A more sustainable Christmas?

According to the Australian National Retailers Association (ANRA), Australians are expected to spend $29.6 billion this Christmas. That’s $1270 for every adult, child and baby in the country!

In the mainstream media, this is presented as great news. Take the language in the ANRA media release that was the basis for most media reports:

The positive projection follows five months of increased retail figures gains and is a welcome improvement from compared with previous years…

Consumers are starting to feel just that little bit better about spending…

It’s going to be a merrier Christmas for Australian retailers this year…

It’s one of the few times of the year when shoppers just want to get out [to bricks and mortar shops] and feel the atmosphere of Christmas.

Is this really great news? The environmental impact of all that extra stuff, the extra landfill, the extra plastic is huge. Is it really going to make us any happier? In fact the extra debt can be very stressful for some people. Surely we need to rethink how we celebrate this season of excess.

The Story of Solutions (the latest video from the people who created the Story of Stuff) suggests it’s time to change society’s goal from MORE to BETTER. The goal of more stuff and continual growth is leading us down very dangerous paths. We need to focus on better quality of life, better environment and better distribution of resources.

At our latest Transition Newcastle meeting, we held a World Cafe exploring how we can celebrate a more sustainable Christmas.

How do you feel about Christmas?

We started with a conversation around “How do you feel about Christmas? What are you looking forward to? What are you apprehensive about?” Many of us have mixed feelings about Christmas: we enjoy parts of it, but dread other parts.

Some of the positives included:

  1. ChristmasGetting together with family and friends
  2. The excitement and magic, particularly around children
  3. A seasonal pause and it’s like the machine stops for one day (e.g., most businesses are shut)
  4. Holidays and being able to relax
  5. Celebrations and parties
  6. Pancakes for breakfast! (and other food)
  7. Cooking for loved ones
  8. The Samaritans Christmas lunch (a dinner for everybody but with a particular focus on those who are alone or are experiencing hard times).

The downside of Christmas includes:

  1. Over consumption
  2. Waste – food, packaging, unwanted presents, etc.
  3. Unwanted obligations and routines
  4. Being a difficult time for many people, highlighting relationship tensions and the loss of family/loved ones
  5. Stress – time, expectations, choosing gifts.

How can you make your Christmas more sustainable?

One of the people at the World Cafe  said that when he told his children he was going to a discussion about a more sustainable Christmas, his 12-year-old son said sarcastically, “Great! That means handmade presents.” And proceeded to throw a pretend tantrum. While the son was joking, does a sustainable Christmas have to be boring and one of deprivation? Certainly not according to the group. Some of the ideas for gifts included:

  1. Give an experience (e.g., tickets to a show, ice-skating, the bridge climb) rather than stuff
  2. Support local markets or small independent businesses (rather than large corporations)
  3. Buy quality rather than quantity
  4. Give second-hand gifts
  5. Give a gift to an organisation (e.g., a chook to an urban farm, a water well through Oxfam)
  6. Give IOUs (e.g., a day’s help in the garden, a meal)
  7. And yes, even create handmade or homegrown gifts.
Riberry lilly pilly

Riberry lilly pilly

There were also a range of suggestions for other individual  and community actions:

  1. Avoid shopping centres and limit shopping trips
  2. Boycott plastic bags and plastic in general
  3. Use a real tree (maybe a Riberry lilly pilly) and make your own decorations, rather than buying plastic ones
  4. Have a meatless (or even raw) Christmas dinner
  5. Resist excess in gifts, decorations, food, etc
  6. Add meaning to celebrations and create new rituals
  7. Create a Christmas map of where to shop for more sustainable gifts and produce.
  8. Have a post-Christmas party in the street where everyone brings their left over food.

Changing the game

Changing the game plan can be very challenging. Christmas is generally a time when many of us come together with extended family. We might want to change how we give presents, change what we eat and reduce our ecological impact. Not everybody might agree.

This is a complex problem but there are many ways we can make a difference. By asking questions, discussing the issues and suggesting alternatives, we can begin to change the game from MORE to BETTER.

Please share your ideas for having a more sustainable Christmas and how you negotiate one with your family and friends.

Tricia from little eco footprints gave some great ideas to start the evening. You can see her suggestions for how to declutter your Christmas here.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

  1. Christmas Stuff
  2. 10 ways to reduce your consumption
  3. Consumption and the Transition movement
  4. Parenting for a better world
  5. Transition Streets Challenge – comments from coordinators

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Environmental sustainability, Social change and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A more sustainable Christmas?

  1. Reblogged this on Foot for Thought by Footprints Harvest and commented:
    At this time of year we are bombarded with an onslaught of advertising about Christmas. The commercials focus on a “buy this” mentality in order to create happy “family and friend” time. However, do we need to hit the big box stores to create Christmas? “”Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!” (The Grinch). What is we all made one goal to consume and waste less? Little steps by a lot of people to
    “lighten our Footprint on the Earth” (http://www.footprintsharvest.com


  2. tricia says:

    Those expenditure figures are so depressing (and obscene).

    Nice summary of Tuesday’s discussion. Thank you for having me. T


  3. Anonymous says:

    A few weeks ago my husband suggested we buy people second hand gifts from op shops, and while we know not all of them will want that, we’re going to try it for a few and definitely each other.


  4. I just received the Eco Advocate from Lake Macquarie Council and noticed some suggestions for making “the season sustainable” (If you go to the link at the end of this comment, you will find the links for webpages mentioned in the suggestions.)
    Gifts with love – Avoid shopping madness, and introduce a gift-giving tradition that embraces homemade, locally made, second hand or fair trade. The Queen of Green has some great gift ideas.
    Reusable wrapping – Minimise, reuse or totally avoid wrapping paper and disposable items. Wrap presents in something reusable like a t-shirt, sarong or tea towel.
    Choose sustainable seafood – If prawns are on the menu, the Sustainable Seafood Guide recommends haul-caught School and Bay (Greentail) prawns as the better choice.
    Love Food Hate Waste – Plan your festive feast to reduce food waste and save money at Christmas. See Love Food Hate Waste for tips on serving sizes, storing food and using leftovers.


  5. Hi Margaret
    There is certainly an irony in Christmas becoming such a celebration of excess given it’s roots.


  6. Margaret says:

    Our church is looking at the Advent Conspiracy, which is talking about the same sort of things and putting the focus back on Christ in Christmas.


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