The need for a greener Christmas convicted us a couple of years ago as we attended the World Press Photo Awards exhibit. A striking image of a factory worker making Christmas ornaments began to haunt us. In a poorly-ventilated dark room, glitter particles are suspended in a shaft of light that illuminates a masked factory worker who admitted that he had no idea what Christmas was or meant. The image caused us to wonder where our Christmas decorations were coming from, what conditions they were made in, and what it meant for us to love others as part of our own Christmas celebrations. We began to consider what ethics we would like to see and practice during our own celebrations that reflect our love for God and others.
Many of you, like us, care deeply about the impact that we have on others and God’s good creation. We don’t want the message of God sending his Son into the world to get lost among the hustle and clatter of consumerism and greed around us. We all have our various ways of resisting this and trying to express the true meaning of Christmas, shine as brightly as God’s children, and hold firmly to the word of life. We believe that love is, and should remain, at the heart of Christmas.
And so it is with love that we are sharing a bit of our journey towards a greener Christmas. We can always do more to have a greener Christmas, and the idea isn’t to add to the already busy season of Christmas. Here are some practical ways that we think we can manage for a greener Christmas this year as we decorate, plan and give gifts. We hope our ideas will inspire you in your own journey. These suggestions are affordable and practical, and adopting even one will make your Christmas greener.
1. Fruit and spice ornaments – home-made ornaments are a great way to ensure that our Christmas decorations are ethical. We searched the web and found a great idea to make ornaments from fruit and spices. This involves slicing fruit like apples and oranges, decorating the slices with dried whole spices like cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and cardamom, cutting a hole for a string, and then dehydrating them in the oven for a few hours. We found the oranges easier to decorate than the apples, and the cloves the easiest spice to deal with, but it was fun to experiment. We’re told these will store and can be reused, but even if they can’t, they can go into our compost bin when we are done with them. They smell amazing! It makes us think about our lives being a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.
2. A potted tree– we haven’t yet purchased this, but our hope is to have a living Christmas tree this year. We plan to repot it each year until it is too large for us to manage, and then plant it outside. Pine trees are especially good at purifying the air, so this is a bonus. Hopefully we won’t kill it :-), and it will be a reminder to us of the eternal life that Jesus came to give us.
3. Gathering natural beauty – We love ways of bringing the outdoors inside, and so collecting seeds, gumnuts, cones and branches from around us is another way we plan to decorate this year. We plan to make a garland from some branches that have fallen or that we can ethically trim from nearby trees. We will tie some twine to some nuts and seeds and hang them on the tree. And others we will scatter around the place for additional decoration. These serve to remind us that our Creator God makes the most beautiful decorations.
4. LED Christmas lights – another purchase we hope to make this year is to invest in LED Christmas lights. We’ve read that these use less electricity, are less of a fire hazard and last longer than the older versions of Christmas lights. We’ve debated whether or not we should put up lights at all, but we just can’t let go of the ‘Light of the World’ imagery that Christmas lights provide. So we think these are a good solution for us.
5. Visiting our local fair trade shop – we are grateful that we have discovered a local fair trade shop near us called ‘Only Just’. Fair trade shops exist to ensure that those making their products are paid fair wages and have just working conditions. We think it is well worth looking for a fair trade shop nearby. Often these products are made by local cooperatives sponsored by a Christian development organisation. We have our eye on a beautiful nativity set at our shop, and we will see what other gifts we can purchase there. We love the idea that our purchases can bring justice to those in need, and this is a way we can remember that Jesus came to proclaim the justice and love of God (Pss 10:18, 11:7, 82:3, 99:4; Isa 11:4; Matt 12:18; Luke 11:42).
6. Investing in gifts that keep giving – We plan to give some gifts on behalf of others this year to worthy causes. This is a no-waste gift that is ideal for those who already have enough. And these gifts, to us, remind us of the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who became poor for our sakes, brought good news to the poor, and instructed us to remember and love those in need. Most missions agencies will allow making a gift on behalf of someone else. Perhaps the most developed Christmas gift giving ideas that we love include ‘Useful Gifts’ by TEAR, ‘Gifts of Compassion’ by Compassion International, and ‘Gifts of Love’ by The Leprosy Mission. Giving in this way expresses our hope in Jesus and brings his Kingdom near.
7. Resale shopping – Many local resale shops are run by charities, and we love to frequent them anyway. But these are also great places to find craft items, like ribbons for decorating or wrapping presents for Christmas. Some also sell used books, films and music which make great Christmas gifts. Perhaps this is a way that we can ‘gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted’ (John 6:12).
8. Checking the ‘Naughty or Nice’ list – since the factory disaster in Bangladesh a few years ago, organisations like Oxfam have been working to ensure better working conditions and living wages for those supplying bigger retailers. They put out a ‘Naughty or Nice’ list of companies that are open about revealing where our clothes are being made, a company tracker that shows where the big brands stand in providing a living wage to their employees, and news on the ‘What She Makes’ initiative progress towards living wages and workplace safety. We will use this information as we buy clothes for the family this Christmas in order to do what we can to avoid exploitation of others, uphold justice and promote peace in a way that we believe honours the Lord.
9. Resuable wrapping – A lot of Christmas waste is in the wrapping. So if we don’t have some wrapping paper or gift bags we can reuse, then we will look at some reusable boxes or other way of presenting our gifts this year. We believe that our world is creation through and for Jesus (Col 1:16, 20). For us, doing what we can to keep things from ending up in landfill is part of our conviction that creation exists primarily for Jesus, not for consumerism.
10. Homecooking local food – instead of buying lots of processed Christmas food, we plan to cook and bake our own from locally-sourced ingredients where we can get them. We will be sourcing our meat from a local, free-range butcher, using what we can out of our own garden and potted herbs, and getting fresh produce from local markets and our local fruit and veg shop as we are able. We hope to be able to bake some gifts too, as we have time. Buying local food is a practical way that we can love our neighbours.
11. Washing dishes instead of going disposable – For our Christmas dinner this year, we plan to use only whatever crockery and cutlery we have rather than buying anything disposable that will just end up in land-fill. Washing dishes will just become part of our celebration with friends. Perhaps as we wash dishes, we will remember that Jesus came to wash us so that we could belong to him (John 13:8; Eph 5:26; Titus 3:5; Heb 10:22).
We hope that these suggestions are valuable to you in your own Christmas celebrations. And we’d love to hear ways that you are going green this Christmas!
Lots of love and huge hugs,
Graham and Ellie