Earlier this week at work, I overheard these women talking about Christmas cards. One said she had already received the first Xmas card of the season, then the other lady replied she hadn’t even started to send her cards and these cards have to go all the way to the UK as all her family lives there.

That got me thinking on how we all get stuck in these old traditions and it is hard sometimes to think outside the box, to find other ways. And it makes sense because these behaviours have become habits, automatic actions do without questioning them.

Today I am writing some about three common rituals many people follow during the holiday season and ways to reduce waste.

One present is enough

Many families get together on Christmas and each person gives a present to every member of the family. Let’s do a quick exercise:

A Xmas gathering of 8 people, means one person has to buy 7 presents, so that’s a total of 49 presents as a result of this gathering – plus wrapping and sometimes cards. If present costs an average of $15, each person spends $105 and as a group they spend a total of $735 dollars. And I am saying $15 because most people end up buying small/cheap presents, otherwise this ritual becomes too expensive.

What could this family do together with $735? I bet many fun experiences. But putting aside the money, remember these usually unwanted gifts need valuable resources to be manufactured and transported, and sadly many will eventually end up in landfill.

Again tradition just means habit, who says we have to follow that rule?

If you really want to keep the tradition of giving presents, then instead of buying gifts for everyone, organise a Gift Exchange or Secret Santa. That means you only buy one present. In the example above, 49 presents get reduced to only 8! Massive difference.

For instructions on how to set it up check this WikiHow article. For fun and to reduce the impact on the environment even more, you could also consider one of these rules but instead of selling it as a “rule”, you could say this year there is a theme:

  • Let’s get crafty: only hand-made presents (not necessarily by the giver, but that would ideal if everyone is on board).
  • Bring the food: only edible gifts (e.g. chocolates, cakes, chutneys, breads… the sky is the limit).
  • Give it a second chance: only pre-loved/vintage items. I love this one, it an economical option and it is using objects that were already created and otherwise could end up in landfill.
  • Aussie Aussie Aussie: only products made in Australia. If you are reading from other country, just find a catchy name for this one!
  • Experiences collectors: only experiences not physical gifts. This one depends on the limit established, to be  honest it is hard to find nice experiences for $20. But if everyone participating has the budget, it can be a good option.

Now, if this idea of one gift makes sense to you, just speak up. Friends and family may find it weird, and some may resist change, but remember they are also habituated, they have been doing the same ritual for long time. It is normal they don’t want a change.

Just explain why you think it is a good alternative. If you think they are not into the “green” side of it, just focus on the money and time savings (who wants to spend the time buying stuff this time of the year?), I am sure they’ll be open to listen!

If you can’t get everyone on board, just try to get eco-gifts, that may inspire others. For ideas read my post Greener Gifts Ideas.

Deliver messages instead of cards

In a current world, with so much technology and ways to connect, Do we really need to send cards – especially to the other side of the world?

Some people will argue that there is nothing like a hand-written paper card and fair enough, I get that because I am a paper lover, however things have changed, we can find other ways to deliver the message.

The ironic part is that the card most people buy are usually made in China, so these products already travelled long distances from the places they were manufactured to where we live, and now we are sending them for another journey, again!

Instead of creating demand for more paper and generating more emissions delivering physical cards, let’s consider:

  • Electronic cards: e-cards will deliver the important message and even better it may include music, animations and more.
  • Send a photo with a story: send an email with a photo, maybe something fun you did this year (or a Christmas family photo if you prefer) and tell a story that help you connect with your friends and family, those that maybe you don’t see quite often. Then of course add your wishes and nice messages.
  • Create a video: Gather the family and create a Xmas video with your phone. It will be a special Christmas message people will indeed remember, instead of the card that best case scenario will be displayed that year and then to the recycling bin.

Let’s embrace technology and changes, like the queen delivering her first Christmas broadcast in 1957:

Reuse your decorations

I remember back in Venezuela, when the holiday season was coming, some people started asking: What’s the colour of Christmas this year?  Well, if someone said it was pink (I still don’t know who decided that and how that became a trend, I imagine businesses in China manufacturing more products in certain colours), then these people would go and buy new pink Xmas decorations to follow the trend!

Buying new decorations every year is a tradition for many people, they don’t necessarily replace their old ornaments, but they buy new ones to update their collection.

I have heard people saying they get bored with the same decoration every year, and I get it, but again more stuff is hardly a solution here. If this is your case, maybe instead of buying new decorations this year consider:

  • D.Y.I: there are many lovely ornaments you can make using natural materials. Check this Pinterest link for inspiration.
  • Mix and match: instead of using the same ornaments in the same places around the house, get creative and mix things. Leave some of the ornaments out this year, if you always put the Xmas tree in the same location, change it… there are many ways to mix and match so that your house look a different without buying more stuff.
  • Swap things with close friends: if you are bored of using the same decorations, why don’t you exchange some ornaments with one of your close friends this Xmas? just decide together what you are both happy to lend, make a list of the items and agree on a date you both will return them. It doesn’t have to be all your ornaments, just enough to give your house another style, maybe a wreath, some lights, candles.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” – Theodore Roosevelt

For some of you, these ideas may sound a bit weird, and some are indeed different, but it is time to think outside the box, to break the routine and find new ways to still celebrate the holidays, keep the essence of these traditions, but reducing waste and the impact on the planet.

That’s it for this week. Let me know in the comments below: What traditions do you follow and how you could reduce waste? Please share this article with friends and family if you find it useful.

Let’s connect on social media:

Thanks for reading,