It's the season to be jolly. However, psychological research has shown that stress and anxiety are on the rise during the festive season. This is particularly linked to mindless consumerism and the growing culture of 'want'. The shops are already heaving with Christmas decorations. As the music, the images, the adverts target all our senses, it is so easy to get swept away in this frenzy. Christmas can also be a very wasteful time. In research carried out by London Cleaning System last year, shocking statistics emerged. Did you know that 300,000 tonnes of card packaging is used at Christmas; enough to cover London's famous landmark, Big Ben, almost 260,000 times, and the amount of wrapping paper used for presents is enough to wrap around the equator 9 times? With the household waste increasing by as much as 25%, Christmas is a very unsustainable time and has a huge impact on the planet. As well as increased CO2 emissions contributing to the greenhouse effect, there is an increased strain on landfills and recycling facilities for space. Amongst this mindless consumerism, somehow it is so easy to forget the real meaning of Christmas.
Christmas is a time for joy, fun and celebration. Even for the non-religious, this can be a time of quiet reflection and a peaceful time with the family. Parents can lead by example to cultivate and nurture a spirit and atmosphere of generosity, giving and kindness. This doesn't have to take away from the joy of Christmas. Instead it will be a gentler way to approach the festive season, and holidays, and leave us replenished and recharged rather than mentally and physically exhausted. Being ethical can mean so many different things, but over Christmas it can mean to be mindful of why we are buying, from whom, and what the implications of our actions are. The three primary categories that people spend most on over the festive season are: trees, decorations, and gifts.
Here are a few ways that we could approach Christmas in a more ethical and mindful manner:
1. Trees: Research has shown that almost 6 million Christmas trees are discarded every year, and 250 tonnes of Christmas trees are thrown away alone in the UK, when they could be used for compost. A Christmas tree is such an integral part of the festivities, and the smell of fresh pine is enough to get one into the spirit of the season. The real Christmas trees, in reality, are still much better than artificial ones. The artificial trees are often made of harmful plastics and chemicals, thrown away after a few years, thereby adding to the landfill as most plastic is cheap and non- biodegradable, and often made somewhere in poor labour conditions and flown across the world. The Soil Association and Forest Stewardship Council have lists of suppliers for organic Christmas trees, to ensure that your tree has been farmed sustainably. It is best to find a local farmer, or even better option would be to grow your own or get a potted tree that can be brought indoors year after year. Try letsrecycle.com or contact your local councils that have drop off sites or they can even collect so that the Christmas trees can be converted into wood chip mulch, compost or logs for fires. You can even have handmade innovative options such as paper or cork trees which can then be recycled or reused. You can rent a Christmas tree . Or, find a social enterprise that grows trees and gives some of the money back to the community.
2. Decorations: Why not make your own decorations, and use natural flowers, mosses and foliage to decorate your home? Simple decorations such as hanging cinnamon sticks with red twine, or dried orange peel in a little herb bag over a radiator will make your home smell so festive too, and these can then be thrown onto the fire after the festivities are over to leave a fresh fragrant smell through the new year. String some popcorn with kids for draping over the stairs, and use old newspapers painted in red and green to make some paper bunting. It is easy to make your own wreath from the foliage that you can collect on your dog walks, using seasonal botanical material which is completely eco-friendly. Children can help you collect these, which will foster their connection to the natural environment, and this can be an opportunity to teach them about the different trees and plants in the local woods and parks. Connecting with nature and local surroundings have proven health benefits. Use home baked cookies for tree ornaments or make your own tradition by buying or making one ornament that can then be reused year after year.
3. Advent Calendar: Use an e-advent calendar or create your own. Second hand books can be bought from charity shops to create a 'book a day' advent calendar for each member of the family, or find articles and recipes from books already on your shelves to create personalised advent calendars. You can also buy one of these, which use a range of carefully selected recycled and upcycled items to foster and strengthen the connection that your children have with the environment and nature.
4. Gifts: Why not support a local creative business this christmas? It is important to examine the ethical credentials of the retailers that you are buying from and whether they are transparent in all their processes and supply chains. To move away from mindless consumerism and a season of excess, it is worth discussing it with close family, and setting some parameters such as maximum spend on any gifts. Think about handmade presents, that add value and are more personal to the recipient. These could include edible favourites, homemade art and craft, fair trade articles from a charity store, creative experiences, or recycled products and books. Handwritten note offering the recipient a thoughtful gesture such as breakfast in bed every Sunday for the next year, or doing the dishes, cleaning their car, could mean so much more than a commercially shop bought gift. Give a gift that encourages someone to try a new activity, enriches their life in some way, adds value, is meaningful or enable activities that encourages family time. It is also good to give a gift that keeps giving, such as planting a tree with the woodland trust, or donating to charity, which will leave a warm glow in your heart too. Isn't Christmas all about feeling good?
5. Wrapping Paper: With the excessive waste that is created by unsustainable and non-biodegradable paper, why not think of innovative ways to wrap your presents. Choose gift wrapping that can be used again, such as tin containers that can be used for storage, or tote bags that can be used for shopping by the recipient. Use old newspaper magazines and calendars from previous year to wrap your presents. You can decorate them with handprints and even make your own using stamps. Wrap presents in tea towels that make part of the present or in sheets and towels. The Japanese art of furoshiki, or knot-wrapping, is a beautiful and unique way to present gifts wrapped in re-usable fabric pieces. You can get off-cuts from fabric stores for an even more eco-friendly option.
Christmas is all about kindness, so find a local soup kitchen or christmas shelter to volunteer at. Little gestures can make this truly the season of giving.
Dr. Pragya Agarwal is the founder of thearttiffin.co.uk. 'The Art Tiffin' are art and mindfulness boxes made only of vegan, ethical and cruelty-free treats to help you find a moment for yourself amongst the daily grind of life. The Art Tiffin uses biodegradable and compostable packaging where possible, and donates to mental health charities.