The silly season is upon those of us that celebrate Christmas for cultural or religious reasons, and as anyone in retail will tell you, the shoppers are out in full force. Gift giving is supposed to be joyful, but for most, it is stressful on the mind and the bank balance. We guilty wonder if Aunt and Uncle Whatstheirnames will send us another scented candle set this year, and if so, do we need to get them a gift in return? We decide to get them something we spot on sale from Target, just in case. Will they even use it? Well, it’s the thought that counts, right? When Christmas is over for another year and piles of soon-to-be discarded wrapping paper litter the floor, the spending doesn’t stop, silly. It’s time for the Boxing Day sales!
This seasonal purchasing madness can drain our energy and deplete our hard-earned savings (Australians are tipped to spend $32 billion this Christmas alone), but in the chaos we often forget the impact it has on our environment. Aunt and Uncle Whatstheirnames probably have everything they need, and potentially, everything they want. After your gift is opened, there is a one in five chance it will be completely unwanted or useless. In thirty per cent of those cases, your gift will sit on the shelf unused or be promptly thrown away. If you’re lucky it might be re-gifted to someone else who will never use it. There’s never a more pertinent time than this silliest of seasons to remind ourselves of the devastating and cyclical impact of our culture’s obsession with stuff. Annie Leonard’s brilliant project, The Story of Stuff is a great place to start. The short film follows the cycle of mass production and purchase all the way to the landfill, and back around to the shopping cart.
For those of us who want to avoid excess landfill and stick to gifts that really mean something to our loved ones, there are a few tips to follow.
Give a gift that is intangible, and there is literally no chance it can be re-gifted or end up in refuse! Cook a vegan dinner for a friend, take them to see the ballet or for a night of stand-up comedy. Decide as a family that you’d rather spend a few days off together at the beach than give each other presents. Memories stay with us much longer than stuff, especially in a market where planned obsolescence rules.
We’re all time poor, so it can seem like a daunting task to make gifts by hand. However, if you stick to something simple and give only to those closest to you, you’ll be done in no time. The old adage is true, it is the thought that counts. The latest gadget simply cannot top the love and sweat that goes into something handmade. If you’re a whiz in the kitchen why not whip up some gorgeous vegan gingerbread cookies or miniature fruit cakes for each of your friends? Crafty types might like this guide to green handmade gifts from Totally Green Crafts. Just make sure you’re making something that the recipient is actually likely to use: toilet roll sculptures are great, but they’re just as likely to end up in the bin as cheap gift soap and body lotion. If you don’t like to craft, why not pick up some seedlings and put together a windowsill edible garden kit for your apartment-dwelling loved ones?
Group Purchases/Secret Santa
It seems like a social taboo around Christmas time to answer the inevitable question, “What do you want for Christmas?” People might feel afraid of naming something too expensive for the giver and placing unnecessary financial pressure on them, or feel that it takes some of the magic and surprise out of the occasion. Perhaps there is actually nothing they want or need. My advice as a vegan is to be as upfront as possible to ensure that you get a gift that meets your ethical criteria and is something you want. If there is nothing, suggest a charitable gift so that others can access something they truly do need. Not everyone is willing to be this upfront, however. To overcome such secrecy, it can help to put a few heads together and come up with one undeniably spectacular gift between you. Pooling together with an entire family often ensures that the gift is much more useful that ten smaller, cheaper ones and can actually save recipients from having to make the purchase themselves. This can tie in well with large-scale intangible gift giving – anyone for skydiving or a weekend stay in an eco-lodge? Secret Santa works just as well, and is light on the carbon footprint and wallet. Plus, the mystery and secrecy puts the fun back in gifting!
We hope you have a happy and safe silly season if you do celebrate Christmas. It can be a difficult time for environmentalists and vegans – and anyone who doesn’t like carols – but with a bit of effort it can be an ethical and green (not just a green and red) holiday.
Anna Angel is a Brisbane based journalist, writer, and vegan. She likes to daydream just as much as she likes to explore the big issues of life. Anna has been vegetarian for half her life, and vegan since 2007.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia Licence