Growing up, I always wanted a white Christmas--there was just something magical about waking up to a blanket of snow on that special day. It was the perfect day to stay inside with all the physical and emotional warmth Christmas offered before diving into the snow and playing outside. I still hope for a white Christmas, but these days, what’s even more important to me is a green one. By a green Christmas, I don’t mean I want to see the grass instead of the snow. Instead, I mean I want one that’s still as heartwarming as those from years gone by, but a much more sustainable version of that with which I was raised.
After all, conscious parenting and the need for sustainability apply all year ‘round, including during the holidays. Raffi’s Child Honouring course includes a full section about sustainability for those who want to learn more.
“With 8m real trees in the process of being purchased this Christmas, the idea of saving one from the axe might be prompting the move to fake ones this year in the belief that they are more environmentally friendly.
But environmentalists and energy analysts would disagree. Take one
key product detail of these thousands of artificial trees – they are made of plastic. It is the manufacture of the plastic tree,
from oil, which creates most of its carbon footprint; around two thirds, according to Dr John Kazer of the Carbon Trust. Another quarter is created by the industrial emissions produced when the tree is made. They are also often shipped long distances before arriving in the shop and then your home.
A 6.5ft artificial tree has a carbon footprint equivalent to about 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions – which is more than twice that of a real tree that ends its life in landfill and more than 10 times that of a real tree which is burnt...” (Source)
I confess that I love touching paper. Books, cards, you name it; paper is practically my love language. However, as much as I love cards, they're just not worth their negative impact on sustainability.
The average letter has a carbon footprint of about 29 grams of CO2. The carbon footprint of a normal email footprint is much less, about 4 grams of CO2. (Source)
With just a couple of exceptions, we'll be sending e-cards this year.
If the idea of not sending paper cards troubles you, you can take small steps. Strike 20 names from your list. If you can’t do that, try 10. Start somewhere.
You might also like: Teaching Kids How to Protect the Earth and
As conscious as we are about sustainability the rest of the year, it’s really tempting to continue habits we’ve held onto since we were kids. Part of that, of course, is gift giving. To be clear, I’m not saying don’t give gifts. It makes sense, however, to consider the planet and our impact when we’re thinking about how to put a smile on a loved one's face.
Here are a few green Christmas "experience gifts" that people in our family have loved:
Sure, it’s fun to have something to touch; something to open. If that's important to you, there are ways to accomplish this while keeping the gifts themselves to a minimum. For example, buy a package of recycled golf balls to represent the gift to Dad and Granddad (afflinks). Choose a pretty frame for a homemade drawing from your child, or a family photo, for Mom and Grandma to represent the art you’ll see together at the museum. Find a really sweet stuffed animal for your child to represent the sanctuary.
Moreover, for whatever you do choose to purchase, buy locally whenever you can. This can make a big and positive impact on your carbon footprint.
My great grandmother was infamous for urging us not to rip the paper every Christmas morning. Now that I’m older and understand better, she was really onto something! We are reusing previous years' paper for as many years as we can make it stretch before it nearly falls to bits in our recycling bin. And once it’s gone, we aren’t replacing it. In the meantime, it still looks just as pretty as it ever did under the lights of the tree.
We also have plenty of reusable gift bags to last us many years. These work for birthdays and other celebrations, too! It's not just about having a green Christmas; sustainability works all year 'round.
We have a few large red bows (which we've given the moniker “tarantula bows” because they've existed in our family for generations and are mangled enough to show it). They look pretty terrible, but they’re actually kind of hilarious that way. We’ve all come to love them and dive to protect them if someone is handling them too roughly. Aside from these, though---which we can place strategically on top of whatever's most visible under the tree---we don't need any other ribbons or bows. Let your kids decorate the wrapping paper with markers. It's more fun, anyway, and it's a great way to involve them.
Choose more sustainable products instead of conventionally manufactured ones. Gifts made of natural and renewable materials are best by far. Many are specifically marked for sustainability. If you shop locally, make sure to ask your merchants for the sources of their products.
Just the other day, my six-year-old said to me out of the blue, “Do you remember that year I got my jungle gym for Christmas? It was so big — I didn’t even think there could be a present under blankets like that!”
That Christmas was three years ago, and it stuck with her half her life. Rather than lots of little presents (which, as much as we hate to admit it, might not be entirely memorable), consider a single big gift that will last for years. That's a much more sustainable option. We've never regretted having done this when we could. Similar fun and big ideas to the jungle gym would be a bike, a play house or a trampoline.
Buy fewer gifts; make them count.
For those of us who have a history of having more leftovers than we can freeze / turn into soup / repurpose into another meal somehow, consider revising the meal plan. Many grocery stores will sell partial portions of their "big serving" options if you simply ask. Downsize the meal plan to fit your family. No need to buy more than you need just because it's Christmas.
If you do end up buying more than you need, find a place to donate your excess. There are many hungry people at Christmastime and throughout the year.
More importantly, however, it's one that focuses on the true spirit of the season.
I'm fully aware that I'm writing this from a place of privilege compared to most of the world. Find a way to help others. For a bonus idea, if you're willing to forgo gifts this year and have the option financially, please consider donating what you would've spent to reputable charities who support people in need. Discuss it with your family. Make a difference not only this time of year, but whenever you can.
I'm sending you and yours all the love in the world. Happy holidays to you and yours!