Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas Thoughts

I do love Christmas. I love waiting all year for the German Christmas market to set up just so I can stuff my face full of Bratkartoffeln (fried potato with bacon and onion), I love having my whole family together so we can play endless hours of board games and drive each other crazy too. I love the cold and the snow, the scarfs, the gloves, the hats and the red noses. Watching movies with my friends on my comfy couch on a cold night. Most of all I love the Christmas lights, silhouetting otherwise forgotten trees, gracefully and elegantly twinkling making the night magical and full of possibility as if on the cusp of stepping into a Ghibli movie (I live in hope).

Notice that I haven't mentioned presents. Everyone loves a surprise, but surprises don't have to be materialistic and its certainly not what Christmas is about for me and I'm not the only one who's increasingly starting to think so. There's a desire to make one’s life simpler and appreciate the simple things in life. There is a strong sense of community growing; of being a part of and giving back. People are paying more attention to what they eat, where it comes from and how healthy it is, therefore improving one's own health and happiness. Of course all these things are not only environmentally friendly but also positive ways to think about our future.

Have a look at Martin Lewis' recent article: It's time to ban Christmas presents from the Telegraph where he explains what's wrong with the current system and gives some good solution to breaking the gifting habit. He talks about how gift giving has now turned into an obligation on the recipient and how we've become disconnected from why we give and all for the majority of presents to end up in landfill anyway. He's advocating a shift in thinking and behaviour. As he concludes: "When buying's a chore, a thing to tick off a list, does that really help our pockets or our souls?"

Want to talk materialistic? An average Christmas in the UK can generate as much as 3 million tonnes of waste including around 160,000 tonnes of food waste, over 80 square km of wrapping paper and 6 million trees.

But let's make it clear we're not Scrooges. Its not presents or gifting that is wrong, what's wrong is societal and commercial pressure to do so whilst sucking all the generosity and joy out of it. There's nothing wrong with a present, if its genuine, given with love, thought and warmth. So let's readdress the balance, be happy in ourselves and the company we keep and truly have a merrier holiday season.

So here's my mini top three tips to improving the gifting habit:

1) Make your own presents - yes it takes more time but it has more value and if the person doesn't appreciate the effort then maybe they don't deserve the gesture in the first place. But making presents doesn't have to be straightforward either; get creative - make a coupon book for cooking a meal, cleaning the flat, good for one big bear hug, offer your skills or time to help a friend in need out. As I said earlier a present doesn't have to be a 'thing' you can hold.

2) Choose ‘low’ or ‘no’ waste presents such as gift vouchers, cinema tickets, club memberships, magazine subscriptions, charity gifts or gift tokens. Sponsor an animal, buy them some rain forest to protect - but don’t give them another unwanted gift which they will simply throw away (or worst regift to someone else who doesn't want it either).

3) Buy local or buy less. Each Christmas 4,000 tonnes of products arrive from China. Presents bought locally means you will be supporting small business, suppliers and the local community, whilst minimising your carbon foot print.

And finally if you're looking for ideas from environmentally friendly and conscious companies you'd like to support or (like me) you enjoy the thrill of FREE prize draws have a look at Extra Ethical Christmas which has teamed up with some of the UK's leading ethical and environment brands to showcase some lovely gifts with a cleaner conscious you could give. Plus the site is full of tips for a low carbon Christmas. To find out more information and to sign up click here.

And for a final note, why not support a good cause and potentially win a nice surprise in time for Christmas by buying a raffle for the Friends of the Earth 2012 Prize Draw. First prize is a long weekend or four night mid-week break for four in an eco-cottage in the Cairngorms (how awesome does that sound!). Draw will take place on December 4th. For more information and to buy tickets online please click here.

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