We all want a sustainable Christmas

As Christmas approaches and we start thinking about gifts, meals, parties and the big day itself, many of us are increasingly aware of the benefits of sustainability during the festive period. Here at My First Five Years, we have been asked to participate in sustainable Secret Santa groups, donate gifts to those in need and whether we can help in any way to support groups who provide food on Christmas Day.  


How can we ‘do’ sustainable? 

Simply trying is a great start. If everyone does something, that it is much better than nothing. 

Thankfully living and breathing sustainability is much easier than ever before. Society is beginning to recognise and understand that there isn’t the need to do and buy EVERYTHING at Christmas.  

To get the best ideas for a sustainable Christmas, we need to think back to what Christmas was like post-war. This might sound dramatic, but back then Christmas was Christmas! Everyone was appreciative of what they got and that the family was all together. 


Let’s go back in time and see if it will work today 

The build up 

Traditionally Christmas was a short affair, it would start a few days before Christmas and end on Boxing Day. If we are being realistic about this now, this is where we might struggle to imitate the old days. Our families are becoming spread far and wide around the world and preparation for sending gifts and organising visits is becoming a bigger task. There is a necessity to be organised with posting items and setting dates in the calendar to see the ones that mean the most to us.  

We have to accept that the build up to Christmas is now extended and this helps us to be organised and less stressed in the chaotic weeks that run up to the big day.


Decorating the home 

Decorations were often home-made paper loops, strung around the ceiling and walls. Paper posters of a traditional looking father Christmas may appear on the wall, or maybe holly would be cut from the garden and draped on the mantelpiece. The tree would be used year on year, and for many many years!  


What can we take from this? 

Paper decorations can still be made very easily from an old newspaper, magazine, leaflets to name a few. The whole family can help to make these, you could make a night out of it.

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There are so many sustainable options for Christmas trees, and everyone has their thoughts about this. All you can do is decide what you feel is the best sustainable option for you. You can consider these options, but believe us, this is the tip of the iceberg: 


Artificial versus real trees

Artificial - So many options. Traditional artificial trees come in all shapes, sizes and colours. They can be bought pre-decorated, or bare, ready for you to personalise. The main purpose of these trees is that they should be used for years. There should be no need to purchase a new one every year – unless you have a Christmas tree fetish or you have donated your old tree. Plastic trees are not great for the environment, but they certainly have their place if used well or donated for use with another family on a different year. 

There are a plethora of wooden Christmas trees available, you can purchase these from a wide variety of local and online shops. If you are purchasing online, check where your item is coming from. The environmental footprint of delivering your tree may outdo the good intention of the re-usable item. 

Paper Christmas trees are popping up more frequently. Again, check where it is coming from before your purchase. These can be used year on year if stored properly.  

Make your own! Decorate a plant, or collect sticks from the garden in order to construct a ‘tree’ indoors. There are many ideas available online for making your very own personal tree. 


Real – The biggest concerns with real trees are where they have been imported from and then discarding them after Christmas. Many charities offer a Christmas Tree collection after Christmas for a small donation, the trees are usually made into mulch used in composting soil. 

There are more sustainable real tree ideas coming into fruition recently. Of course, you can buy a potted tree and nurture it year on year. The most recent idea comes from a Christmas Tree rental service, where families are choosing a tree to be delivered to their door. One Christmas is over, the tree is collected and re-planted ready for next year. 


Decorations for the tree 

Once again, these would be brought out year on year. A new decoration may have been purchased occasionally but typically once all the decorations and lights were bought, they stayed. You may even have some that have been passed down from generations. We recommend keeping hold of them because if you look in the shops today you will see many imitation nostalgic baubles.  

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Everything comes around! 

If you are purchasing decorations for the tree, many sustainable decorations are out there. Wooden, glass and metal decorations are much better for the environment than plastic.  

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Buying gifts 

Where have the days gone where Father Christmas brought one present for each child? Any other presents were bought by family members and this would usually be one, good quality gift. The term ‘less is more’ has transformed into ‘more is better’. Back in the day, Christmas gifts would be a real treat, they would be opened and played with all day.  

We have to bear in mind that the types of gifts should naturally evolve. Post-war Christmases would typically see girls receiving dolls and boys a Meccano set, this would make many people feel chilled today.  

We could however learn the lesson that ‘less is more’ this Christmas.  

Christmas stockings have always been a part of the traditional Christmas. These are filled with lots of smaller gifts, usually fruit, chocolate and a couple of small toys.  

As for the ‘Big man’, Father Christmas, how does his sleigh fit all the presents in nowadays? Awwww, come on, I know, he is magic and his sleigh magically refills in order of the homes he visits. However, his elves would have much less of a hard time if they needn’t make as many toys and gifts.  

If you are planning on buying a lot of gifts, consider where you will purchase them. For example, is it necessary for all of them to be brand new? Or is that perfect gift sitting in a charity shop or on an online auction site, or even sitting in a cupboard from last year?  

There are also loads of local free recycling groups where people offer unwanted items for free. You can use them yourself, offer gifts that may not be needed to charity or give them for free. 


Wrapping gifts 

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Paper itself is becoming an environmental headache. Glitter has become commonplace and this has devastating effects on our wildlife. Look out for recycled paper that has no glitter.  

Alternatively, Christmas paper can be made at home. Here is another family activity for you! Use a roll of brown paper and cut simple Christmas shapes into a potato. Then use paint and your new stamp to create a patterned paper that is also much more unique. 

Why not start re-using Christmas paper! If you open your presents carefully this year, the paper can be stored in a dry place all ready for next year.  

At My First Five Years, we remember grandparents making Christmas gift tags from their last years’ cards. Why not start this innovative idea back up? 


Christmas dinner 

The main event is the food for most. Traditionally, vegetables would have been homegrown, and meat ordered in advance and sourced locally from the butcher. Everything would be used; nothing went to waste. Boxing Day may have brought a second dinner, using up the leftovers from the day before. Families were creative in using every last shred of food. Many puddings will have been homemade.. such as Christmas cake, mince pies and a Christmas pudding.  

Not everyone has the luxury of a garden today, so growing your own may be impossible. When shopping for food, think about which fresh foods are in season and how far they’ve travelled. Thankfully the winter months lend themselves to the Christmas classics of potato, parsnip and sprouts.  

Purchase only what you know will be consumed to avoid food waste. Consider where your meat comes from, if you consume it. Wherever feasible, buy local meat; it will be more expensive, but the quality will be far better. There are many sustainable farms available; have a look to see if you can support them. 

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Don’t get us started on chocolate 

Chocolate has always formed a part of Christmas, a celebratory tin purchased for the family to share. We are now faced with massive environmental issues from this one simple product. If you do eat chocolate, be mindful of the ingredients. Palm oil is the ingredient to try and avoid. Where possible, look out for chocolate with zero palm oil, there are plenty of choices out there. Also, what happens to all the wrappers? Why not try sourcing chocolate that is wrapped in foil and paper over plastic. 


Where does this leave us now? 

Small changes can make a big difference in minimising our environmental footprint, especially during the holidays, when waste, overconsumption, and mass buying are all possibilities. 

If you have a young family then there is no better time to start thinking about your family Christmases will look like. 

Can it be more environmentally friendly than previous years? 

Even very small changes can make a huge difference! 

We all have family traditions, and these are what make each and every Christmas special.  

Whatever you do, have a very Merry Christmas!