Planning for a Green Christmas

It’s easy to get drawn in by the hype of marketing and societal expectations and to adopt a “what the hell, it’s only once a year,” attitude. If you are committed to ethical living (working to reduce your ecological footprint) you can avoid this “seasonal collapse” through making a few key decisions well before the “mania” of the holiday season .

What Can You Do to Cut back on “Rubbish”?

Three areas of potential excess at Christmas are present-giving, preparation of the festive meal, and providing extras, such as greeting cards and decorations. All of these tasks can be approached in a spirit of creativity and being light on the planet.

In her book How to Survive Christmas (London: Transworld, 1986), Jilly Cooper notes the guilt and panic that often surrounds Christmas shopping. She observes that presents may be bought for reasons such as attempting to compensate for not “being there” (for example, because of work commitments) at other times of the year. Is this the best approach to the problem? To reduce wasteful gift-giving, the first tip is to make each present a mindful one.

What you choose is also important. Will the present last., or is it likely to wind up in landfill within a few months? Recycled presents, and services such as beauty therapy sessions or baby-sitting, are earth friendly alternatives. Making a gift from materials available in your home or the natural environment can nurture your creatvity while allowing you to be generous.

If you choose to buy your presents you may wish to consider their source. Ethical shopping involves being able to relate to the person (however far away) who created the product. Green options would be buying from a local craftsperson, or selecting a Fair Trade gift to support people in the developing world.

Preparing the Christmas lunch or dinner is a great pleasure of the season and can be a highlight of an earth-friendly celebration. Plan to focus on the company, rituals such as candlelighting, and preparing fresh in-season food that will make family and friends feel satisfied rather than over-indulged. The issues raised in the article Learning to Eat Mindfully , such as avoiding animal cruelty, are equally valid for festive occasions.

This may even be the year for a vegetarian or vegan Christmas dinner. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the United Nations, has remarked that meat-eating has increased fertiliser production, pollution, and the emission of greenhouse gases to dangerous levels. (The Dominion Post, Wellington). He suggests giving up meat even once a week to help save the Earth.

The opportunity to make greeting cards and decorations can be a great spur to creativity and a good family-focused activity for people with young children, particularly if materials are found or gathered from outdoors. Cooper suggests focusing greeting card efforts on elderly or isolated individuals who may not receive many, rather than working to an automatic list of people you may have little connection with.

The Christmas tree is the most important decoration for many families. An ecologically-conscious choice is to use a living tree or potted plant rather than one cut for the holiday season.

How Will You Manage Christmas Travel?

Travelling at Christmas can be a nightmare, with the expectations of family pitted against crowded flights, traffic jams and the possibility of bad weather delays. Is it important that you make your trip during the holidays, or would it be more meaningful at some other time? In The Little Green Handbook (Melbourne: Scribe Publications, 2005), Dr. Ron Nielsen notes that about 20 per cent of global energy is used through transport. Road and air travel also make a significant contribution to carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. If you must travel, you may consider strategies such as using a fuel-efficient car or purchasing credits (offered by some airlines) to offset your carbon footprint.

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