Five Sustainable Traditions To Introduce To Your Family This Christmas

Five Sustainable Traditions To Introduce To Your Family This Christmas

posted by Amy Shroff

From unwrapping our favourite tree ornaments to baking mince pies, we all have our favourite things that we look forward to at this time of year. But how can we ensure that our old much-loved childhood traditions are suitable for this new eco-conscious world we live in? This year, it feels more important than ever to make Christmas sustainable, in every sense of the word, by creating festive rituals that can delight your family for years to come.

I don’t know when finding a mandarin orange at the bottom of my stocking on Christmas morning started, but it’s something that I always found there, and (surprise, surprise) now my own children find them there too. Such traditions are part of the joy of Christmas; warm and familiar rituals that children will forever associate with the love and excitement of the season. They are passed down from generation to generation as new parents become overwhelmed with the desire to replicate these happiest of childhood memories for their own children.

Because these traditions exert such a huge emotional power over us, we can often find ourselves indulging in behaviour or purchases that we might not normally make at other times of the year. My family is deliberately careful about the waste we generate, preferring to upcycle and reuse as much as possible. But at Christmas, our efforts at sustainability can be thwarted again and again, as our ingrained deference to childhood memories overwhelm our hearts.

While there is nothing wrong with adhering to something you loved as a child, it can be important to take a step back and remember that the basis of any tradition is a simple matter of mind-association. The repetition of beloved songs that you only hear at this time of year, the careful unwrapping of a favourite family ornament, the scent of nutmeg and cinnamon wafting from the kitchen; all these things combine and burrow deep into your mind, becoming synonymous with Christmas itself. But it is perfectly possible to tweak your festive rituals to make them more eco-friendly or to create new ones, even if your kids are a little older. Because as long as something brings joy, it can become as traditional as Brussels sprouts with surprising speed.

Below are five examples of sustainable traditions that you could think about adopting into your own family Christmas going forward…

1. Alternative Advents

There are so many beautiful alternatives to those exorbitant “disposable” advent calendars filled with unrecyclable plastic, glitter, foil and a chocolate that tastes of cardboard. A few years ago, I rebelled against them and made my kids Advent Jam Jars instead. They were 8 and 10 years old at the time, and I worried they would be disappointed, but they were thrilled, and the same jars are now excitedly brought out each year to have pride of place on the mantelpiece. They’ve been known to contain anything from a small sweet to a cinema ticket for that night. But don’t feel the need to go overboard with 24 “gifts” – after all, it’s the countdown to the big day which brings the most satisfaction.

2. Imaginative Wrapping

Take care when choosing your wrapping paper that it is able to be recycled. Remember that any paper that contains glitter or foil ends up as landfill. But this doesn’t mean your wrapping can’t be pretty! Let the wrapping become part of your family’s tradition, seeing who can come up with the prettiest, most sustainable or innovative solutions. You could re-use some beautiful fabric to make gift bags or simply wrap around and tie with a ribbon. You could decorate recyclable brown paper with hand-drawn illustrations, or even make the “wrapping” part of the gift, such as clothing or a pretty keepsake box. And as for Santa, if his presents are delivered in a stocking or a sack, question whether they actually need to be wrapped at all.

3. Keep Santa Simple

As Santa’s gifts are of course made by elves in a wintery workshop, they should be kept pretty simple; puzzles, board games, small toys, maybe some clothes to bulk things out. Any big budget items that have been petitioned for since July should always come from people, not Santa, so that they can be properly thanked for and appreciated. As kids get older and their wish-list becomes increasingly pricey, this is one tradition you will appreciate more and more, especially as any errors of judgement can be easily returned or exchanged, instead of becoming one of the tens of millions of unwanted gifts that go to landfill annually. 

4. Don’t go Crackers

It’s hard to wrap your head around the amount of waste that Christmas crackers generate each year globally, but if the estimate of 100 million crackers being pulled in the UK alone is correct, you have a pretty good idea. If you can’t imagine Christmas dinner without a snap, a party hat and a really bad joke, maybe it’s time to get creative with your table decorations. Let the kids decorate some upcycled bottles, empty jars, hand-tied bags or matchboxes. As they get older, these can become the kids’ special responsibility for preparing for the big day, making and decorating paper hats to fold inside and researching the funniest jokes they can find to entertain the adults!

5. O Christmas Tree

Let’s face it; the Christmas tree is the centrepiece of all your festive decorations, and the place where the magic happens, so people tend to have very strong opinions on what type of tree they should have. This makes it one of the most contentious green Christmas debates, and one you might want to avoid having with a friend after a few too many mulled wines! There are enough statistics out there to justify getting the tree you want, if you try hard enough. Yes, real fir trees are natural and compostable (although their carbon footprint from being flown in from the northern regions is pretty huge). Yes, artificial trees can be re-used year after year (although they have to be used for well over a decade before this re-using counterbalances the polluting impact of their initial creation). But there ARE other beautiful alternatives to be considered. The below photos of a friend’s tree this year is, I think, a perfect example of thinking outside the box for Hong Kong homes. A simple bamboo structure incorporating sweet-scented local eucalyptus branches and favourite family ornaments, it is beautiful, imposing and has the requisite touch of magic!

What sustainable Christmas traditions do you have in your family? Share your thoughts and ideas on our community social media pages and create a Christmas to be proud of!

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