All year we’ve been told that the current climate emergency means that we need to say goodbye to business as usual, that we cannot keep living as we currently do if we want the planet to still be habitable beyond the next 10-15 years. In a lot of ways, Christmas is the exact opposite of sustainable living. Christmas is about eating too much, giving presents, sparkly things, buying stuff, spending too much money and general rampant consumerism. It’s also about tradition. It’s a festival dedicated to doing things because that’s how we’ve always done them. This can mean everything from hanging the 20-year old Christmas decorations that your parents bought the first Christmas they were married to boiling up a big pot of Brussel sprouts even though nobody will eat them. Obviously some traditions are more ecologically sound than others. But this Christmas, for the sake of the planet, let’s embrace change and do things differently.
In that spirit, here are my tips for a greener Christmas. None of them have the power to turn the tide on climate change but they are still a step in the right direction. Individual action is not going to solve the problem but it’s still worth doing. A little bit less plastic in the sea or a slight lower carbon emission is a good thing. We can all do better. At the same time, change is hard and we live in an imperfect world so it’s important to be kind to yourself if you slip up sometimes – it not possible to be perfect all the time. The trick is to keep trying.
Hope is a radical act and doing something is always better than doing nothing. The situation isn’t hopeless just yet – we still have time to solve the climate crisis.
These tips are not just about green living and sustainability. Most of them will also save you money and give you an opportunity to get one over on our capitalist overlords. There is a certain satisfaction to be had from turning your back on all the consumer nonsense and just thinking to yourself “No, I don’t want to buy a chocolate orange panettone. And you can’t make me!”
Avoid bringing excess plastic into your home
It may be too late for this one, but skip the advent calendar this year, especially those beauty calendars which are full of tiny plastic bottles of stuff you’ll never use. They are a perfect example of something we’ve have been tricked into thinking we need. We need to stop buying them so companies stop making them because they really are just a giant pile of single use plastic.
Do a reverse advent calendar instead and put something into a box every day in the run up to Christmas and then donate it to somewhere like Inner City Helping Homeless or the Capuchin Day Centre during the week before Christmas.
Giving green gifts
Aim to buy less this Christmas and give homemade gifts or experiences instead – cook someone a meal, offer to babysit or give tickets to a play. Vouchers may be boring but they let people buy something they actually need and will use. Vouchers from TheTaste are a good present that doesn’t involve giving stuff.
If someone tells you that they don’t want any presents this year, whether it’s because their house is too full of stuff or because the planet is dying, respect their wishes. Warn them that you are going to take them at their word, give them a chance to change their mind, and then do what they ask and don’t buy them anything. If you truly believe that Christmas is a time for giving and if feels weird to not get presents for people, there are lots of charities collecting presents for those who need a little help this Christmas. Inner City Helping Homeless are doing a fill an Xmas truck appeal, and Bang Bang cafe in Phibsboro are collecting gifts for children living in Direct Provision.
There may be people in your life who you have to buy something for and you know a voucher or homemade gift won’t cut it because they will be expecting something substantial and beautifully wrapped under the tree. If that’s the case, try to avoid buying plastic tat or gift sets all wrapped up in plastic. Books are a good alternative – they are endlessly reusable and when they reach the end of their life many years from now, they’re also mostly biodegradable. You can often get second hand books that are as good as new in book shops or charity shops.
Speaking of beautifully wrapped gifts, loads of the things we use to wrap presents contain plastic. Things like sellotape and shiny wrapping paper are a disaster for the environment. Make sure your wrapping is recyclable. There are lots of alternatives you can use from brown paper or newspaper to cloth or gift bags.
Project Drawdown puts reducing food waste at number three on their list of ways to reduce greenhouse gases. Avoid throwing out food this Christmas by only buying and cooking what you know will get eaten. Invest in some good storage containers so if there are leftovers, they can be saved for another day. Avoid food waste when you’re eating out as well by sharing side sides and desserts and not over-ordering.
Skip the selection boxes and giant tins of sweets. All the individual sweet wrappers are difficult to recycle and will last for a really long time. For alternative Christmas treats to nibble in front to the telly, think about making your own Christmas cookies or chocolate biscuit cake. Nigella has an easy recipe for Hokey Pokey (also known as cinder toffee or Crunchie). Or if you’re looking for something more grown-up, chocolate Florentines are delicious and look much fancier and tricky to make than they actually are.
Don’t forget to feed your vegetarians this Christmas. Make sure they feel welcome and included with veggie canapés and a proper vegetarian main as part of the Christmas dinner. You might not be ready for 100% veggie Christmas but even cutting out some meat dishes can make a difference.
Do you really need to buy a new Christmas jumper? You could skip the tradition in favour of buying something that you’ll get much more wear out of or maybe get together with friends for a Christmas jumper swap. This can branch out to a general Christmas clothes swap – all those fun, sparkly things that you only wear this time of year.
Spreading the word
Individual action will only get us so far so take the opportunity over the festive period to send some Christmas messages to your local politicians asking about what they’re going to do to stop climate change. We need to put lots more pressure on our government and with a general election looking likely in the new year – now is a good time to do it.
You can also aim to have a few chats with people over Christmas about the climate crisis, focusing on how it’s not all doom and gloom, and hopefully without lecturing people. Getting people interested and eager to do something will further the cause more than giving out to people and making them feel hopeless!
May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be green!