25 tips for a kinder Christmas
Make small changes to your festive celebrations in order to reduce your impact on the planet
Dislike the waste and planet harming aspects of Christmas? Our festive ideas will help you to celebrate in ways that are better for the planet, animals and other people.
1. Make an 'acts of kindness' advert calendar
Instead of buying an advent calendar this year, craft an ‘acts of kindness’ countdown! Rather than opening a window to chocolate each morning, you’ll read a numbered card (1-24) and do what it says — this might be anything from simple tasks like ‘smile at a stranger and say hello’ to ‘go litter picking’.
You will need: scissors; white card; pen; twine/string; 24 mini wooden pegs (you can use normal sized ones, but they look bulkier); a long, non-flimsy twig/branch, or, if you have one, a macrame ring; vegan friendly glue; foraged yew, pine or conifer.
How-to: cut out 24 5x5cm squares from your card, then write different ‘kindness’ tasks on each. Cut out 24 varying lengths of string, then peg a piece to each card. Tie the tops of your string to the branch/ring, so that your cards hang at different levels with the number facing towards you, and the challenge away from you.
Glue or tie foraged plants to the top of your branch or around your ring, for decoration. If you used a branch, cut out one long piece of twine, then tie each end to the outer ends of your branch, so that you can hang it. If you have a ring, hang it on a hook on the wall straightaway!
2. Make a ‘reverse’ advent calendar
Each day of Christmas put an unwanted item of food, clothing or personal hygiene into a box. On Christmas eve, give the box to your local homeless shelter or food bank.
3. Forage and craft a wreath
Festive wreaths are beautiful, but are often made from nasty plastic. Make your own, by collecting holly, yew, conifer, ivy and pine cones from your local woods or park, and arranging the foliage on a ring of bent willow or metal (can be bought from most craft shops). To attach the little branches and pine cones to your ring, simply use wire or cuts of twine.
4. Craft your own decorations
Decorations make a house feel super Christmassy, but many, like tinsel, are made with plastic that takes years to biodegrade. Instead, create your own using things like recycled card and paper (try making paper chains in place of tinsel), foraged holly, yew, conifer and pine cones (these look amazing on a tree in place of baubles), and old newspapers (why not cut out snowflakes and hang them on twine around the house?). Things like cinnamon sticks, dried orange slices and Christmas cookies also look wonderful on a tree.
5. Stay seasonal with fruit and veg
It can be tempting to treat yourself to exotic fruits and your favourite out-of-season vegetables but cooking with and eating only seasonal foods can really reduce your carbon footprint. In the month of December, the following are in season: Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, kale, leeks, parsnips, pears, potatoes, savoy cabbage and spring green cabbage.
6. Forage for chestnuts
Why buy delicious chestnuts, paying for them to be packaged and transported, when most of us can find them for free in our local area?
Early December is probably the latest that you will find chestnuts, since they usually start dropping from trees from mid-to-end October. Yet, they are usually ripe and at their best by November and early December — if the squirrels haven’t got them all already! Look for chestnuts throughout the UK in woods and copses, especially in parts of southern England.
7. Use socks to make stockings
Christmas stockings are a great joy — not only do they look fantastic above a fireplace but are usually filled with little pre-present-opening treats! Grab an old sock you no longer wear or that has a hole in it, and sew on unused Christmas decorations, festive patches made from fabric scraps or other things you can find around the house that look good. Have an old T-shirt? Why don’t you cut out star, snowmen or tree shapes, and sew these on?
8. Create upcycled table napkins
Rather than buying fancy paper or cloth napkins for your dinner table, make your own out of old clothing! Using fabric scissors, cut out equal-sized rectangles from a T-shirt, dress or pair of jeans — just make sure that the fabric is thick enough to be used as a napkin, but not too thick and scratchy on skin.
“In the UK, it is estimated that around 50,000 trees are cut down each year to make enough Christmas wrapping paper”
9. Use solar powered lights
Bright fairy lights seem to light up the outside of every house on every street in the UK throughout December, but both battery and electric lights are wasteful ways of consuming precious energy. Go for solar powered lights that are charged by the sun’s rays — requiring no electricity at all!
10. Wrap sustainably
Ripping open wrapping paper on Christmas morning is one of the most exciting parts of the day, but once presents have been exchanged, we are left with so much waste.
In the UK, it is estimated that around 50,000 trees are cut down each year to make enough Christmas wrapping paper (allthingssupplychain.com). Most of this cannot be recycled (because of glitter and other non-paper additives) and so much of it ends up on landfills.
So, when you wrap your presents this year, get creative! Use things like old newspapers and magazines, a pretty scarf (this could be a gift in itself), cloth sacks, recycled and recyclable plain paper bags or you could even reuse a cardboard box — paint on festive images or stick photos to the outside for a personal touch!
11. Don’t overlook second-hand shops
When shopping for presents, don’t shy away from second-hand, vintage and charity shops. So many new products and clothing are produced simply for the month of December, but there are lots of lovely pre-owned items just waiting to be re-homed. Pop into your local charity shop and you’re sure to find clothes, shoes, home-wares and artworks that someone you know will adore.
12. Buy through charitable vegan organisations
If you don’t fancy giving a gift that’s second hand, then buy through a company that you know needs your money.
Animal rights organisation Viva! has a fantastic online Christmas shop (vivashop.org.uk/collections/viva-christmas) — every purchase made allows their campaigns to continue, helping to spread vegan awareness and save innocent animals worldwide. Likewise, charity Animal Aid has an online shop (animalaidshop.org.uk) stocking everything from vegan perfumes to wine and beers. Once again, proceeds go towards fighting the vegan cause and the protection of animals.
13. Don’t overbuy
This is easily said, but difficultly done. Food and drinks have become the epitome of Christmas for most, and we tend to overbuy treats that end up getting wasted.
Only purchase as much as you and your Christmas guests will actually consume — before you shop, plan out your roast dinner and estimate how many additional treats and drinks you will need, then write out a list. When shopping, stick to your list and don’t get distracted!
14. Give homemade gifts
Making your own gifts not only stops you from taking part in the festive consumerism that creates tonnes of waste each December, but it is way more personal and thoughtful.
Autumn sees an onslaught of delicious berries like blackberries and sloes, as well as hawthorn berries, rosehips and rowan berries — these are usually available to pick from October to early November. If you enjoy a forage, you will have likely already picked and frozen these for later use, but if you missed the chance to do so, blackberries should still be available in your local supermarket all throughout the winter.
Try making things like sloe or blackberry gin, wine or jam; rosehip cordial; hawthorn brandy and rowan wine. Some of these concoctions take a few months to brew, so if you don’t have enough time to make them this year, keep them in mind for 2022.
Other great ideas include homemade chutneys, Christmas cookies (like those on page 86) and mince pies (page 87), crochet wall hangers, scrap books and photo albums. If you’re artistic, why not paint or draw something for your loved one?
15. Shop locally
If your friends and family have requested specific things this year (and you can’t buy second hand or through animal charities), then you can still shop sustainably. Buy local to support independent businesses and cut down road and air miles!
16. Do ‘secret Santa’ with your family or friends
Rather than everyone in your family or friendship circle buying each other a gift this year, why not do a secret Santa, where everyone only gets one gift? Write down everyone’s names on slips of paper, put these all in a hat and randomly choose a name. There are also plenty of online applications that can help you to do this remotely, if you can’t all get together.
17. Decorate an old jumper
Every year, people buy quirky festive-themed jumpers to wear on the Big Day, only to then purchase another one the following year! If you have old jumpers or even T-shirts hanging around, why not decorate these for Christmas instead? Head to your local sewing store and get your hands on their end-of-season fabric scraps, then find your sewing kit and stitch on simple festive icons like snowmen, Christmas trees or even simpler — baubles!
18. Mull your own wine or cider
Don’t purchase pre-made mulled wine or cider if you’ve already got bottles of red wine or cider lurking at the back of your cupboards — mull it!
This is easy to do, with the addition of a few simple spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg as well as sugar and orange slices. There are plenty of recipes for this in cookbooks and online.
19. Send seed paper-cards
Sending and receiving Christmas cards is lovely, but there is a way to do this whilst helping to provide bees with pollinator flowers — send cards with seeds embedded into them. There are lots of companies that make these now, like The Seed Card Company (theseedcardcompany.com).
20. Get crafty with crackers
Crackers are tonnes of fun to pull, but what do you do with the awful plastic toys that come with them? Most of us will enjoy them for maybe five minutes once pulled and then discard them as soon as we step down from the table.
You can avoid this by making your own crackers — fill them with personal mementos, handwritten notes, photos or things you know that your guests will actually use! Check out cracker crafting kits and tips on Etsy (etsy.com), Little Crafty Bugs (littlecraftybugs.co.uk) and Hobby Craft (hobbycraft.co.uk).
21. Opt for a ‘real’ potted tree
Artificial trees are made with plastic, meaning they take years to decompose on landfills once you’re finished with them. On the other hand, real trees that have been chopped down are eventually binned, and end up releasing tonnes of carbon. Choose a real, potted tree that is still alive that you can nurture and keep for years to come.
22. Give gratitude
Spread festive love to someone who isn’t in your close circle, but that has become a regular face to you — someone from your gym, a supermarket worker you always see, your post person or bus driver. Showing gratitude will bring you and them joy but won’t harm the planet!
23. Eat vegan
Cooking vegan for all your Christmas guests not only saves animals from abuse and death, it’s also much better for the planet.
According to animal rights organisation Surge, animal farming is the leading cause of rainforest deforestation, the single largest driver of habitat loss in general and it is listed as being a threat to 24,000 of the 28,000 species that are currently facing extinction.
Likewise, it is responsible for producing up to 18 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, making it responsible for more emissions than the combined exhausts of all transport globally (surgeactivism.org).
24. Save your leftovers
Did you make too many roast potatoes, carrots or parsnips? Pop these into containers in the fridge to be reused in new meals in the days following Christmas. Roast veg can be added to curries, stews and soups, whilst leftover no-turkey and seitan roasts are ideal in sandwiches and stir-fries.
25. Use food waste apps
Christmas sees so much food wasted — either from roast dinner leftovers or pre-Christmas food forgotten in the fridge or cupboards. Don’t let it go to waste — list it on food waste apps like Olio (olioex.com) for others to collect.
Likewise, make use of apps that list food surplus and items reaching their use-by dates in supermarkets — you might be able to get some festive food bargains leading up to the big day; Too Good To Go (toogoodtogo.co.uk) is great for this.