We all say Christmas isn’t about the presents, and we mean it.
Ask around. It’s about family and friends, our neighbourhoods buzzing with community spirit, parents belting out Michael Bublé or Mariah Carey to annoy their children…
It’s about being present. A time to come together, sharing our lives in kindness and gratitude.
So why do we still buy so much stuff?
Each year, we’re confronted by the enormous and growing commercial enterprise Christmas has become. A season of hyper-consumption fed by accelerated production the world over.
We eat more, travel more, buy more and produce 30% more waste than at any other time of the year. Every December in Australia, we give an average of 20 million gifts that are unwanted and at least half of them quickly end up in landfill.
No wonder it’s been described as the world’s greatest annual environmental disaster.
We all want to be generous during our favourite time of year, but collectively our Christmas giving creates pollution and waste that has a huge environmental impact. (Just last week, an endangered sperm whale washed ashore in Indonesia with a horrifying collection of plastic trash in its stomach.)
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to be generous without more stuff, more waste and more CO2 in the atmosphere.
One way to think about it, is that every dollar we spend is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in.
Here’s six gift ideas that don’t cost the planet.
1. Gifts that fight poverty
Think of charitable organisations that reflect the values of your loved ones (like us!). Donate in their honour or give a poverty-fighting gift that can change a life. What could be a better gift than clean water to a community that doesn’t have it? Or income opportunities like goats and pig-farming to help a struggling family secure their future?
Check out our full catalogue of life-changing gifts here. They come with recycled envelopes, or you can even go completely digital.
2. Handmade gifts
Get creative and DIY. Why not take up that hobby you’ve been considering? I’ve heard crochet is making a comeback…
Host a ‘craft-ernoon’ with your kids or friends to make thoughtful, creative gifts. Check out these great DIY Christmas gift ideas. Or keep it small and YouTube how to make a cute origami fox or flower to give to a loved one, or you could make a whole Christmas tree out of recycled paper (like we did last year).
Bake something. Rise up a whole army of gingerbread men to scale a pyramid of brownies.
Go old-school. Homemade Christmas puddings still haven’t gone out of fashion. Be inspired by this brilliant non-profit pudding venture.
3. Give an experience
Practical workshops, concerts, community and cultural events often fly under the radar because there’s so much competing for our attention each week.
Give someone an escape from the office to places like this urban farm that runs useful workshops on organic gardening, pickling and preserving, beekeeping and how to make things like beeswax wraps and hand-carved kitchen utensils.
Or give an experience outdoors with eco/wildlife tours, kayaking, canyoning, snorkelling (or shark dive, anyone?)
… or stay inside with a massage or a foodie restaurant experience.
4. Give time
It’s an absurdity of modern life that despite all our technological advancements – still we work more. Pledging your time could be a thoughtful and useful gift.
Maybe your in-laws could use some extended babysitting to get away for the day? Perhaps your dad can’t get up the ladder to do the gutters anymore? Or your partner has been meaning to get their bike serviced but hasn’t had the time to do it?
Imagine asking your grandma if your gift this year can be time spent helping her with the garden…
Yes, you should do these things anyway, so why don’t you?
You could even pledge your time in a card with an explanation and deadline, so they know you mean business.
5. Buy second hand
Fifty dollars for a T-shirt? Nah mate.
Buying at your local op shop saves you money, cuts down consumer demand for stuff to be produced and supports organisations making positive change in the world. That’s something to dance about.
Onto Gumtree yet? It’s a brilliant place to save a few second-hand treasures from landfill to be re-gifted.
6. Buy local, buy sustainable
Want to reduce your global impact? Think local. Buy from local small businesses, craftspeople, those grandmas selling delicious jams at the school fete. Stuff that hasn’t been shipped across half the world to arrive under your tree.
Vote for a better world with your choices this Christmas.
Disclaimer: vote with your whole community. We know that to overcome the global challenges we face, individual action isn’t enough. We also need drastic changes to our social, political and economic systems to mitigate the climate crisis ahead.
This global problem requires global action.
Truly purposive action is holistic – individual behavioural change needs to lead to ‘awkward conversations’ in our communities about the situation, along with collective action that makes societal change.
The choices we make as consumers have already been influencing producers, but there’s a long way to go.
We each have the power to make a difference, and it can start this Christmas.
This blog was inspired by an internal conversation among UnitingWorld staff to share sustainable Christmas gift ideas. Credit to everyone who fed the great discussion.