I love the Christmas season, but I have to admit the waste and excess makes my stomach churn. I know lots of people feel the same way. Over the past few years, I’ve been consciously downsizing Christmas for me and my family – cutting back, but keeping all the heart.
I apologise in advance if this post sounds a bit preachy. I honestly don’t know any more than the next person. These are just some things that align with my values and work for me and my family. Maybe they’re not a good fit in your life, but maybe they’ll give you some festive inspiration!
ASK (and ANSWER): I think it’s a politeness thing, but whenever someone says What do you/does your kid want for Christmas? it’s standard to say, “Oh, you don’t have to get me/him/her anything!” But you know what? That’s annoying. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said/typed it many times myself. It was only when I asked my sister what my niece would like, and she texted me back the name and author of the exact book she wanted, that I realised how damn useful it is to answer the question. You know you’re giving a present that person actually wants, and they don’t already have it, so you’re not wasting your time/money. Everyone wins!
SEND CASH: This is for you if you’re buying for someone you’re not going to see, or if you struggle with choosing gifts. For example, I told my brother (who is very busy with a Christmas tour right now) to just transfer some money for his niece’s presents and I would pick them up and wrap them. Again, the kids get what they want with minimum hassle for everyone. Of course, you have to know that both parties are OK with this – you don’t want to seem like you’re offloading responsibility!
CUT DOWN: Pssst – you don’t have to buy gifts for everyone! For example, I arranged with my friends in the UK to stop sending presents for each other’s kids at Christmas. It’s kind of an uncomfortable conversation to instigate – you don’t want to come across sounding like a Scrooge! But that wasn’t my reason. I LOVE buying gifts, especially for kids, but there were a few reasons that it wasn’t a good choice for me and my family.
EASY THERE, SANTA!: I have three kids (12, 7 and 4) and I like to think that Father Christmas is something I’ve got right. There are always three presents. One is the thing they’ve asked FC for (and that can’t anything flashy like a bike or a tablet, because the elves have to make gifts for all the kids in the world – let’s cut those elves some slack!) The second is a (carefully-selected) book. The third is something small – a few times it’s been a mug with a homemade hot chocolate kit inside, but I’ve discovered a simple candy cane is a winner because they only get one once a year. By doing Santa this way, I keep costs down, gifts intentional and my kids appreciative of what they receive.
GIFTS YOU CAN CONSUME: If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of us human beings on the planet (and I hope that’s everyone by now!), then you might not feel good about giving some types of gifts. FOOD AND DRINK are winners here. You can bake something and give it in a container than can be reused. You can make preserves and chutneys in autumn and give these (they have a long BBE date!) Or you can give booze – it lasts for ages, and always comes in useful! You can also give handmade soaps, bath salts, candles, etc. if you’re into making them, or homemade decorations. Which brings me to…
I enjoy decking the halls, of course, but the aisles and aisles of plastic and glitter make me feel a little queasy. There is a better way – and it’s not exactly revolutionary. Our ancestors decorated for winter holidays by bringing stuff from the outside in, and we can too.
Decorations made from natural materials are great because:
- they are biodegradable
- they are fun to make
- they often smell good!
- they are unique and made with love
- they give your home a lovely, cosy, natural winter vibe.
There are hundreds of pictures on the Net to give your inspiration, but here’s a snap of ours. Apples and oranges dried in the oven (perhaps a little enthusiastically in the case of those oranges!), cinnamon sticks and sprigs of pine. Just be mindful of what you take from nature – don’t chop random bits off trees (you can usually find something nice on the forest floor – that’s where I found our pine sprigs) and don’t take things like berries that might be food for wildlife, unless they are very plentiful. Oh, and most importantly, be grateful for the gifts you receive from the Earth. Say thank you – really.
If you already have store-bought decs, don’t beat yourself up, though. Times were that we didn’t know any better, although we no longer have that excuse. Don’t throw them away – that won’t help. Far better to reuse them year after year. I found an enormous box of my in-laws old decorations in the basement this year, and while they are certainly not to my personal taste, I cherry-picked some that looked good on our tree.
My favourite subject! If you don’t know me personally, I don’t just enjoy my food, I ADORE it. Christmas is where good food and nostalgia meet. Eating is interwoven in all our family stories, our culture and our history. It’s great to buy and make all the things you remember from childhood – all the things that ‘make’ Christmas.
But don’t go crazy. Food waste is THE WORST! Make a plan and write a detailed shopping list so that you buy what (and only what) you need. Try to make as much as you need, or plan for leftovers if you expect to have any. It takes a bit of groundwork, but it’s not something that can’t be done in an evening with a nice cup of mulled wine!
So that’s it for my sage advice (haha) about Christmas, except to say ENJOY it. I think cutting back actually gives you MORE Christmas – there is less stress, less hassle, less to do all round – and more TIME. Time to do what you love, whether that’s watching The Muppet Christmas Carol for the 37th time, curling up with a book, or sipping a hot chocolate with the people you love most in all the world and laughing yourselves silly.
Even if it’s not the Christmas you were expecting (I’m referring to covid, of course), you only get one Christmas 2021. Drink this season in.