Have yourself a (sustainable) Merry Christmas

By Sian Pankurst, 1 December 2019

Christmas is inching closer every year. Blink, it feels like it’s Easter; blink again, and then its Christmas.

When we think of Christmas, the picture usually consists of a brightly coloured and lit Christmas tree full of presents, nativity scene on the cabinet, festive Church services, gift giving. And in the Australian climate: too hot to go outside, but still do anyway, prawns, fish and maybe some traditional Christmas foods like ham (or if you are my family, different types of meat, cheese and sides to cater for different allergies).

However, we are now paying more attention on the impacts that Christmas has on the environment. Although we use this holiday to give gifts and celebrate the birth of Christ in the company of friends and family, we never really take into consideration what our celebrations have on the environment.

Luckily, the rise in sustainability discussions has allowed for ways that we can undertake a Christmas which not only values our family and our beliefs of celebrating the birth of Christ, but also look after the environment which God created for us. Becoming more sustainable can allow for us to care for our earth and to celebrate time with family and ensure environmental and social justice obligations, as outlined in the teachings of Jesus and Laudato Si’, are met.

Image result for waste hierarchy
The Waste Hierarchy is a useful way to frame and minimise our environmental impact at Christmastime.
Source, The Note Passer.

How can we fix this you ask? Well, we need to think about alternatives to our Christmas traditions. No, you don’t have to become vegan (although the carbon footprint of a plant-based diet is substantially lower), but it does mean doing little things to lower our waste footprint. Baby steps are better than no steps. Here are some ways we can do this:

  • Use reusable or recycled wrapping paper, or DIY from old newspapers. Wrapping paper disposal is one of the biggest issues recognised at Christmas – recycling inherently takes energy, if waste paper is placed in the bin. Non-recycled paper goes into landfill. Gift boxes, gift bags and even baskets can be multi-purpose wrapping alternatives, as can the Japanese art of furoshiki.
  • Less is more: when looking at sustainability websites, the first discussion is about using less and buying less. Now this may seem foreign when discussing Christmas, but one of the biggest sustainability impacts is waste and over-consuming. So, what you can do is buy less gifts, or do events such as Secret Santa for the adults in the family. This not only alleviates pressure for family members if you have a big family (like I do!), but it also allows you to put your resources to just one special present for a person.
  • This can also be through less food at Christmas. Feasting with large and extended families and friends is traditional, and you might be thinking: we’ll eat these as leftovers. Try and not over-prepare or buy locally. Food waste is a huge issue within Australia and buying food that everyone will eat may be the solution.
  • Make sure that lights on Christmas trees and Christmas lights are LED. These lights are usually brighter but take up to 90 percent less than normal lights. Another way to make sure that you can preserve energy, and which can lower your power bills is by turning lights off before you get to bed. Your bank account will thank you!
  • Buy second hand or make homemade gifts. Because of mass consumerism within our society, many Christmas presents are only used once and then the new thing is brought again. If you buy gifts second hand, then you can not only provide a gift that may be unique, but you are also not contributing to fast, cheap consumerism.
  • Support local: if you are buying presents, then supporting local businesses – particularly locally and ethically made – is one way to become sustainable. If you buy online like most of us do, then there is going to be boxes and plastics which cannot be recycled. If you buy local, then you can have less packaging as well as supporting your area. Paddock-to-plate local produce, ethical gifts and experiences are great alternatives.

Church teachings on Christmas

But how can we look after the earth, when we give gifts and celebrate the birth of Jesus? Can we actually use church teachings to help us?

Christmas is a time for Christians to remember the birth of Christ – simple as that. We celebrate the whole month, with Advent and Christmas to remember this birth of the Son of God. When we celebrate Christmas, it is a spiritual occasion as we all spend time in the Church celebrating the birth of Jesus and the trials of the Holy Family. We give gifts because of two theorised reasons: One because God gave us the gift of God and two, because the Magi gave baby Jesus the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Dynamic Catholic 2018). We can often forget the purpose of Christmas, and the true meaning of the one of the most important holidays in the Christian world.

The main message of Laudato Si’ (2015) is to look after our common home. This encapsulates everything to do with our actions as Christians and our relationship with the earth created by God. Laudato Si (2015) discusses throwaway culture as things like paper which we do not recycle, and the faults of our consumption has not preserved our earth for future generations. This can be applied to the reusable wrapping paper because that paper can be reused but not recycled properly. This is damaging our earth and in the words of Laudato Si (2015), “is turning our earth into a pile of filth”. Laudato Si (2015) says that we need to we can reduce single use goods – such as the plastic in toys, plastic wrapping paper and ribbons and even single use napkins and Christmas crackers. Looking after our earth is the important message of Laudato Si (2015) and is the closest connection to what we, as Christians, can do to care for our common home.

This Christmas look, after our Earth and buy something meaningful for family members. If we can undertake a sustainable Christmas through these measures, perhaps we can celebrate the meaning of Christmas and make some new traditions for it too!

Here are some sources that you can follow up on to help get started:

House Beautiful UK, “How to have a sustainable Christmas”

The Conversation Ethical Living Blog, ‘How to have a green Christmas’

Dynamic Catholic, ‘The best advent ever’ sustainable Christmas

ABC Australia, 2018, ‘Celebrating a sustainable Christmas’

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