‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring apart from mummy who earlier this year vowed to reduce our single-use plastic consumption and was left wondering whether the new take on Christmas would be a success. Would the kids be as excited about their second-hand presents? Would the home-made crackers even work? Would the grandparents be happy with their home-made food gifts? Did the internal horror shine through my forced smile of having been given a giant tub full of individually packaged Haribo’s from a well-meaning elderly neighbour? (Note to the public – please don’t give giant tubs of sweets to children… do you really think the parents want the kids to eat them? Do you really think the parents want to have that battle about not eating them? All? Right now? That present is a fail!) Mummy poured herself a large glass of wine, calmed down and got her act together.
Christmas celebrations, on the whole, are the antithesis of zero-wasting and sustainable living . Over-indulging, over-selling, over-spending and over-packaging. Yet for many with young children, it is the most magical, wonderful time of the year, packed with happiness, family time, board games and wild walks in the woods.
Being relative beginners to trying to live responsibly – here’s how our first attempt at an unplasticky Christmas turned out:
A – is for Advent Calendars
This year I really wanted to steer away from the chocolate advent calendars. For the palm oil, for the plastic, and for the inevitable addiction to chocolate that you then have to wean the children off from in January. I constructed a ‘We love you because…’ calendar instead made of scrap wood in the shape of a Christmas tree, with 24 notes attached for the kids to tell them why they were special to us. Each day they could have a reminder of why we think they are great, and then pop the note into a jar for future reading whenever they fancied a little self-esteem boost.
Then we got given two chocolate calendars by a well-meaning local bakery for being good customers when we buy croissants after Park Runs. Or perhaps the baker felt terrible for those poor children whose parents took them to Park Runs. Either way, it was a kind gesture and the children loved the chocolate calendars. Sigh. They did really like the ‘love you’ one too, and I’m confident that next year, it will suffice. If we don’t get given more chocolate ones again. Meanwhile, now it is the end of December, the three-year-old is asking for chocolate first thing every morning. And then paddy-ing at the response of no, definitely not. Double sigh.
B – is for Baking
Baking our own Christmas cake, mince pies and gingerbreads from scratch is family activity for us and the kids love it. This year I noticed how many of the dried fruit and nut ingredients are nearly impossible to buy without plastic. We don’t have a plastic-free refill shop near us (yet) and the volumes required just wasn’t realistic to buy from Holland and Barrett. Actually, thinking about it, dried raisins and currants and almonds etc are probably imported so do wholesalers sell them in plastic anyway for transport? Not sure. Anyway, this was the most plasticky shop I’d done all year and I didn’t like it!
We did make all our own pastry, which reduced the plastic packaging and palm oil involved in the ready-to-roll stuff, so that made me feel a bit better.
C – is for Crackers
As in Christmas crackers. I made my own for the first time. Cracker snaps from eBay (I emailed the seller to ask for them to be sent without plastic packaging, which they did. Win.) Then used toilet rolls, wrapped in salvaged / hoarded brown packing paper, decorated with last-year’s Christmas cards. Home-made tissue paper hats inside, an obligatory bad joke, and a wooden Christmas cut out that have been saved ready to use next year. Not only were they exceptionally cheap to make, but I daresay enjoyable, and more importantly, they worked! And the family were terribly impressed. Hurrah. Thank you, Pinterest.
D – is for Decorations
Last years’ cards were used to make Merry Christmas bunting, a card wreath (another Pinterest find) and my mum expertly made us a natural wreath for the front door. Go mum.
E – is for Eco-gifts
I asked for some bees wax wraps (we had ditched cling-film altogether since Feb). My husband was given a safety-razor, it’s going to take some getting used to but it does look terribly manly. I was given a save-the-bees T-shirt which donates money to saving bees, and some awesome eco-friendly gin. Yes you heard it right. Eco-friendly gin. FYI Ramsbury gin is made in a biomass-fuelled distillery and waste products are fed to a reed bed and by-products used to feed livestock.
F – is for Fruit
Lemons, oranges, clementines, limes, apples – these were easy find in the supermarkets without plastic packaging
G – is for Gift bags
Some of last years’ gift bags were re-used in place of wrapping paper for some of our presents
H – is for Home Made gifts
Florentine biscuits, fudge, chutney (from leftover green tomatoes we grew), chilli sauce (chillis from our garden) and pickled onions were gifted in glass jars decorated with ribbon. I was thrilled to receive some Kilner jars with home honey-roasted nuts and mulled-wine truffles.
I – is for icing
We made our own marzipan and icing from scratch for our Christmas cake to avoid the plastic packaging and palm oil in the ready to roll variety.
J – is for Jam Jars
So glad we kept these to house gifts! I’ll never chuck a jam jar in the recycling again. They are so useful.
K – is for Kilner Jars
As above, for jam jars!
L – is for Leftovers
One of my favourite things about the Christmas holidays. Using all the leftovers for turkey curry, turkey pie, turkey sandwiches, turkey soup made from stock from the leftover turkey carcass, and the giblets (after using for the gravy) were cut up and turned into dog treats for the pooch. Zero waste.
M – is for Meat
We got whatever meat we could from the butchers in our own containers, but there were still some things that ended up coming wrapped in plastic even at the butchers. Need more work on this one next time. Or less meat. Or both.
N – is for No Tape
This year was sellotape free! Because if you wrap with brown paper and tie with a ribbon or string, it holds it all together without needing tape. Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favourite things…
O – is for Organic
Organic wine, by the way, is delicious.
P – is for pre-loved gifts
So many awesome finds in the charity shops and on second-hand sites. The highlights being my son’s transformer toy which he was thrilled with and my daughter’s treasure chest that we filled with monthly family adventures that we plan to take in 2019 with a note explaining it and telling her how wonderful she is. She loved it so much that she gave us a massive hug and she had eyes full of tears and told us it was the best present she had ever had. My heart totally melted.
Q – is for Questioning
Why Christmas in our country has got so out of control? Many people in the UK aren’t even religious, yet get into debt to pay for extortionate presents and over consumption. Ridiculous really.
R – is for reduce, reuse and recycle
All the brown paper from this years’ presents has been sorted and salvaged for next years presents / crackers / crafts. This years’ cards will be saved for next year’s decorations. The recycling bin still ended up very full though. And sadly, despite an enormous effort to reduce waste, our general waste bin is still more full than usual. Although not entirely sure how.
S – is for Stuffing
Which was made using chestnuts we foraged earlier in the year, cooked, peeled and froze. Get in.
T – is for Tree
This year is the first year we have bought a potted tree instead of a cut one. The kids named it ‘Monkey’. We intend to try and keep Monkey as a pet in the garden all year to see if he fancies joining us for Christmas next year. He’s done really well so far.
U – is for Unwanted gifts
It is estimated that a staggering 60 million unwanted gifts will have been exchanged in the UK this Christmas. What a horrible thought given the energy and resources needed to create them, and the waste produced after their demise. Is it really fair that rainforests get torn down for palm oil to put in chocolates wrapped in plastic that the recipient doesn’t even care for? This shouldn’t be what Christmas is about.
V – is for Veg
Potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sprouts, onions… all easy to come by in the nude. The veg. Not me.
W – is for Wrapping
Other than the re-used gift bags we used recycled brown paper with string/ribbon. The children’s gifts from Santa even came wrapped in lovely fabric to reuse again and again. He must know us well.
X – is for Xmas spirit
Plenty of that! Not dampened by the cutbacks!
Y – is for Yawwwwn
If you have made it reading this far, I salute you.
Z – is for Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tiring work, this home-made less-plastic Christmas malarky. I’m off to bed!
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