Whether you attend church services under a snowy roof, deck your house out with hundreds of shiny baubles and glittery light displays, or uphold your tradition of a beachside barbeque with family under the Australian sun, gift-giving is usually a large part of what makes your Christmas celebration so wonderful.
Gift-giving has been a part of Christmas celebrations since the Western Christian tradition began its life as Saturnalia, the ancient Roman Festival celebrating the Winter Solstice.
But what most people don’t consider in the mad rush to buy gifts for all their loved ones and the second cousin, three times removed, is how incredibly wasteful and meaningless it can become! While everyone loves getting a well-thought out and highly personal gift, for every great gift we receive, we also get a whole pile of stuff that we really don’t need and (often) don’t want either.
Even aside from the unwanted gifts, Christmas is, for most of us, a very wasteful time of year, what with the feasting, gift wrap, and decorating.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled fourteen ways you can return the meaning to your Christmas while reducing our environmental and social impact. The main concepts to keep in mind are to reduce your consumption where you can and keep it practical.
1. Reduce the number of people you buy for.
It can seem harsh or stingy, but if you make the conscious decision to have a low-impact Christmas and explain your decision to those superfluous gift recipients on your list, they might feel relieved that they’re under no obligation to buy for you either! Better yet, go for the game angle and implement Secret Santa where you only buy for one person in a group.
2. Offer the gift of your company.
Rather than a gift or bauble for the grandma who has everything, take her out to breakfast at her favourite local café. She’ll get much more enjoyment out of spending time with you than she would from a store-bought trinket.
3. Release your creativity and make your own.
The possibilities are absolutely endless. Preserves, soap, lip balm, or vanilla essence in recycled jars and prettied up with twine or ribbon. What about homemade Christmas tree decorations out of felt? And, of course, homemade goodies like fruit mince tarts and rumballs always go down a treat!
Related Post: How to Host the Perfect Eco-Friendly Christmas Day Lunch
4. Pass the plant.
Keen gardener? Share your green paradise by passing along some of your most successful plants as seeds and seedlings to like-minded green thumbs or those kids who really need to have a go at getting their hands dirty. A tray of veggie seedlings would be a great impetus for someone meaning to set up a veggie garden.
5. Provide your loved ones a service rather than a gift.
Who doesn’t love a good foot rub? For various birthdays I’ve given a range of handmade ‘coupons’ for things from foot rubs using homemade sugar scrubs (olive oil, sugar, and whatever essential oil you like—so simple and delightful), back massages, car washes, and house cleaning extraordinaire services. By carrying out these acts of goodwill yourself, you’re giving your loved one the gift of time, as well as more time to catch up with you. It’s a win/win! Mums like the coupon idea. A lot.
6. Donate unwanted gifts.
Nothing is worse than feeling obligated to keep a present that you really don’t have a need for—especially if it was expensive. Think leather purse for someone who’s vegetarian or vegan. Trying to sell the gift or regifting it may offend the giver; however, there are always socially beneficial ways to deal with unwanted goods. Giving to charities that support great causes, such as the Endeavour Foundation, which supports people with disabilities, is a good option. If you explain your reasoning about the ethics of keeping something you don’t need when it can have more value to someone in need, the giver is sure to understand.
7. Buy to support a cause.
Know that your dad can’t stand the thought of whaling and can’t stand up straight without coffee? Perfect—get him a gift that helps to fight both whaling and tiredness with a whale mug from Greenpeace’s online store. With a little online research, you can support your favourite causes, while giving a meaningful gift. Sea Shepherd also has a great online store featuring 100% organic cotton and hemp clothing as well as other goodies like Sea Shepherd flags. Check out more ideas for Environmental charities here.
8. Buy local.
Putting together your own gift hamper from your local independent grocers has great scope for personal touches and is practical, supports the local economy, and minimises transport impacts.
9. Donate excess Christmas food to the hungry.
Rather than let piles of great food go to waste because there is too much of it, share the Christmas cheer by donating your surplus to Ozharvest and SecondBite, who collect and redistribute your unwanted food to people doing it tough on the streets. In fact, charity towards others has been a part Christmas traditions in both the festival’s original form as Saturnalia, as well as in today’s Christmas.
10. Use eco gift wrapping
Eco-friendly gift wrapping solutions such as reusable cloth gift wraps like these ones from EcoChici, keep reusing paper wrapping and ribbons (you’re sure to have people wrap presents to you in disposable wrap, so take every opportunity to get more use out of these traditionally single-use items), and only use sustainable cards, like these gorgeous CO2 neutral ones from another Australian brand, Earth Greetings.
11. Decorate sustainably.
There’s no need to go overboard and spend a fortune on plastic decorations made under unethical conditions. Handmade is best so go explore your local Christmas market, if you need a little extra special Christmas cheer to decorate your house with. Go for a live tree or even something a bit unconventional and a whole lot cool like this wooden Christmas tree rather than buying a plastic one.
Related Post: 20 Steps to Plastic-Free Living
12. Source gifts second hand.
Op shopping can provide fantastic inspiration for Secret Santa gifts, without anything new needing to be made—in fact, you might be salvaging something destined for landfill. Plus, the item already possesses its own unique, interesting history, which is sure to please the recipient.
13. Buy eco products to share the eco love.
Of course everything we buy has an impact on our world. We can, however, choose to use our shopper dollars wisely and ‘vote’ for our eco and ethical values by purchasing products from companies that share these values. This will, in turn, increase demand for these products, rather than ones with negative impacts, shift the mindsets of others, and help create a more conscious consumer market. Check out my Eco Positive Gifts article on for more inspiration.
14. Reinvent your Christmas.
Christmas, for most of us, is essentially a special time to spend with our loved ones. So rather than getting caught up in the ins and outs of what to buy and what to eat, why not plan an outing instead. I hear the beach is lovely this time of year…
Merry Christmas to all!
Do you have something to add to my list? Share your eco and ethical ways to return meaning to Christmas in the comments below.