I know, I know, I've said it.
The C word.
And we haven't even had Hallowe'en yet.
I'm sorry, I really am.
Unfortunately I am A) a small business owner and B) somebody who needs to plan everything I do several months in advance or else I'll stress (yes, in Uni I was that person who had the essay finished 2 months before deadline!), and so I have been thinking about Christmas for a while.
Even the most environmentally aware of us can get carried away at Christmas. It's so easy to get swept up in what we think we "need" - i.e. what we have been conditioned by clever marketing to believe we require. Stocking fillers, novelty gifts, office Secret Santa, Christmas Crackers, a new Christmas jumper every year (as though anyone would remember what you wore last year!), big expensive toys which are the latest trend according to whichever toy catalogue is pushed through your door - the list goes on.
All of this is likely to be opened, smiled at, perhaps played with briefly, then discarded - sometimes even before the day is up. Usually these items can't be recycled so are destined for landfill. A few minutes of use leading to a thousand years breaking down into microplastics that can end up poisoning our land, our seas and even getting into our food and drinking water.
Not so fun, when you think of it that way...
Even the big expensive toys are rarely loved and played with as much as the child begging for them assured you they would be (or is that just my child?!).
But what can we do about all this? Opting out completely often doesn't feel like a viable choice, especially when we have children in the family. No-one wants to be the mean Aunty who refuses to buy gifts, or the mean Dad who won't let his children have the things all their school friends are getting.
An ethical Christmas doesn't have to mean Grinchy behaviour, it just requires a little creative thinking!
1. Experiences not Things!
A gift is lovely to open but all too often forgotten or discarded. A shared experience, though, is something to remember forever. Think about tickets to an event, an annual membership to e.g. National Trust or a gallery or museum they love. Maybe they've always wanted to try out horse riding, take sewing lessons or try out an art class.
For the children in your life, a subscription to National Wildlife Trust, or a favourite magazine is the gift that goes on giving!
2. The Gift of Time
If you're strapped for cash then a gift box of smellies for a fiver is going to look a lot more realistic than tickets to the opera, but this doesn't have to be expensive. Giving the gift of time is possibly one of the most thoughtful things you can do in today's harried world.
You could make a book of "coupons" to be redeemed against things like an evening's babysitting, a homemade cake, a night out at the cinema or pet sitting. Maybe you love painting and decorating and could offer to lend a hand, or your hobby is upcycyling old furniture. You'll be sharing your skills, saving them money and spending time together. Perfect!
For children, just taking them out for an afternoon to their favourite park, or for ice cream or pizza means they get to spend time with their fave adult and will be something they have happy memories of for years to come.
3. Buy Pre-Loved
This can be a touchy subject as some people are completely against this and would be horrified to receive a second hand gift. If you know the person wouldn't mind why not have a look round your local charity shops and see what gems you can find.
For the people who might not be thrilled to receive a charity shop pressie, well, it's not unusual to find brand new things, still in their original packaging (usually unwanted gifts!) and what they don't know won't hurt them!
4. Make it Yourself
Baking a batch of gingerbread Christmas tree cookies and presenting them in a pretty tin (from the charity shop, of course), mixing up some bath bombs, or sewing lavender bags is a great way to get around Secret Santas or gifts for your child's teacher.
I love making hampers for family, filled with jams and chutneys I've made throughout the year, sloe gin or blackberry vodka, and boxes of handmade sweets.
Receiving something handmade is so much nicer and more personal than a cheap token gift.
5. Buy Mindfully
If you do have to buy something new, try to think about how much use the receiver will actually get from it. A gift for the whole family, such as a board game they can enjoy together, might bring more joy than individual gifts.
Check out the independent businesses near you - some delicious loose leaf tea from your local zero waste shop along with a beautiful hand painted cup from a local artist would make an amazing gift, and support ethical business while keeping your cash in the local economy.
I hope this will give you some ideas for a more ethical Christmas while still enjoying the pleasure of gift giving. I'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions too!
A final note: I have been 100% up for boycotting Christmas crackers this year - there are really only so many tiny pairs of nail clippers or weird flappy plastic fish that one household needs. However, literally just now while writing this post I have come across this lady who is crowdfunding an ethical Christmas cracker business! They'll be plastic free and contain pollinator friendly seeds plus the obligatory bad joke! If this is something you'd want to buy please do consider supporting her by donating whatever you can or just liking and sharing on social media. I have no affiliation to this, I just think it's a great idea!