circular economy conscious consumer consumption environment sustainability sustainable lifestyle

Environmentally Sustainable and Wallet-friendly Christmas Ideas

When I was growing up, Christmas was an essential part of my life for two reasons:

  1. The whole family got together at my grandparents’ flat on the 24th of December (in the Polish tradition, this is the most important day of the Christmas celebration),
  2. The Polish TV – back in the 1980s, a communist propaganda TV aired Disney animations, which was a real treat.

I sat glued to the TV screen while grandpa made me potato fries (not like french fries, but thinly chopped-up potatoes fried on the old-fashioned wood stove).

No one had much money to give each other gifts, and even if they would, the shops had very little in stock for daily necessities, not to mention gifts. I didn’t care about all the Christmas hoopla; I was just happy that Micky Mouse was on telly and all the people I knew were getting together.

Luckily, times have changed, and so have I. I love giving Christmas gifts. I usually start thinking about the Christmas gifts in September with a mental list of what I would buy and for whom. I’ve always believed in practical gifts, which I prefer over those without use. Since embarking on my mindful and conscious consumer path, I have been reshaping different aspects of my life to reflect my new values and shopping habits.

Below, you will find a recap of my practices and tips on not making Christmas Holidays all about wastefulness and spending small fortunes on gifts, preparation and food.  

For Christmas gifts, I opt for:

  • Practical,
  • Gift cards,
  • Second-hand goods,
  • Food and drinks,
  • Books,
  • Hand-made, and that includes baking,
  • Re-gifting gifts, which is a lovely practice,
  • Supporting small local businesses if possible.

For wrapping Christmas gifts:

  • I rescue paper and gift bags from gifts I received or paper bags I got while shopping. It doesn’t really matter if it’s Christmassy or not,
  • I use tote bags that I already have, especially if gifts are heavy,
  • If I have to buy wrapping paper, I buy plain brown if available or brown paper with some Christmas prints that aren’t sparkly. The paper must be recyclable, and I never choose one that is already pre-wrapped in plastic. It costs more than the non-recyclable wrapping paper, but its price reflects more than the actual price the wrapping paper should cost. (If something is too cheap, I ask myself why and who is paying for it because someone along the supply chain is definitely paying for that £1 wrapping paper.)
  • I buy smaller gifts, but of better quality, so in practice, I end up using less paper to wrap it up.

Baking for Christmas:

  • I usually bake vegan and gluten-free, so we don’t buy many cakes (cakes and cookies are big in the Polish Christmas tradition),
  • Baking vegan is so much cheaper. Eggs and butter have become incredibly pricy, and often, there is a shortage of organic or range-free eggs in the UK. Many of the non-vegan recipes call for silly amounts of eggs or butter.
  • I make oat flour from rolled oats, which I blend in my small blender. I often mix the oat flour with gluten-free or gluten flour, depending on whom I’m baking for.

Cooking for Christmas:

  • If we stay home and don’t travel to my parents, we don’t really buy anything out of the ordinary for Christmas, not to waste any food,
  • If we go on holiday during Christmas, we cook even less fancy than at home and usually either eat in the local restaurant or have the leftovers from the previous day,
  • Traditionally the Polish Christmas Eve dinner doesn’t include meat, only fish; since neither I nor Baby M. eat fish, we only buy up to two pieces, just for the boys. The majority of the Christmas Eve dinner dishes are (or can easily be) vegan (pierogi, krokiety, beetroot soup, etc.),
  • We buy as few wrapped in plastic foods as possible, which sometimes is difficult in the UK, but more and more shops offer plastic-free fruits and veggies (still cucumbers, if not bought at the farmers market, come fully covered in plastic for some unknown to me reason),
  • We hardly ever buy takeaway (we have been using the Too Good To Go app recently, which once again is great for the pocket and for saving food from waste), instead, as a family we cook from scratch, which: saves money, is healthier and is environmentally sustainable as a lot of packaging is non-recyclable. We use Lomi device to compost organic waste. The compost is used for my garden, community planters, my friends’ and my sister’s garden. In my opinion, Lomi could be better, so if you can compost outdoors, I wouldn’t recommend using it. That cooking/shopping routine doesn’t blow up out of proportion during Christmas.

In conclusion, if anyone is planning to introduce environmental mindfulness this Christmas, I recommend:

  • Make a Christmas tree or buy it in the pot so you could replant it in your local park or keep it on your balcony for next Christmas, as we have been doing. 
  • Think about the costs and resources that went into making the product you want to buy. If it is too cheap, it was made unethically, compromising natural resources and local communities in the process.
  • Reuse and recycle what you already have; there is no point in buying more. Re-gifting is fantastic as it gives items a new home and saves money.
  • Charity shops are your friends, especially when shopping for kids.
  • Quality over quantity. It’s better to buy one t-shirt that was ethically made and with environmental sustainability in mind than buy five, which will end up in the bin by the summer.
  • Don’t cook too much food, unless you can freeze it. Think about labour, water, land, and fossil fuels (used for transportation) all those resources go into food production.
  • Baking yourself is not only fun but is more environmentally sustainable as many cakes bought from supermarkets still come in plastic packaging. If you can, bake vegan.
  • Most importantly, be kind to yourself and your wallet. Don’t buy anything you can’t afford. We are all trying to adjust to a quickly changing reality and have conflicting messages thrown at us from every direction.

Enjoy your Christmas time, and don’t let the corporations and advertisers make you believe that you need more staff they produce. What we all need more of is: clean air, water, food, and happiness.