A modern Christmas is often a time of planet damaging excess; starting with spending too much, often on things nobody needs or even wants, and ending with dustbins overflowing with non-recyclable packaging and decorations. It really doesn’t have to be like that.
Many people continue the tradition of decorating their home for Christmas or other winter festivals and most of us send cards and give gifts at this time of year. That is, or should be, a good thing – we just need to put a little thought into how we go about it, rather than buying all the ‘seasonal’ items our supermarket has been displaying since September. Involving children in these activities isn’t only fun for them, but can help establish eco-friendly traditions which will be maintained for years to come.
Choosing recycled and recyclable decorations, cards and wrapping is an obvious step, but has one disadvantage. Christmas is a time for sparkle and anything sparkly or shiny is unlikely to be biodegradable. You won’t want your children to feel they’re missing out. Fortunately being green doesn’t mean they must forgo gold, silver and all things bright and glittering. Minimise the impact on the environment by saving and reusing sweet wrappers and other packaging as well as wrapping from gifts you’ve received yourself. Bouquets often come with ribbons, expensive toiletries are usually prettily (and excessively) packaged. Get in the habit of thinking whether anything bright, shiny or colourful can be used
as a home decoration, or to brighten up gift wrap. Make a competition of it with the children, awarding them points each time they salvage something pretty.
If they can’t reclaim sufficient sparkle, it’s possible for your children to make their own biodegradable glitter by mixing coarse sugar or salt and natural food colourings together, spreading thinly in a suitable container and placing in a warm dry place until completely dry. It’s not quite as shiny as the plastic or metal versions, but as it’s edible it can be put to lots of fun uses. It will stick well to cards, just select tacky rather than wet glue, so it doesn’t dissolve.
Along with any wrapping paper saved from gifts exchanged the previous year, last year’s cards can be used to make pretty tags. Being larger than most bought versions, they’re far better suited to the handwriting of younger children, so they’re more likely to enjoy writing a festive message and the recipient’s name. If you’re giving non physical gifts such as vouchers or charity donations, children can decorate previously used envelopes in which to place the appropriate paperwork.
Once the gifts are taken care of, your family can turn your attention to decorating the home. Most children will be eager to help with both planning and implementation. If you buy a real tree, choose it from somewhere local, where they’re grown without herbicides and other chemicals. Children will enjoy walking round muddy fields to find the perfect specimen. Come twelfth night, ensure it’s recycled, not put into landfill (garden centres and local authorities will often shred them for composting if this isn’t something you can do yourself.)
Alternatively you could make an artificial tree, either from cardboard, paper, sticks or driftwood. Look online for some beautiful examples to copy, or let the children’s imaginations run riot. Maybe they’d like to make one for their own room as well as a shared family tree? Again these can be recycled or composted after use, allowing you to have something new each year without a guilty conscience.
Making tree decorations is a lovely craft activity to do with children. They can be formed from paper, papier mache, cloth from ripped clothing, old toys, salt dough, a variety of collected natural materials, costume jewellery, small wrapped sweets… Children, unrestricted by adult knowledge of what makes a ‘proper’ decoration, may well come up with unique and attractive ideas.
Children could also enjoy making wreaths and table decorations from natural materials. If you have access to an established garden which contains evergreen plants you should be able to pick lots of suitable pieces with no damage to the trees and shrubs (in fact they may benefit from being pruned). As well as leaves in various shades, consider brightly coloured bare stems. Collect fir cones, dried seedheads, fruit, berries flowers and feathers. You can go together as a family on foraging expeditions, seeing who can find the most unusual items to use in your home decorations.
A bowl of water with attractive leaves, and any remaining garden flowers, floating on the surface, makes a pretty table decoration. You could also make wreaths from holly leaf shapes cut from old cards, packaging boxes and magazine illustrations. Paper chains are easy to make from strips cut from magazines, using flour and water paste to fix them together. You could set up family teams and challenge each other to make the longest chain in a given time. Other garlands can be created by threading any small, lightweight decorative items onto cotton thread.
Crackers can be made from toilet roll centres and paper. Your children will have fun writing out their own jokes and mottoes, making paper hats to go inside and will love shouting ‘bang’ when the unique crackers are pulled.
Poinsettia plants are an attractive and traditional Christmas decoration, but they use a great deal of energy to grow and be brought into flower at the right time. They and other indoor plants raised under heated glass are often raised intensively, with heavy use of chemicals – the result of which isn’t as pretty as the blooms. Instead choose winter flowering bulbs, which you and the children can pot up together if you start early enough. Another good choice would be an evergreen shrub, with flowers, berries or coloured foliage. Later on, your
children can find a spot in the garden to plant the bulbs or shrubs and will enjoy watching them grow.
If you feel children might need an extra incentive to appreciate the advantages of a green Christmas, you can remind them that by saving money on wrapping and decorations which will just go into landfill, you’ll have more cash to spend on a gift they really want and which will give pleasure for much longer than the few seconds it takes to rip open glossy wrapping, or the weeks foil decorations would hang from the ceiling.
However a family which is enthusiastic about decorating in an environmentally friendly manner, needn’t restrict themselves to just the inside of your home. You might like to plant up containers, for the porch, balcony or front garden. Any plants with evergreen leaves and those which produce berries or flowers during winter will look Christmassy. Holly and ivy are good choices, as of course are Christmas roses (hellebores). Container gardening is fun and gives instant results, so is perfect for children.
If your family like feeding garden birds, you and the children can mould seed-filled lard into festive shaped fatballs, or create bird cookies from unsalted pastry, to hang from trees or bird tables. Suet, seeds, nuts and fruits can all be included to give your feathered friends a treat, or fruit such as apples can be suspended from wire or recycled ribbon as blackbird attracting outdoor baubles. The children will find it entertaining to see which birds favour their own creations.
Hopefully some of these ideas will help you and your family enjoy what will become your traditional eco-friendly Christmas for years, and generations, to come.
Patsy Collins is the author of five novels; four contemporary romances and Paint Me A Picture. Her short stories are regularly published in women’s magazines and themed collections. These include two sets of twenty-four family stories and three of gardening tales. Learn more from her website patsycollins.uk or twitter @PatsyCollins