21 December 2012

Christmas: small practical steps

We have taken quite a few small steps towards a more sustainable Christmas.

Many many online sites tell me that Australians use 4000 tonnes ('25,000 trees') of wrapping paper each Christmas, although I have not been able to find the actual source of this figure, so the historian in me is tentative about it. This year I have wrapped presents either in fabric pieces and ribbons from my sewing box or decorated brown paper wrap that Eva, along with other children from our church, was involved in preparing. The kids sold it to raise money for TEAR.

I am inspired by the Buy Nothing Christmas movement, but don't want to be quite that disciplined. Our gift giving is small scale: one present each in our household and one for each of Eva's cousins we will actually see (three, this year), and then only if we think of something the recipient will really want. Better to buy something next May that they really want than give them something now just to fill a place under the tree. And no present for the baby: he doesn't need anything, and he doesn't care. Our gifts have little or no packaging (most are books). I didn't blog about gifts back at Eva's birthday, but for that round we purchased Duplo second-hand from Ebay and, among many thoughtful gifts, were particularly thrilled with the play stove made entirely of recycled materials Eva received from her aunt and uncle.

I also liked the sustainable gift ideas posted recently by Tricia at Little Eco Footprints and was inspired to make playdough for a recent three-year-old birthday party Eva attended.
Card by Eva; ribbons cut from some garments that don't need shoulder loops

Because it us super easy and quick, here is my mum's playdough recipe:

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons cream of tartar (the magic that stops it going sticky)
food colouring
disinfectant (we use tea tree oil, a hearty dollop)

Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan. Stir over heat for about 3 minutes, until it starts to stick. Knead out, with more flour or oil if necessary. Store when cool in an airtight container. Lasts for months and months. Extra oil can restore it if it dries out.

Our Christmas tree is a live potted Australian native - Adenanthos sericeus (Albany Woolly Bush) - a gift from Grandma and Grandad (thank you!). We hope to keep it alive for years to come, although we are not extremely successful gardeners. We also have several large woolly bushes in our garden and have in past years made a tree out of prunings from these.
Live trees are not without sustainability issues, but they score better on production, transport and waste concerns.
Our decorations are the same each year. This is how I grew up and it was only in recent years that I discovered people actually buy new decorations each year. I remain baffled at this trend.
Eva and her grandparents also shared making some of our decorations together. Hopefully this is one more activity that will help her understand her own resourcefulness and that she doesn't need to go to a shop and buy something for every occasion.

We are not buying or sending Christmas cards. In fact we rarely buy cards all year, and certainly not if we will be saying nothing personal inside them. I struggle to understand the practice of buying cards with a standardised preprinted greeting and then only inscribing a name above and below the preprint. When a card is warranted Eva makes it for me and I try to make sure the words inside say something about why the recipient is of value to me.

We also don't tend to receive many Christmas cards, so it seems we have something of a 'don't send me a card' vibe about us. Either that or our friends don't really like us ;-)

It probably goes without saying that we are not running Christmas lights all over the outside of our house!

Estimates say we will throw away around 35% of the roughly $10 billion of Christmas food purchased this year. We are bringing the meat for Tyson's family Christmas lunch and have ordered it from  our local corner butcher, which stocks free range and local meats, and fits with my ethos of supporting small local businesses where possible. We have attempted to order an amount we will actually eat, to minimise waste, and will be keeping and re-using any leftovers. The local butcher is more expensive than a supermarket and I am OK with that. 

Its forecast to be 40 degrees (C - thats 104F) here on Christmas day. We won't be at home much on the day and intend  to close the house up early with nothing running. From the hum in the air on hot days it seems many around us choose to leave an aircon going while they are out. If you are celebrating somewhere hot by all means run air cooling where you are gathered (we will be!) but let one aircon serve several gathered families - don't cool homes unless you are actually in them.

And as I wrote yesterday, I'm also trying to change the way we talk about our seasonal celebrations.

Just in case you are left thinking that we are miserable scrooges about Christmas, here are a few pics from our annual Christmas Baking Day, held last weekend, when we revelled in luscious, delicious, gourmet goodies and an abundance of good time shared together, before giving most of the produce away.

two thirds of this year's produce - four more bowls to come

May your celebrations be joyful, your footprint light, and your vision into 2013 hopeful.


Instructions for gift wrapping with fabric

Sustainable Christmas ideas with a few more statistics on what we use and waste in Australia at Christmas: http://www.veolia.com.au/news-media/blog/another-christmas-gone-to-waste  

Planet Ark '12 dos of Christmas' and Festive Season Green Guide - the latter is probably the best and most comprehensive link if you only have time for one.

Someone else's blog post of green Christmas ideas


  1. Nice! You should post the complete cookie selection on FB... might inspire more people :)

  2. I'm glad you liked the playdough gift idea :-)