My son was rather young when I took the decision to debunk Santa. I was never comfortable with it – for the first few years of his life he had no idea what was going on, but once he was talking, the idea of lying to him became deeply uncomfortable. I did not want to tell him a strange guy had come into his room at night and to be ok with that. I remember how uneasy I felt about that as a child. As a Pagan parent, I did not want to tell him about ‘magic’ I don’t believe in.
What swung it in the end was that his Primary school were collecting toys and gifts for poor children in the area. I could tell this made him uncomfortable, so I asked about it. Of course he’d figured out there was something really wrong with the magical Christmas guy giving extravagant gifts to the children of wealthy adults, while poor kids went without. I sat him down and explained – and he was much happier. I asked him not to let on, and as far as I know, he never did. Not even to adults who asked him what Santa was bringing.
I doubt he’s alone in having questioned this. Why do starving children not get a magical food delivery at Christmas? Why only at Christmas? Where is the magic guy in the sleigh while children are dying in war zones and suffering through other disasters? Why is the magic guy dishing out so much planet-harming plastic and wasting so much paper when the planet is in crisis? For a child to be happy with Santa, they have to ignore the plight of much of the world. Which of course makes it a good entry point into capitalist society. Play along, don’t ask questions, don’t ask about your privilege and you can have lots of presents.
Many of our kids are inherently better than that. Many of them don’t want to believe in a corrupt system rewarding those who have most and ignoring those in genuine need. Many of them care deeply about the future of life on this planet. They may be happier if they know the truth.
This is a story whose roots are indeed magical and generous, but the tale has been co-opted for commercial purposes. It’s not magic any more, it’s capitalism and consumption in peak flow.
Midwinter, season of over-commercialisation looms. Here are some tips for making your gifts more sustainable.
- Ask people what they want. Surprises may seem attractive, but unwanted gifts can end up in landfill.
- Listen to what people tell you they want, especially if you think it’s boring. For the person who can’t afford new socks, new socks are brilliant.
- Start conversations about budgets. Don’t risk anyone feeling pressured to spend on gifts when they can’t afford to.
- For the person who has everything – give them gifts that will make their gardens more wildlife friendly. Plant a tree in their name. Donate to a charity on their behalf.
- Ask people not to use wrapping paper. Tell people that more than anything else, you’d like a waste-free Christmas. Start early on this.
- Give re-usable things. This is especially powerful for people who have no choice normally but to by the cheaper, throwaway options. You’ll save them money and help the planet.
- Give less. A few really well chosen gifts that will be loved and valued are far better than a sack full of plastic tat.
- If there are children in your life, talk to them about consumption and waste ahead of Christmas. Many of them are very aware of the climate crisis and may feel happier doing the festive season in a more sustainable way.
- Consider debunking Santa. The story of the big sack of toys is part of the commercialmass agenda. It’s not ‘the magic of Christmas’ it’s a tool to emotionally blackmail parents into buying excessive gifts. Consider talking about this with your family if that’s relevant to you.
In the aftermath of Christmas, a great many trees will be burned or sent to landfill. I blogged earlier in the season about alternatives to cut trees (still better than plastic trees). However, we’re now at the point where you’ll be thinking about what to do with the tree, if you have one.
If you don’t have a tree, well done! Please feel virtuous and easy of conscience at this point because you’ve already done the most environmentally responsible thing you could do on this score.
If you are in the UK, your local authority may well have a tree collection point for chipping and deployment – chipped trees can be used to help maintain paths, and this kind of re-use reduces their impact.
In some areas, charities are collecting trees for a donation, and then recycling them as chippings.
Find a responsible way of dealing with your dead tree. Don’t send it to landfill.
And really, Pagans, if you’ve killed a tree to celebrate midwinter, you might want to have a think about this.
They come in boxes, usually with a non recyclable plastic front. You get the momentary cheer of pulling them. Out pops a non-recyclable bit of plastic tat, and a couple of bits of paper – a hat that will likely tear as you try to put it on, and a crappy joke.
If you shop around online and through eco-outlets, you can find all kinds of exciting alternatives, with worthwhile things in them, and no plastic. But even so, I question the logic of the cracker. There are many ways to dress up a table, they aren’t necessary for that. I detest the paper hats, for me they represent all the forced jollity I hate about the season. If you want people to wear brightly coloured hats for the meal, why not invest in some brightly coloured hats that can be re-used?
So much more rubbish goes to landfill over the festive period. It’s worth looking at what you think is normal, and questioning it. Crackers are not that great when you stop and think about how much pleasure you derive from them compared to what they cost and how much needless waste they generate.
Food waste at Christmas comes in no small part because we aren’t doing excess well. So much of the attention is focused on one day, and one meal. So you’ve got a roast, gravy, and veg and trimmings and pudding and mince pieces and Christmas cake and cheese and maybe there was a starter and perhaps you bought a bag of nuts… and by late afternoon on Christmas day no one even wants to look at it.
I heard a chap on the radio suggest that some people sit down to consume in the region of 3000 calories in that one meal. It’s hard on your body, doing that. It also isn’t that much fun. Excess can be fun, but not when your stomach hurts and you feel bloated and unable to move.
The trick to excess, is pacing. Why feast on the one day? Why not spread it out a bit? Puddings, pies and cakes on different days, perhaps. Several roast dinners of manageable proportions. That way, it’s easier to manage the flow of food, and the use of leftovers and not end up throwing much out. It also means you can skip gleefully into the New Year rather than feeling horrible, guilt laden and like you have to take up penance activities.
Cut your food waste, increase your enjoyment, make it easier on your body, and have a better time of it all round. Our Pagan ancestors took their time over midwinter feasting and festivities, and we should too.
Christmas decorations that light up are a way of warding off the darkness at the darkest part of the year. They are an antidote to short days and grim, wintery weather, and that’s fair enough, but less, is definitely more.
Consider the raw materials that go into making lights and the wires that connect them. Consider the energy required to power them. Consider the light pollution if you put a lot of them up outside. Consider how that extra light may impact on those around you, and also on wild things.
I’m probably preaching to the converted here. I find it hard to imagine Druids plastering the outsides of their homes in flashing lights made out of plastic, or running up the electric bills to burn brightly through the night.
I hate the wasteful excess of it all, and the ones that flash I find maddening. How do we persuade people to give up on this? I can understand the urge to have a bit of light, cheer and prettiness. But the mad excesses (yes, I have a near neighbour who does this) confuses me. Beyond a certain level, it’s just invasive. I can see no joy in it. I don’t know how to persuade people whose motives make so little sense to me, so if you have any insights, please pile into the comments.
Here’s a simple tip to make Christmas greener: Cut out the plastic. Don’t buy anything that has significant packaging on it – all those gift boxes the supermarkets like to put together are just bundles of waste that have to be dealt with. Let’s send them a clear message that we don’t actually want a ton of extra packaging as part of the season.
Don’t buy plastic disposable things.
Don’t buy gifts in single use plastic packaging.
Don’t buy gifts that are themselves made of plastic – especially not the kinds of cheap children’s toys that are likely to break soon and wind up in the bin.
It can be tempting, especially when buying for children, to want to present them with a big mound of gifts to open. It is of course more affordable to do this by purchasing lots of cheap, plastic toys. Overwhelming a child with low value things that will go in the bin teaches them some unhelpful lessons about consumption and waste and will set patterns they’ll have a hard time breaking in later life. If they can break them at all. It is much better to have fewer things of better quality and to learn to take care of them and value them.
Here’s an option for making Christmas a bit greener: Give people things they can use. Give them food and drink, clothes, toiletries and useful or essential things that they are missing. Make sure these are things that keep well, and they will be used and none of them will be abandoned to landfill.
We are subjected to a lot of messages that useful things – such as socks – are terrible presents. A proper, glamorous present costs a lot more and has less utility. Children don’t want warm clothes, they want a plastic toy based on a TV program. Allegedly.
This is a great time to provide people with nice things they wouldn’t necessarily be able to fund for themselves. Think carefully about what the person you are buying for might need – so many people are living in poverty at the moment; small useful gifts are much more valuable than things of no utility in this context.
Also think about how to tackle the issue of gifts with any friends or family members who might struggle to afford it. Offering not to do Christmas can really take the pressure off. The gift of not driving someone else into debt is a huge one, and well worth considering.
Poverty tends to cause feelings of shame and inadequacy, so it can make it very hard to say ‘I can’t afford to buy you a present’. If you are in a better position, take the initiative here. Start those awkward conversations. Give the gift of caring about other people’s situations.
If you are going to spend money on gifts, take it as an opportunity to introduce some sustainable thinking into other people’s lives. Buy well sourced, eco friendly things that don’t cause harm through their lives. This is a great time to get someone some palm-oil free hard shampoo in cardboard packaging, or a fruit tree for the garden, for example.
Buy fair trade and organic. Buy palm-oil free. Buy things that are made from re-cycled and upcycled materials. Buy from charities supporting the environment. Buy local things, with fewer miles of transport in their history.
Get the Woodland Trust to plant a tree in someone’s name. Details here – https://shop.woodlandtrust.org.uk/christmas
Buy from independent retailers, craftspeople, local artisans, and creators. Support your local community and the people who live and work in it, rather than sending money to the shareholders of some massive company. Pay what something is worth, rather than seeing how many knock down items you can get that were mass produced and whose environmental cost is never factored in.
How we spend our money is one of the ways in which we have real power, should we chose to use it.