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.
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:
- Getting together with family and friends
- The excitement and magic, particularly around children
- A seasonal pause and it’s like the machine stops for one day (e.g., most businesses are shut)
- Holidays and being able to relax
- Celebrations and parties
- Pancakes for breakfast! (and other food)
- Cooking for loved ones
- 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:
- Over consumption
- Waste – food, packaging, unwanted presents, etc.
- Unwanted obligations and routines
- Being a difficult time for many people, highlighting relationship tensions and the loss of family/loved ones
- 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:
- Give an experience (e.g., tickets to a show, ice-skating, the bridge climb) rather than stuff
- Support local markets or small independent businesses (rather than large corporations)
- Buy quality rather than quantity
- Give second-hand gifts
- Give a gift to an organisation (e.g., a chook to an urban farm, a water well through Oxfam)
- Give IOUs (e.g., a day’s help in the garden, a meal)
- And yes, even create handmade or homegrown gifts.
There were also a range of suggestions for other individual and community actions:
- Avoid shopping centres and limit shopping trips
- Boycott plastic bags and plastic in general
- Use a real tree (maybe a Riberry lilly pilly) and make your own decorations, rather than buying plastic ones
- Have a meatless (or even raw) Christmas dinner
- Resist excess in gifts, decorations, food, etc
- Add meaning to celebrations and create new rituals
- Create a Christmas map of where to shop for more sustainable gifts and produce.
- 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.
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