Christmas can be a time of overindulgence and over-consumption, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And being a little bit more mindful during the festive season won’t dampen your holiday spirit. Here’s how to have a conscious Christmas and still have a jolly old time. Ho ho ho to that!
To get this party started, we wanted to share some handy hints on how to have a conscious Christmas. So we’ve compiled some excellent ideas and great advice from the GITNB team on how we can lower our impact, and have a green Christmas.
You know the scene: a pile of unwanted presents on Boxing Day, wrapping paper strewn across the floor, tinsel drooping off trees filled with plastic, hangovers, gout. Sound familiar? If this is reminiscent of your Christmases past, remember that it doesn’t have to be this way. Life can be so much simpler without all the stuff that we’ve been conditioned to believe is ‘festive tradition’. Make new traditions, set yourself free from the faff, and get creative this holiday with these conscious alternatives.
1. No-gift gifting
Read that again: we don’t mean no gift-giving at all. Yes, you could take the materialism out of gift-giving. And instead, you could invest your time into making memories with your loved ones, especially with young children. This is the best way to embrace the Christmas spirit.
And if you want to do that: gather groups of your loved ones to go ice skating, grab an ice cream, challenge yourself in an escape room or even bounce together at a trampoline park. The idea is to put your phones away, have fun and be present, as a present. A treasure hunt using upcycled and inexpensive goodies hidden around the house can also be a great way to instill excitement and get both children and adults ‘treasuring’ all kinds of things. Use leftover coins and seashells from your travels or pass down old treasures from when you were a child yourself.
But if your family and friends can’t get on board the no gift-giving train? The alternative is no-gift gifting: gifting without actual gifts. We’ve written a whole guide on it, but here’s the skinny. Gift experiences, subscriptions, trees, or try gift swaps instead of gifting. (PS: our guide also has tips on how to have the conversation and ask for no gifts. And what to do with leftover, unwanted gifts. Check it out here.)
2. Gifts that last a lifetime
The next best thing to no gift-giving is giving gifts that will last a lifetime. A conscious Christmas doesn’t mean you have to cut out on buying anything at all. Sometimes, you or your giftee will still need to buy some big-ticket essentials. So if you’re not going cold turkey on buying gifts, try this. Invest in quality items such as cast iron pans, kitchen knives, and travel backpacks. Buy Me Once has a long list of well-researched and tested products—some of them even have lifetime guarantees. Look out for brands that not only have lifetime guarantees, but that also have easy repair mechanisms or schemes. Or buy products that are easily repairable. (Better yet, when you’re gifting it, tell your giftee about their nearest repair workshop or facility!)
Speaking of gifts that will last a lifetime and that’ll definitely be used… We’re also huge fans of Stasher. It creates endlessly reusable, radically functional silicone storage bags that are perfect for storing Christmas Day leftovers. (But they’re so versatile, we’ve even been known to use them as makeup bags!). And they make excellent stocking fillers for foodies, mums, and anyone interested in taking #LittleGreenSteps to #LiveMoreConsciously. As a rule of thumb, try to purchase gifts that are multi-functional, and ones that your giftee can get the most (re)use out of!
If you must buy gifts, try to get more conscious ones. Check out our guide to conscious gifting in Singapore and Europe. (And here’s another one for you Singapore folks, from our friends at susGain and the Modern Switch.)
3. Zero-waste daily-use gifts
Before we talk about this, here’s a disclaimer. It’s likely that your giftee has already heard of zero-waste shops. It’s also possible that they already have a number of zero-waste items. So yes, you can think about purchasing zero-waste gifts, that will definitely get use, like safety razors, collapsible water bottles, bamboo straws, and cutlery sets. But double-check that your giftee doesn’t already have one or more of these at home! If they do, don’t panic. Many of these zero-waste shops have vouchers or gift cards, that can be gifted too. That said, here are just two of our zero-waste guides. You can find shop recommendations in there, or just Google Maps to find the one nearest to you!
For folks in Europe, check out the online store Les Nanas Zero Dechets. They’ve created a range of zero-waste starter kits for a variety of situations. Perfect as starter packs for giftees who don’t have any yet.
4. Buy pre-loved gifts
There are so many secondhand stores where you can get stylish clothes that don’t cost the earth. Secondhand isn’t a perfect solution, of course, but being more conscious certainly does reduce our impact. And it’s a start. (Did you know you can also buy secondhand clothes for growing little humans too?)
If you’re in Hong Kong, check out Retykle, for pre-loved designer kid’s clothes online. (They’ve also opened a store in Singapore this year!) Check out Green Ladies too, which has four stores across Hong Kong featuring extensive collections of treasures. Its Green Little section is particularly brilliant. If you’re in Singapore, you can’t miss The Fashion Pulpit, where you can swap not shop. It’s simple; drop off your items for points to swap and in return, select new items. Or you can purchase the pre-loved items without signing up to trade. We’re obsessed. Another option is Style Tribute: for your luxury-loving friends, this is an excellent place to find pre-loved items in excellent condition for bargainous prices. And here’s a special treat for folks in France. Check out The Good Goods’ interactive map to find secondhand and eco-responsible shops across 30 cities in France.
But really, you don’t have to purchase secondhand from shops, especially if you’re strapped for cash. Your giftee will certainly appreciate a thoughtful find from a charity shop or op-shop near you. And don’t forget—preloved from your own wardrobe is also an option.
5. Give edible gifts
Food is an excellent way to the heart of your friends and family. (It isn’t just the way to a man’s heart, you know.) It’s also a great way to prevent wasteful gifts: because who’d waste good food?
Fill up reusable glass jars and give the gift of homemade treats such as candied nuts, biscotti, chocolate truffles, granola, or dehydrated fruits. You can even decorate the jars to give them a little something extra special. Looking for plant-based recipes to reduce your footprint while making treats? Check out recipes from vegan food and product review app abillion. And for folks from Singapore? Check out this vegan baker’s veganised Singaporean favourites recipes in her zine that just dropped.
And a great crossover between edible gifts and zero-waste gifts for those in Singapore? Check out Muuse‘s membership, which you can gift: it’s access to reusables at 80+ outlets across the island, even on GrabFood and foodpanda! (Gift this to your friend who has reusables but always forgets to bring it. They’ll thank you later.)
If you’re not that talented in the culinary arts? Don’t worry, there are always options. Stock up on treats from zero waste stores in Hong Kong and Singapore. Or take a peek at the Christmas hampers from The Whole Kitchen containing delicious gluten-free and vegan festive treats.
6. Beware the gift wrap
If every American family wrapped just three presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. You can imagine what that number looks like when you take into account the entire world. Luckily, there are sustainable alternatives.
Whatever the gift, consider wrapping it in reusable cloth. Try using traditional Japanese furoshiki methods, instead of un-recyclable wrapping paper. (If you’re in a pinch, look for easily recyclable wrapping paper. You know, the brown kraft paper kind: and try to avoid ones with prints or anything inked on them. That makes it more difficult to recycle.) You can also upcycle old bandanas, scarves, handkerchiefs. Or even cut up old sheets or shirts and transform them into beautiful gift wraps. Alternatively, invest in beautiful cloths from The Chief Project, a social enterprise that transforms textile waste into beautiful handkerchiefs. Quite a few ethical fashion brands also make off-cuts from garments into cloths, so remember to check your favourite brand to find out!
7. Get an eco-tree
In 2016, Singapore imported 14,300 live pine trees. The mind boggles to think about the carbon footprint from the transport and air-con to keep these trees ‘fresh’. Fashion your own Christmas tree using upcycled materials such as old wooden pallets, fallen branches, driftwood, wine bottles, or existing potted plants. There’s little that a string of fairy lights can’t make pretty. (And the unfinished, messy look isn’t too bad nowadays: people will be impressed that you even tried to put in effort.) And if you’re in Singapore and don’t want to make your own? Check out the beautifully handcrafted eco-trees from studio BTY!
This year, the UK has seen a rise in renting real trees just for Christmas to prevent waste. Sadly it’s not yet available in Asia, but spread the word to friends and family abroad. How does it work? Pick your tree from a local participating tree supplier who will deliver it to your door for Christmas. Once the festivities are over, they’ll return to pick it up and replant it at the farm. You can even continue to rent the same tree year after year. Genius!
PS: here’s a pro-tip from us to you. Do some research and find out a tree-planting service that will let you see exactly where your tree is. Instead of putting a real tree in the middle of your house for Christmas, put a picture of it up instead. That’s a conversation starter.)
8. Don’t forget to recycle!
Disappointed with the amount of waste your family produces this Christmas (despite your best efforts)? Why not encourage the family to download the Gravo app? It’s super easy to use, and gamifies and rewards your recycling efforts. Before you know it, recycling everything possible will become strangely addictive. And if you’ve splurged on too much food that would otherwise go to waste, download Olio and share food that’s going to spare with your local community. Here’s our guide to recycling in Singapore and Hong Kong, if you’re looking for more options and specific advice!
Again, recycling is far from the perfect solution, but it’s a start. Next time, try to reduce your waste instead!
9. Christmas decorations
On the dinner table, put your bad jokes and inedible plastic Christmas crackers aside for homemade fortune cookies instead. Bake cookie decorations for your tree, and make beautifully delicious cranberry and popcorn garlands! Christmas may even turn out to be more special once you have taken a step back from what high street stores are selling (with their incessantly loud holiday tunes on repeat), and remember that traditions are for you to set. So why not make them eco ones?
10. Christmas feasting
To round off our list on an ultimate guide to a conscious Christmas, here are some tips on a good ol’ planet-friendly Christmas feast.
Remember to plan ahead, as with all things. Make a list on what you’ll need, and don’t be afraid to experiment with flavours. Many have misconceptions that vegan food tastes bad, when it doesn’t, but it’s true that it’ll taste different from your traditional Christmas feast. That said, there’s so many options in the plant-based market now that making those swaps have never been easier. Our friends over at abillion reminded us that we should be wary of common Christmas foods that aren’t vegan but you might think they are. Mashed potatoes, bread sauce, or beans might look vegan, but check the ingredients! (Read abillion’s guide with more tips here.)
And if you get lazy? Don’t worry, we’ve got a guide of vegan restaurants for you to takeaway from instead. There’s no shame in putting food on the table that someone else cooked. (Especially if you’re not that great of a chef.)
FEATURED IMAGE: Monisha Selvakumar via Unsplash | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A hand with a silver bracelet holds an iPhone. The background is bokeh and blurred, but in focus within the iPhone screen. The screen, showing the Camera app opened, is about to take a video of the scene in the background. The room is lit with a blue tinge, and there is a Christmas tree with ornaments on it. Including red ribbons, sparkly bobbles, lights, etc. Around the tree are various presents, in red, gold, and white.
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