel.
Last year at Christmas time my partner, sister and I teamed up to make gifts that could be enjoyed by everyone. We opted for consumable products like face oils, body balms, infused olive oils, granola and baked goods. My family was so touched by the fact that we had taken the time to make their gifts that they were inspired to overhaul how we celebrate. This year we’re all making gifts for one another. Granted, making gifts is not the only option, nor necessarily the most sustainable option, for that matter. There are many gifting options which can be found in this article Gift Guide for a more Sustainable Festive Season.
Many Christmas decorations like tinsel and crackers are disposable, not recyclable and end up in landfill. Not to mention Christmas trees made from plastic or from actual trees which have been cut down. At the office we use a small beaded wire Christmas tree that we bought from a local trader a few years ago. Considering how we care for it, this tree will last us for years to come. When I am with my family this year, we will use fallen branches and pieces of string to make and hang up a small Christmas tree on the wall and decorate it with any decorations we already have.
How many of you don’t feel overfull, unhealthy and promise to give up drinking and to diet? Besides overeating over the festive season, there is often unnecessary food-use and waste. I have committed to being healthy this festive season. I will avoid food waste by buying less and cook utilizing common ingredients and incorporating left overs. There is also always the possibility of donating your food to anyone who is hungry before letting it go to the bin (and don’t forget to compost!) The source of our food is also so important to consider. Eating locally sourced food and maintaining a diet that is more plant-rich is an easy way to make the festive season more sustainable. If you’re set on that Christmas turkey, it can already make a big difference to simply reduce the amount of meat and dairy consumed over the holiday period, even if you are not keen to cut it out completely.
Festivities are times of excessive single-use. Think of items like tin foil, single use plastic, crackers and wrapping paper. Try to avoid using as much single-use as possible. When I can’t avoid plastic, I try go for items that are commonly recyclable. But for all those pesky bits you can’t avoid, keeping an eco-brick in the car or in the kitchen is a great way to help keep those items contained so they don’t end up in landfill, or worse – the ocean. I try to use second-hand wrapping paper, old gift bags or old newspaper or magazines as wrapping paper. If you really want your presents to look the part; there’s a reason why brown paper packages tied up with string made it into a song about Julie Andrews’ favourite things: Brown paper is far easier to reuse or recycle and string is easy to reuse.
Being with family for Christmas gives you the perfect opportunity to initiate necessary and meaningful conversations about consumerism, climate change, reducing packaging or meat consumption, social issues… or telling each other how much you love each other. Holidays don’t need to be about excess, they can be about togetherness, growth and being kind to each other and to the planet.
*My critique of Christmas capitalism might make me sound like a class-A “Uncle Scrooge”. I must disclose that the intention of this column is not to suggest we cancel Christmas, rather that we embrace more sustainable ways of celebrating.