Nov 292019
Christmas and the Climate Crisis

It’s that time of year again! Christmas is hands-down my favourite holiday, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I listen to Christmas tunes year round, and start watching festive films in October. In years past, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the excess of Christmas — the food, the glitter wrapping paper, the hyper-consumerism, and the waste. I’m not religious, so the meaning of Christmas for me is about family, tradition, and generosity, but, religious or not, the excess of the holidays seems unavoidable for many people. This post is all about Christmas and the climate crisis.

This excess just doesn’t sit well with me, nor with the environmental message of my blog. How can I celebrate my favourite holiday without being a hypocrite? Can I live low waste and strive for sustainable living while retaining the nostalgia of my 90s childhood? For me, Christmas dreams were socially-constructed as elaborate meals, head-to-toe glitter, shopping sprees, toy catalogue wish lists, and covering the house with every type of Christmas ornament and twinkle light imaginable (think National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation meets Martha Stewart with the “holidays are coming” Cocoa Cola ad playing in the background). How do I adapt my Christmas traditions, and perspective on  consumerism generally, to take the climate crisis and plastic pollution into account? These difficult questions are what I will be exploring in this post.


Firstly, I’m not going to tip-toe around the fact that the circumstances which allow me to even consider this topic come from a place of privilege. I had a good childhood, I have the ability to afford presents and a flight home to see my family, I have a safe home that isn’t threatened by forest fires, flooding, or warfare, I don’t live in poverty, and I’m healthy. As such, this post may only resonate with those who are fortunate like myself, and I hope it serves as a reminder that many people don’t have this privilege.

Statistics on Christmas Waste:

Over the Chirstmas period, the garbage Canadians produce increases by more than 25 percent compared to the rest of the year, including over 2.5 billion Christmas cards (see Global News article). In 2017, Brits sent 277,000 miles of wraping paper to landfill, and the amount of Brussels sprouts wasted at Christmas could power a home for for 3 years!

Copyright: London Sustainability Exchange
Christmas Marketing:

Given the social awareness of the climate crisis, I find it increasingly distasteful that Christmas marketing starts earlier and earlier…. spend more, waste more, with no thought given to the implications or impact. This year, the mince pies arrived in the supermarkets in early September and I saw my first Christmas window display in October — before Halloween! In late October, the two most read articles on the BBC were about 1) Brexit and 2) The possible shortage of holiday meats (bacon wrapped sausages to be specific)… November 1st, the onslaught of Christmas ads began. I love to celebrate, but I’m fed up with companies trying to make a profit above all else. Buying stuff is not the way to enjoy the holidays.

Moral Responsibility:

Despite our adoration for Christmas, we literally live in a different world now, and many of us are more mindful about the impact we have on the environment. With this, I argue, comes the moral responsibility to adapt our celebration of the festive season (as bah-humbug as that sounds).

When will it be enough, or too much too soon? I don’t have the answer, but as someone who looks forward to this season all year round, I’m making a concerted effort to think twice about every purchase, focus more on experiences rather than stuff, and question the consumerism and marketing. This comes from a place of privilege, but it is a helpful reminder for keeping the true meaning of the holidays (whatever those may be for you) at the forefront of your heart.

I truly believe that we need to sort out our priorities as a society. We need to balance tradition, generosity, and nostalgia with a changing world. Yet, this challenge to the status-quo and call for a re-evaluation of celebrating need not be devoid of magic and merriment.


Sustainable Festive Traditions:

Our motivation to preserve the planet is an opportunity to create new traditions that benefit rather than harm the environment. We should focus on giving generously but perhaps in new ways (and recognise that with a changing planet, there will be a greater number of people in need as a result of weather emergencies). What’s more nostalgic that re-using your Christmas decorations or creating handmade gifts? Creating memories with family, friends, and your community is more important that black Friday sales, deluxe advent calendars, and a bacon-wrapped sausage.

I for one feel somewhat brainwashed; I’ve been sold the idea of Christmas consumerism for decades, and I find it difficult to break away. But, I’m motivated to try to change my Christmas.

I’d love to know if you’ve made changes to your Christmas/holiday traditions in an effort to live more sustainably, and in respect for the seriousness of the climate crisis. Please share in the comments!

Christmas lights
One of my favourite Christmas traditions is going for walks to look at lights. Community or event-based light displays are a great way to experience the festivities without purchasing any thing.


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