Every festivity has turned into a marketing event to drive consumerism. This not only means presents but also creates a larger mountain of waste.
In the US 25% more waste is thrown away between Thanksgiving and January 1st, according to Stanford University. It won’t be much better in the EU. Food waste and Christmas trees add to the Carbon footprint.
How can we avoid Holiday consumerism and still have a fun December month? We move further on the green road when we deal with what we want more mindfully.
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Can we avoid Holiday consumerism?
By not being fooled by blaring commercials and FOMO (fear of missing out), we can give more meaning to the holidays. Memories last longer than stuff.
“You’re taking all the fun away”
Fortunately, a comment that is made less often to me these days is, when people claim they can’t have fun anymore when they have to act green. Of course, we can have fun and that can certainly be done in a sustainable way.
The other day a Dutch friend received flowers. She sent me a picture of the wrappings: 2 pieces of plastic foil and 2 different kinds of paper and a plastic bow!
And unfortunately, I am not only thinking of that packaging waste, but also of the fact that flowers in December in the cold Netherlands come out of the greenhouse. The flower industry in the Netherlands is one of the most polluting agricultural activities.
So yes, in this case, you can think of me as a whiner. Because it’s nice to get flowers, isn’t it? Well, I think there are good alternatives, such as dried flowers or a flower check that can be used in the flower season.
Random Acts of Green
On Instagram, I follow the Canadian organization Random Acts of Green. They have a post with an impressive list of far-from-green activities the holiday season promotes.
Inspired by that list I have made my own and added tips to be more sustainable during the holidays.
I know from experience that it can be difficult to limit ourselves when we are shopping for gifts. We grant our children and especially our grandchildren everything, don’t we?
Second-hand no longer has the image of dirty and broken but offers a good alternative to limit waste flows. Children really don’t mind a scratch on a toy.
Regifting is another activity that is getting rid of a bad image. If you have received something you don’t like, give it to someone else later. Make sure that the giver and later receiver do not know each other.
Related: What are Great Green Presents for the Holidays to Give? 11 Tips
Driving and flying
The number of travel movements will be huge with the holidays. Travel by public transport if possible. If that is not possible, prefer the (electric) car over flying.
If everyone is travelling at the same time, the chance of traffic jams is greater. Travel outside of the busiest days to give the car the chance to run at its most economical.
Real Christmas trees in the house
The number of trees that are cut to be decorative for 2 or 3 weeks is huge. If you really must have a real tree in the house, buy one with roots so it can be planted in the garden after the holidays.
As an artist, I like alternatives for a tree. I have seen beautiful objects made of wooden planks and slats. Cardboard also offers many creative possibilities. Or branches that have been blown off during a storm and are tied together.
Filling up on turkey
Tom and I have been keeping it ‘easy’ about food over the holidays for years. I can’t understand why people complain afterwards that they have gained so much weight, instead of thinking beforehand that it is better to limit themselves.
Related: Can we Safely Freeze Food in Glass Jars to Avoid Food Waste?
Giving gifts that are never used
I tend to buy things for the grandchildren that I personally find very nice or useful. Sometimes that works out well, but just as often it doesn’t, which is a pity.
Yet, I do my best not to spoil them. Character building is also important and because they will be most affected by climate change, I am already trying to make them aware of consumerism.
I prefer practical gifts over the umptieth box of lego, and educational games over mindless computer games.
Baking treats that are never eaten
Good hospitality towards our guests requires that we do not put too little on the table. If we ensure that the prepared food doesn’t spoil quickly or is easy to freeze, we are good.
Prepare the food together. Experiences and memories have a major impact. And presumably, that one child who is picky on food will like something that he or she helped to prepare.
Using glossy, glittery gift bags that are unrecyclable
Paper can be recycled or reused. Plastic usually cannot be reused because it is pulled to pieces by the adhesive tape. And the recyclability is limited.
Gift-wrapping paper is fine, it’s even better to use kraft paper. That is not printed and not bleached with chlorine. Now that single-use plastic is banned, more and more companies are filling their mailed items with crumpled kraft paper.
I save those pieces throughout the year and use them to wrap gifts. With stamps and a flower or leaf from the garden as decorations, the package looks very festive.
Furoshiki is a Japanese way of wrapping gifts in textile. Flaps are folded and buttoned very ingeniously. It looks fantastic.
Related: Can Materials Be Recycled Endlessly? A Plea for Zero Waste
Purchasing ever more decorations and ugly sweaters
If we look for alternative decorations, we come across many nice examples. I often look to Pinterest or Instagram for inspiration.
For example, stars made of newspaper, punched orange peels that dry beautifully, or thinly sliced lemon as an alternative Christmas bauble.
Buying gift purchases online from multi-national billionaires
Online stores such as Amazon or Bol pay far too little attention to their packaging, and more importantly, are not very careful with their staff.
Small webshops and local shops are generally more sympathetic.
Once we start rethinking our behaviour during the holiday season, it’s not that hard to make greener choices. Instead of diminishing our fun, we can actually have more fun trying to find different solutions.
Can you add a tip to my list? Tell us in the comment box below.
8 thoughts on “How Can We Avoid Holiday Consumerism in December?”
Christmas is pure consumerism and – although I am not religious – it has lost its original value and meaning for most. It’s all about buying gifts and overeating which is followed by heavy dieting in January. It makes no sense.
You have some great tips here. I often save gift wrap paper and I re-use it. I also use paper bags instead of gift wrap sometimes because they can be re-used many times as well. Pinterest always has excellent ideas and I should check it out more. I’m not on it that often, but I have gotten some nice inspiration from some pins.
Hi, Christine. I expected us to think the same about Christmas. 🙂 It’s such a pity that all festivities that started either as a religious contemplation like Christmas, or a way to be thankful (Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and the likes) have turned into shopping sprees and overstressed anxieties.
I love Pinterest and Instagram for the inspiration they offer. And you don’t even have to spend hours and hours on those social media. 5 minutes a day gives a lot of ideas, both for my private life and for subjects to write about!
Thanks for dropping by and take care. Have a great month. 🙂
I agree with you, the focus on buying and eating overrules connecting and sharing for a lot of people. I always think twice before bying a gift nowadays. Before, I wasn’t always checking myself, but that has changed. Even for the Dutch Sinterklaas festival, I made a surprise from a bike-bag that I use everyday, with some add-ons in paper, combined with a funny poem and a gift from a local store. It was very well received, and I just ‘wasted’ a bit of paper.
There is still a lot that I can improve, but I am on my way.
Food thrown away is one of my pet peeves, it drives me nuts! People are dying from hunger every day, this has to stop, let’s share our resources…
None of us is perfect, Kadanza, so don’t beat yourself up. I often say: we don’t need a few people who do everything perfect, we need a lot of people who improve themselves just a bit. And on the bright side: paper can be recycled, so it’s great that you used paper and not plastic. 😉
I feel the same regarding food waste. You live in a big city in a country that is more aware, so probably there is a possibility to bring food to collection points. Our little village doesn’t have something like that. Then again, Tom and I hardly ever throw food away. If we have leftovers we freeze them.
Thanks for your comment and take care.
I like your ideas of trying to be more responsible in your choices at the holidays. I take a more minimalist approach to things as well. One example, I used to try to decorate with as many christmas lights outside as I could have the time and money to put up. I became more concerned with how much that combined extra electricity usage puts more strain on the environment. Also, many lights stop working and just get thrown out and replaced after a few years. I do not wish to diminish the joy of the holiday but I do not overdo it anymore either. I have a small and simple outside lighted tree I reuse each year on my porch and the rest of the decor is not electrified. I still feel the holiday spirit without all the overdone glitz encouraged by big businesses and individuals thinking more is better. I hate waste and less is more.
Sounds absolutely marvellous, Tim! It’s exactly as you said: we can still have the holiday feeling without overdoing stuff. We gave all our Christmas decorations away when we emigrated 4 years ago and I still haven’t decided if I want a replacement. 🙂 Which doesn’t mean I don’t try to do something extra, especially when the grandkids are visiting us.
And you used my favourite expression from Mies van der Rohe!! Less is more. That’s what it is.
Thanks for your comment and have fun.
I think this year it will be difficult for people not to overdo it as last year was rather “sad”. Every year I use the same decorations for the Christmas tree, some pieces are as old as I am. We normally buy practical things like some nice tool my husband can use for his projects in the garage. And when he wears something that has some holes I say now it is time to get a couple of new ones.
Yes, Josje, sometimes we need discipline in order not to give in to sad feelings. And that can be difficult, especially if everything around us is shouting “Buy, buy. Spend your money. Eat luxuriously.” etc. Yet I am glad there are people like you that don’t give in to that urge. There is hope! 🙂
Thanks for your comment and keep up the good works. Happy holidays.