Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
It’s the middle of November and I’m sitting here, writing down a list of presents I need to buy for the family. It’s the same every year; what to buy for relatives overseas, in-laws who have everything they need and teenage nieces who’d probably be happiest with money for a few bottles of rose to down at their next “prinking” sesh.
So, instead of getting out the credit card, I’ve decided to procrastinate a little by writing down a few tips on how you can make this Christmas really count.
1. Consider your Christmas cards
Yes, they’re recyclable, yes they spread Christmas cheer and yes they often give money to charity so I’m not going to tell you not to buy Christmas cards. But with the cost of a first class stamp now at 65p and even the most basic packs of ten around £5, it’s worth spending a moment thinking about the alternative. Instead of scribbling down names at the foot of a card 50 times, why not donate your budget directly to your family’s chosen charity and mention that in a Paperless Post or email with photos telling your loved ones about your year. Remember, not everyone’s on Facebook.
2. Take stock of your stuff
‘Tis the season of excess so before the inevitable influx of more, go through your wardrobe, their toy box, the random drawer in the kitchen and decide what to keep, donate and throw out for good. Toys can be donated to The Toy Project in Islington and if you take the rest down to a charity shop early enough, you might just make someone else’s party season.
3. Food for thought
Chances are you’ve got a few Christmas dinners lined up by now. Maybe you’ve cracked open the Quality Street already and a Starbucks’ gingerbread latte is your new afternoon treat? It’s so easy to get caught up in the festive spirit but it’s also a great time to spare a thought for those struggling to afford the very basics. Why not buy an extra cup of tea when you’re getting your own and give it to the man on the street? Or fill a basket of basics for your local foodbank next time you’re in the supermarket. You could even make that a job for your little ones while you’re there – give them a budget and see how much they can pick up for the price.
4. Pick the right tree
There’s a big debate over the sustainability of Christmas trees and it’s easy to see why. How can cutting them down ever be a good thing? Well, the Christmas trees of today are actually a crop, giving farmers an income from the land they can’t use for grazing. They’re not contributing deforestation like much of the irresponsibly-sourced wood we have contact with on a daily basis. Artificial trees are an alternative and can be used forever but the pollution created during the production and disposal of plastic, not to mention the factory conditions often seen where they’re made in China, mean finding a local FSC-certified real tree every year is the greener option all round.
5. Make your own crackers
Granted, this isn’t for everyone but it was one of my absolute favourite things to help mum with when I was little. We’d write our own jokes or questions to spark dinner table conversation, include paper hats, a chocolate penny and a little something we’d want to keep afterwards, then decorate them just how we wanted. There’ll be plenty of tutorials to inspire you on Pinterest.
6. Listen out for hints
Be the person who gets it right. Whether it’s picking up on a passing niggle or jotting it down when they mention their love of citrus, you have the power to make their Christmas morning magic. Some people will even tell you what they want, which is often nothing, and that’s fine too. But if you’re not quite ready to cut them out completely, why not donate to charity in their name. I’m sure there are loads you’d mutually support.
7. Give less mess
This one is especially true when buying for kids (and might be a subtle plug for ToyDrop too). There’s no need to buy tatt. Yes, those lovely advent calendars with pockets are beautiful but try filling them with small, consumable treats (ideally without wrappers) or notes rather than cheap plastic toys that will inevitably break and end up in landfill by January. The same goes for Christmas stockings. By all means, be generous but choose things that are either essential or that will last the test of time. Buying things purely because they’re cheap and will give two minutes of entertainment is part of the reason we’re in this eco-crisis in the first place.
8. Value experiences over things
I think most people over the age of about 25 will agree with me on this one. A massage/afternoon tea/theatre trip or babysitting tokens are much more appreciated than another scarf or bottle of whiskey. There are lovely, creative ways to present them too so they can actually open something on Christmas morning. Again, Pinterest is your playground.
9. Make it magical
I’ll be first to admit that I’m no saint when it comes to juggling the balls. My iPhone is glued to my hand 24/7, whether I’m with Arlo or not, and I’m always doing about seven things at once, which often makes me feel like an awful parent. But if I make one pledge for Christmas day (our first year with just the three of us), it’s to switch on aeroplane mode whenever the little guy’s awake. He’s still a little too young to really understand the occasion but having a day of unadulterated attention will be more magical to him than all the toys in all the world.
10. Be mindful of its meaning
Finally, you don’t have to be a Christian to dream of peace on earth. That’s essentially what Christmas is about. So spare a thought – between your pigs in blankets – for those suffering at this time and raise your glasses to the new people you’ve met, the places you’ve been and the positive vibes 2017 has thrown your way. The Christian faith (like all religions) is based on optimism, but it’s not exclusive. The more hope we ALL have for a better world, the more likely we are to get there. Maybe not next year but the more we teach this to our children, the more influential they can be as a force for good.