Ah, Christmas. The holiday’s original religious significance long gone, mass consumption and excess spending have taken its place. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful time of year. Living in Germany I get to enjoy the festive Christmas markets (lots of mulled wine and bretzels) and most of all I love that it’s a reason to get together with family and celebrate the year’s end. I love giving gifts and seeing the reaction it evokes and, let’s be honest, I don’t mind receiving gifts either. But the way it optimises our consumerist culture really gets me. Every year there are more headlines about the Black Friday frenzy and an influx of advertising encouraging as much consumption as possible. Christmas feels less about spending time with family and more about giving and receiving as many gifts as possible.
Still, there are ways we can reject the consumerist elements of this holiday, while still getting together to celebrate and share gifts. I’ve put together a list of tips for how to give more ethical gifts this year.
Buy experiences not things
Ask most people and they will say they remember experiences - not things. Experiences make great gifts - especially if it’s something you can do with your loved one. Why not see if there is an interesting experience you could buy as a present or even organise a short staycation? Booking an airbnb somewhere new, but close by and accessible is one my favourite things to gift my partner. In fact, we usually say forget the presents and choose somewhere to go together, splitting the cost.
Buy second hand
This is especially relevant for electronics, such as iPhones and laptops, which are very often given as Christmas presents. Can you get that item second hand instead? There are plenty of people selling one year old, like-new items that not only serve their purpose but are significantly cheaper. Every new item we buy carries a carbon footprint and buying things that already exist is an excellent way to ease the strain on our world’s resources.
Rethink stocking ‘fillers’
While I totally get the intention behind stocking fillers and the tradition itself, very often these little stocking fillers turn out to be nothing more than immediate waste. Think about whether these miniature items are really needed or worth it. The smaller the item the less efficient the use of plastic or other material it is. Why not choose more useful stocking fillers, e.g. a bamboo toothbrush or soap.
When buying new, buy ethical
If you do decide to buy new, take the time to research ethical brands, rather than head straight to the high street. There are so many amazing brands out there that are doing great things for the planet - what better gift than to support these brands. Generally speaking, ethical brands also produce higher quality products which are made to last - I’d much rather receive something high quality that has a social impact than an item that will need replaced after a few months.
There is nothing more touching than a homemade gift. What about making a few gifts this year? For example, try making a macrame plant hanger, some homemade body lotion or a candle. At the end of the day, giving gifts is about making other people happy, and the thought that goes into homemade presents is sure to be appreciated. Plus, making gifts is much more enjoyable than traipsing down the high street in the rain.
Donate to charity
Why not choose to give to charity, whether in the form of a monetary donation or sponsorship, as a gift this year. For example, sponsoring an endangered animal would be a fantastic gift for children (who generally love animals) as they get to track their progress and feel like they are doing something good. Other ideas: planting a tree, sponsoring a guide dog or donating to your loved one’s favourite cause.
Skip the wrapping paper
Did you know wrapping paper is not recyclable? And every Christmas consumers go through mountains of it, all to be ripped apart and placed in the bin in under a few minutes. This year, choose plain brown paper (recyclable) or old newspaper as wrapping paper. Last year I collected some nice leaves from outside and used this as decoration along with some string.
These are just a few suggestions for how you can have a more ethical Christmas this year. There are many more examples of sustainable and ethical gifts, but they all have one thing in common - they were not produced at the expense of people, the planet or animals. Do you have more suggestions? Comment below and let me know!