For many years, taking care of the environment for me meant not to litter, be kind to animals and be respectful towards plants and other living beings. I rarely reflected about the impact of my lifestyle on the environment until maybe five years ago, maybe a bit longer.
I must confess that I sometimes find it as mission impossible to live a more environmentally friendly life. Just when I replace a bad habit with what I believe is a better habit, I discover I have other hundred bad habits I need to change. It seems like the world we live in is made to make us fail in our attempt to take care of the environment and all living beings in the planet – not just plants and animals but also other human beings.
So, how have I contributed this Christmas season? I don’t see my performance as successful, I know we can do better, but at least we are trying. Here are some of the things we did, and some of the things we learned this year:
I have always liked to give Christmas presents that I think will mean something to the receiver. Either something I know they need, or like or might find amusing but lets face it, most of the people I know don’t need anything. They are completely capable of getting what they need and want whenever they feel like. So, we followed some advice I found in ‘fremtiden i våre hender’.
- Give edible gifts. We gave edible presents to some of the people we really wanted to give a present to. Either bought from local producers or made by ourselves (cookies). I bought also gift cards to local small businesses to some.
- Give experiences. We gave our son a gift card to a place he likes to go with his friend, and he was very happy to find out that he can spend the amount inviting other friends.
- Give used. My daughters have been wanting to have bell bottoms for a while, so I bought them used. At their age, most kids barely wear something before growing out of it. I found some online, and got them delivered by the postal service. My husband wanted a new jacket, I also bought it used from a family who ‘had so many jackets’ that they never used most of them. So his jacket was as new, just without the price tag.
- Make the gifts yourself. We bought some white tea cups at a second hand shop and ceramic markers. The girls really enjoyed decorating the cups for their uncle, aunt and cousins. We also crocheted a couple of stuffed animals for friends. It was fun for my youngest who had never had the patience to finish a crochet project, and for me who had never made a bigger one before. We had yarn at home, and just bought some more when we were running out of colours.
- Simplify a little. We enjoy good food, but at times, it can be too much. So, we try to be more moderate with the amount of food we buy. We planed for Christmas Eve and the days following towards New Year’s Eve and for New Year’s Eve too. We try to have some special dinners and some simpler dinners as well, and have some days with leftovers so we don’t throw anything away.
- Choose vegetarian dishes wisely. I became a vegetarian two years ago, so we also cook some vegetarian dishes during the Holidays. Some days, the rest of the family eat the typical meat dishes while I eat an alternative. Other days, we all eat vegetarian. One thing we have discovered during the last two Christmases is that there is really no point on making dishes that are supposed to look like Christmas dishes. They are complicated and mediocrely tasty. It is much better to choose some of our favourite vegetarian dishes, especially those we know from Indian cuisine.
- How much sugar do you really need? We are trying to limit the sweet treats to one a day. We made dessert for Christmas Eve and we had the leftovers for Christmas Day. We baked some cookies that we have shared with friends, and we bought some chocolate for some other days.
- Buy locally as much as possible. My husband really likes eating good food during the Holidays, and he took the job this year to look for local farmers and producers and bought all from potatoes to meat and strawberry coulis.
- Advent calendar. Here in Norway, the Advent calendar is a big thing for kids. Having three kids, it makes it expensive and not so environmentally friendly to put a gift for everyone each day. One of our kids needs to have a stricter diet, so giving them chocolate every day is not an option either. Therefore, we vary between small presents (mainly things they need like socks, gloves, soap, etc), activities (bake gingerbread cookies, decorate the house, watch a Christmas movie, etc), and the occasional chocolate treat especially before the break when we have busy days and it is not possible to have an activity for the evening where everyone can participate.
- Christmas tree. I checked online what was more environmentally friendly, and apparently, getting a real tree is better than plastic, just by a small margin. It needs however to be a local tree from a conscious farmer. Therefore, this year, I took the kids to a farm where you can cut your own tree. It was the first time we did it, and my three kids thought it was fun but it made me doubt the whole tradition. While we were there, it felt wrong to kill a tree to put it in our living room for some days and then turn it into compost. I asked the farmer how many years it takes to grow a tree like the one we cut, ten years he said. Ten years!! Almost the same age as my youngest. I know we also ‘kill’ carrots and potatoes, but they are necessary for our survival. A Christmas tree isn’t. So, next year, we have to come up with an alternative. The same farmer sells trees in a pot, maybe that could be an option? My husband suggested we plant one in the back yard, but the kids can’t accept the idea of not having a tree inside the house for Christmas…Maybe plastic is not that bad anyway? We’ll see what we do.
This makes me think about the importance of once in a while taking the time to reflect on the traditions we have. Ask ourselves why we have them and how they affect the environment and other people. Some of them can be replaced by other less harmful traditions, some of them we can let go of.
We have definitely a long way to go to become a more environmentally friendly family, but I am happy we are aware and trying.