We love the spirit of Christmas — spending time with family and taking time to give each person in our lives a meaningful gift to show how we appreciate them. As the days become short and winter holds us in its grip, there is nothing better than big feasts with family and friends and huddling by the fire. Fundamentally it is about generosity, gratitude and appreciation. However, there is a darker side of Christmas — the commercialism, the out of control consumption, the spectacular waste generation, and the lack of authenticity. Nonetheless, we would rather adapt our rituals for an authentic, thoughtful Christmas, than throw the baby out with the bath water.
While we are generally opposed to artificial trees, because they are made overseas out of synthetic materials, have a high carbon footprint and are not recyclable, we acknowledge that sometimes they are unavoidable. When we lived in a strata, for instance, there was a bylaw against real trees. However, when choice is available, we think a real tree is best, both in terms of GHGs, as well as the irreplaceability of real nature. Of late, there has been an understandable backlash against cut trees because of the gratuitous killing of an otherwise perfectly good tree. While there is certainly something to this, the authenticity of a real tree is not worthless, and because trees sequester carbon as they grow, any number of real trees do not have the GHG impact of a single fake tree. There is also the issue of persistent plastic residues that real trees avoid. If a real tree just goes in the chipper or is dumped, it will create both methane and carbon dioxide, whereas if it is burned in a high efficiency stove no methane will be formed, lessening the GHG impact. An interesting alternative that has recently become available near us is a potted tree that can be rented out evergrowchristmastrees.ca over several Christmases and then be planted in the ground. This still generates GHG’s from transportation, but far less than the other options, and gets around the wasteful destruction of a perfectly good tree. It is slightly more expensive, but still within reason, to have a potted tree delivered to our door and then retrieved again after Christmas.
We are all in favour of creating a festive atmosphere and no way no how are we going to eliminate that because of concerns over waste. Rather, we’re going to say no disposable stuff. All our decorations are re-used from year to year and packed away in the offseason. We favour natural materials such as wood, wool felt and glass. And we have eliminated stuff that can not be justified, like tinsel that not only can’t be recycled but actually contaminates otherwise recyclable things like paper or compostable things like trees.
We also really appreciate lights and enjoy the spectacular light shows that some neighbours put on. In the darkness and rain of the festive season, these light shows warm our spirits and we are willing to accept greater power usage during this short period. We nonetheless strive to minimize the spike by using only LED lights (in warm white to keep a cosy feeling) and switching them on only at night.
There is something so important about the spirit of gift giving. As a kid my favourite part was always getting the gifts, but there is a remarkable moment in the trajectory of maturation when I giving became more enjoyable than receiving. We especially do not want to jettison this important tradition of generosity, but are looking to reclaim it from the unsustainable consumerist turn it has taken. One school of thought is that we should give experiences, not goods, because they leave no waste. That is certainly a good idea and we have definitely embraced it on many occasions. However, we also feel that the true spirit of giving isn’t necessarily the gift itself, but the time you invest in thinking about the person and considering what would be most meaningful for them. Sometimes that may actually be a physical gift, which will create waste. Here’s how we try to minimize that:
The first and most prevalent waste is packaging, especially non-recyclable packaging. This is an important consideration when thinking about what to give. We strive to give gifts that come in no or minimal packaging that is 100% recyclable or resuable. Combinations of different materials, such as a paper envelope padded with bubble wrap cannot be recycled and should be avoided at all costs.
Next is gift wrapping. Paper can be recycled or burned unless it has plastic laminations or metallic sparkles — these condemn it to the landfill and must be eliminated. Waste paper actually makes for an ideal gift wrap, especially those with kids drawings. When I was a kid my mom made re-usable gift bags out of fabric scraps — these worked perfectly and were easily packed away after Christmas. They still make an appearance at Christmas every year at my parent’s house….
Bows and ribbons are not recyclable can can contaminate other recyclables like paper. We have tried re-using them, which works for some special nice ones, but is hard to make work for for all of them. The best thing is to use natural materials like twine and pinecones that can be composted, rather than plastic ribbons.
Lastly, we strive to give each other meaningful gifts that reflect time spent thinking about each person and understanding what is important to them. This rules out any cheap trinkets or gifts that will be used once and thrown away.
The best part of Christmas for me is the feasts, which always unfold in ritual fashion. While over eating is an inevitable part of this festival of abundance and generosity, wasting food is one of the main contributors to food’s overall GHG emissions. As such, we try to ensure that all leftovers are eaten promptly or transformed into stews or sandwiches. As we are flexivores, we do consume small amounts of meat, especially at feast times, but choose only local, ethically raised grass fed meats and we are mindful of giving our thanks and acknowledgements to Mother Earth.