What will you be doing to have a more eco-friendly Christmas this year? Here are some fun and simple ways to green your Christmas and enjoy a more low-key, family-focused festive season.
I have so many fond memories of Christmas as a child. I remember days in my grandparent’s backyard, running around with all my cousins, the table – set up in the garage because the house was too small to fit us all – groaning with the weight of food. In my memories, the sun was always shining. I remember the excitement of presents, but not what they actually were – with the exception of my first 10 Speed bike!
Christmas is easily defined by its traditions: eating roast dinner and Christmas pud, sending greeting cards, decorating the tree, hanging Christmas stockings, putting out cookies for Santa, buying presents. If asked, most of us would say that the best thing about Christmas is being with family and friends.
But somehow, in our busy lives bombarded with advertising, it’s easy to forget that and in fact start thinking that Christmas is really about the presents. For many, the financial stresses of Christmas can be hard, with the added pressures of what work seems to expect us to deliver by the start of the Christmas holidays.
The easiest way to green your Christmas is to keep things simple. Focus on family, and make it about spending time with your children, not spending money. Reinvent the traditions in a way that suits you and your family’s values. A summer Christmas makes this easy. Make it about being outdoors enjoying the sunshine, with fresh garden-sourced meals and memories full of adventures. And a Christmas that’s easier on the environment ends up being easier on the pocket too!
While it might be hard to make a whole lot of changes at once (especially ones that involve long-standing traditions), even making one or two changes can make a big difference.
Here are a few ideas you can choose from to create more eco-friendly christmas traditions:
Green your tree
Buy a living tree in a pot. Use it for several years, then plant it in the garden when it gets too big to carry inside. If you live in the coastal north island, why not make it a pohutukawa – New Zealand’s iconic Christmas tree? You won’t even need to decorate it, as its brilliant red blooms do the job for you. In many places, pine trees are an unwanted weed. Volunteer for a ‘no green needles’ wilding pine project – and take one home at the end of the day.
Green your lights
Choose LED lights to wrap around your tree. This reduces carbon emissions and energy costs.
Green your tree decorations
Start an annual tradition with your children of making a new tree decoration each year. It’s a great way to spend time together and it makes your tree uniquely yours. Each time you get the decorations out to dress the tree, you unpack a box of happy memories.
Green your Christmas cards
Send e-cards to long-distance family member’s inboxes rather than their letterboxes. Or make your own cards from recycled wrap and cards you received the year before.
Green your Christmas dinner
Eating is a big part of celebrating Christmas. I think we all have been guilty of eating too much on Christmas Day … and the day after… Many of you may find this idea a little hard to swallow, but probably the quickest way to green your Christmas dinner is to do away with the traditional roast.
The animal farming industry is a big contributor to greenhouse gases and a large consumer of precious water resources. Instead you can take advantage of summer to enjoy Christmas dinner outside with a simple picnic. Eat in-season, local produce sourced from farmer’s markets or perhaps your own garden. Choose food products with minimal packaging. Instead of bags of mini Santas wrapped in foil, buy chocolate moulds and make your own.
Green your gifts
- Buy large items like bikes second-hand; children grow out of these so quickly.
- Make gifts – children love to do this. Preserves and jams; biscuit and chocolate truffles. Picture frames and paintings for Grandma.
- Give non-material gifts. Most of us don’t need more ‘things’. Think about buying experiences instead: restaurant vouchers, tickets to a concert, cooking lessons, or take the family away somewhere special to share a wonderful experience together. (And with these, there’s little packaging to be thrown away.)
- If you are having trouble finding a gift for the person who has everything, consider giving to someone that doesn’t. Donations to a friend or family member’s favourite charity in their name are a great gift.
- Green your gift wrap too – use old drawings and paintings, expired calendars or old magazines as gift wrap. Rolled ends of newsprint paper can be stamped and tied up with string for a handcrafted look. If purchasing wrap, avoid the foils as they cannot be recycled.
make your own Christmas crackers
* Toilet rolls
* Recycled gift wrap or paintings
* Small wrapped chocolates or sweets, or small treasures (marbles, pencils, etc)
* Cracker snaps (found in craft stores)
* Bad jokes on slips of paper (internet is a great source for these)
* Ribbon or wool
Wrap your chosen paper around a toilet roll, secure with tape. Push the snap through so there is an even length sticking out each end. Screw the paper at one end and tie with ribbon or wool. Place your jokes, sweets or toys inside and then tie up the second end to secure the treats inside. Use stickers or cut out pieces of wrap to decorate further if you wish.
the top three toys money can’t buy
The best kinds of toys are the ones that allow for multiple use and imaginative play. And the best of these can be picked up for free in forests, beaches or your local park. All you need to do is take your children on an adventure in the great outdoors.
- A stick: the ultimate toy in the hands of an active child; a stick becomes a sword or light saber, a drawing tool or a flag, a walking or balancing pole.
- Stone or shell collections: while it’s good to encourage the “take nothing but photos” ethos, let’s face it, kids love secreting a little souvenir into their pocket. And it’s a great way to connect them with the variety and beauty of the little things in the world around us.
- Water: whether running wild in a river, stream or ocean, or confined to a bucket in your backyard, water offers hours of unlimited imaginative play.
Sarah Mankelow has worked in conservation for over 15 years, and is a mother of two nature-loving children.
More Christmas with kids from tots to teens: