This is a great time of year to make a difference by planning a green Christmas and holiday season.
You can make conscious decisions about what you'll buy, eat and do. Try not to get caught up in the commercialism of Christmas, feeling like you have to indulge your kids for them to have fun - instead, start traditions for yourself and your family that will still make it magical and sentimental, but eco-friendly as well. Having a more conscious Christmas could benefit everyone!
Make your own presents
By 'making your own' you can avoid, or reduce, the environmental impact that comes from processing, packaging, distribution, and marketing:
• Sew, create, bake or make things, using eco-friendly ingredients or products, keeping in mind the origin of the items, the packaging, and if any elements can be reused, or recycled.
• Use recycled fabric from op shops, markets or your sewing box, or look for natural fabrics, such as organic, hemp and eco-bamboo.
• Make treats using organic, in season, local or home grown produce, where possible.
• Get your family involved, so you have fun and your gift giving has extra meaning.
• If you're not very crafty, arty or confident in your cooking, look for easy ideas to add your own touches to bought eco-gifts, such as home made gifts tags or wrapping paper.
Bake or cook your own presents
• Think fruit cakes, rum balls, decorated cookies, sweets, sauces, pickles, relishes and chutneys, jams, spiced nuts, preserves, spices and curry pastes.
• You can find all sorts of wonderful glass jars and containers from op shops/garage sales/markets, or in your own cupboard ... they just need to be washed, sterilised, and tied with a nice ribbon or your own labels.
• You can also buy eco-friendly disposable plates or bowls to put your goodies in, using muslin or printed fabric to scoop up and around the bowl, tying with ribbon or raffia.
• Hampers are a great way to gather your homemade gifts, or bought eco-gifts into a lovely present.
• Think about making the hamper along the lines of an appropriate theme, such as home-made treats, home grown produce and flowers, gardening kit, beauty/toiletries gift pack, or gourmet eco-food.
• Look at local op shops for suitable baskets, or try garage sales, or markets. Some places sell their good quality second-hand baskets for a little more, but they're worth it, as they are reusable in so many ways.
• To decorate your baskets or box with eco-ideas, see below.
Sewing, knitting, embroidery, crocheting
• If you like to create with fabric, wool or thread, you probably have heaps of ideas already, but try using natural/recycled fabrics and materials.
• Some easy things to try your hand at include shopping bags, using scrap fabric, or buy some eco-friendly fabric like organic hemp or bamboo; kids' costumes, like pirate, fairy or princess; clothing, especially cute items for kids; aprons, with adjustable ties, and a pocket on the front; unique linen or haberdashery, such as tea towel, napkin/ napkin holders, and tablecloth sets, or cushion covers.
Scrapbooking, photography, crafty or handy ideas
• If you have other talents, use them to make great presents, using recycled and eco-friendly paper, card and accessories.
• You can also buy photo frames made from eco-wood, or second hand ones, and do them up!
• Think about calendars, using recycled cardboard, with photos on each page; bird feeders, using recycled items, if possible; plants or planter boxes, perhaps with organic seedlings, gourmet herb selections, or natives.
Enviro-friendly present ideas
Think outside the square, and look for something different. Practical gifts that get used are better than things people stick in the back of the cupboard!
• You can buy practical gifts, with groovy designs, such as SIGG drinking bottles, or reusable shopping bags.
• For those who have everything, perhaps 'Plant a Tree' for them, or purchase carbon offsetting on their behalf.
• Going green doesn't mean you can't pamper people - try giving bamboo dressing gowns and eco-bath products, or indulge them with gourmet eco-foods.
• Look for handmade babies and kids toys, made from natural products, or solar powered gadgets for the teenagers.
• There are many books, from vegetarian cookbooks, to green guide books, to light hearted green reading, such as Living the Good Life by Linda Cockburn.
• If you normally get someone a small gift, like hankies or underwear, look for organic cotton or hemp.
Eco-stores and sellers
Look for catalogues online for Fair Trade and eco-sellers, such as WWF (Australia) or Oxfam, Neco or Biome. Also look for Australian handmade or work at home mothers (WAHM) stores. Markets and local fetes are also a great place to find eco-gifts.
Avoid the chemicals and resources that go into short-life batteries, and the issue of their disposal, by avoiding toys and gadgets that require batteries. Or if you do, also buy a recharger with rechargeable batteries, or look for solar powered toys and gadgets. You can get solar chargers to go along with electrical presents you are giving. Try online stores such as Neco, Todae and the Environment Shop.
Vouchers, donations or subscriptions
Make a donation to a charity on behalf of your loved ones, who probably do not need any present you could give them as much as someone else out there needs to eat, be sheltered or be educated. You can also give subscriptions to G magazine, or organic gardening magazines, or sponsor an animal from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in your recipient's name.
Tree and decorations
You may decide not to have a tree at all, but there are ways to have one without importing plastic from overseas, and other ideas to create that special atmosphere, showing others that eco-friendly does not mean boring or dull!
• Living Christmas Tree: try any potted plant that's big enough to hang handmade decorations from. You can then plant it out afterwards.
• Branch of a tree (also called Christmas Sticks): find a small to medium branch from a gum tree in your backyard (that isn't being used as a home by native animals!) and stand it in a pot, and hang with some decorations. You can also use the same concept for a table centrepiece too!
• Solar powered lights: avoid energy-sucking Christmas lights and decorations, or buy solar powered ones instead. Buy quality and care for what you do buy, so you can year after year of use.
• Eco-friendly decorations & stationery: look for handmade, local, or fairtrade decorations online, or at your local markets. Decorate using long lasting, in season flowers, gumnuts and native flora. When buying, look for better quality that will last and store them safely once the season is over. Consider buying a couple of better quality decorations each year, to add to your collection, than buying cheap, poor quality that needs replacing each year. Soon, you will have a nice collection, that has sentimental value as well.
Make your own recycled decorations
• Start saving toilet paper rolls, unused foil, paper, or card. Make templates (for a star, tree, birds, etc) and then get the kids to decorate, keeping in mind what you're adding if you want to compost or recycle afterwards.
• If you have any old Christmas cards, or wrapping paper, cut them up and use in your craft too. Also think about eco-friendly ideas such layers of coloured recycled/ collected paper, or card, cut into shapes, hole punched and tied together with twine. Or you could also reconstruct your old decorations into new ones.
• Make your own craft decorations out of dough, wood, or craft clay, which can be dried and used again, and again... the kids will have fun! Look for pots of eco-paint, collected stones or shells, or glass beads.
Wrapping and cards
• You can buy recycled gift paper or use your children's art works, or make your own using recycled paper, eco-paint and potato stamps. Decorate scrap paper sheets, or buy some recycled brown paper, and try making a stencil or potato stamp to do a repetitive pattern, or make each sheet an individual art work!
• Look for old ribbon or tinsel to tie the presents up with. There are also local companies, like Earth Greetings, who sell lovely eco-friendly cards and paper. Reusable gift bags are another idea.
• Try fabric wrapping - get pre-loved scarves or fabric to wrap, tying with ribbon or even beads you might have. Even look for lovely teatowels or linen to wrap with, that can be used again!
• Make your own cards using scrap paper, and cardboard, recycled ribbon and sequins. Check out your local markets, op shops or sewing box for remnants, or keep Christmas cards, cut off the front and make your own the following year.
Remember the three "Enviro Rs" when getting ready for Christmas this year... Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Think about what you really need, and how much you and your family really do have. Your family and children could receive so much more by buying presents for Wishing Trees, donating to charities, or helping those less fortunate than yourselves. And the Earth will benefit too!
Discuss environmental issues and share your own eco-Christmas tips with others in the Essential Baby forum.