“It’s too soon!” I hear some of you shouting. Well, I hate to break it to you, but Christmas is ten weeks away and, as some people like to get their festive season organised sooner rather than later, I thought that now would be a good time to start this conversation. As for me? Thankfully, I don’t have much to organise because Christmas is generally pretty relaxed around our house.
A few years ago, before I’d heard of zero waste, I watched a documentary called “Manufactured Landscapes”, a stunning meditation on the damage wreaked by industrialisation that follows Canadian photographer, Edward Burtynsky as he shoots landscapes that have been changed by large-scale human activity. It was a sobering watch.
The opening shot of that film really stuck with me. It was a tracking shot, through a super-sized Chinese factory (one kilometre in length) in which 23,000 employees make most of the world’s irons…and this shot went on f.o.r.e.v.e.r.
Well, only five and a half minutes really. But it felt like a looong time. And it got me thinking about the stuff that I buy…and all the other people on the earth buying stuff (side note…have you ever seen a real-time world population clock?…rather frightening).
Shortly after watching that documentary, Christmas season rolled around and I had a conversation with my dad about an idea I’d had. “Hey dad…I don’t know about you guys, but we have enough stuff…we don’t need any more stuff…and if we did need more stuff, we’d go out and buy it ourselves. So, how would you feel…if, this Christmas, instead of buying each other stuff…we bought each other “experience gifts”…you know like massage vouchers or dinner out at a restaurant or something like that?” My dad thought for a moment or two and then replied…”or we could just…buy nothing at all”. Silence, while I processed this novel concept…and then jubilation. “Yes!!” Brilliant!
So, after getting the okay from the rest of the family, that year we had our first Buy Nothing Christmas.
And it was so. freakin. AWESOME!
No scrambling to figure out what to buy my brother who generally made it pretty obvious that he wasn’t that stoked with gifts I gave him. No more working out what the hell to give my dad, an uber practical guy who, in reality, was happy to receive a pair of socks and a box of scorched almonds (I really didn’t want to go through another Christmas giving socks and scorched almonds). No more finding homes for gifts that I would receive but had no use for. No more wasting money on giving family members things that they didn’t actually need and that would just add to the clutter in their lives. No more stress.
It was a revelation.
Instead…we ate delicious food, we spent time with each other, we played games, we listened to music, we went for a walk and played tennis, we relaxed. And we agreed that the idea of buying nothing at Christmas time was pure genius.
Now, one thing to note is that we do have kids in our family. And we didn’t want a tiny riot on our hands. So we decided we would still do gifts for the kiddiewinkles. But instead of buying new trinkets, we opt for homemade, second-hand or experience-based gifts. We’ve given indoor rock-climbing vouchers, homemade stilts, trampoline park vouchers, second-hand board games, homemade building blocks and personalised memory card games. The coolest gift was the one we gave our then-four year old nephew, Cooper, the first year we did Buy Nothing Christmas. We scoured our neighbourhood for used cardboard boxes and then, my husband and I, spent the morning constructing a giant rocket in my parents’ backyard.
Granted, Cooper only played with it for a matter of minutes…but building that thing was so much fun! And weirdly, just recently (years later), out of the blue, Cooper said to me “Aunty Kristy…do you remember that giant rocket that you and Uncle Davian made for me that time for Christmas?” Amazed he remembered, I replied “yeah?”….and Coop says “I should have played with that more. That was really cool”.
And, just in case you’re wondering, where does Santa fit in to all this? Well, before our daughter was born, my husband and I had a conversation about whether we wanted to teach her about Santa and we both concluded that, while we wanted her to experience the magic of Christmas, the idea of telling her that this guy flies around the world giving presents to everyone didn’t really fit in with our feelings about consumerism (or honesty). So, we explain that Santa is a “pretendy story” that people like to tell at Christmas. And instead of focusing on Santa, I discovered an alternative.
Every year, on the first day of December, two little people (Christmas Pixies, as we like to call them) arrive on our doorstep with a note saying that they're back for another visit and what they’ll be doing for the coming weeks. Every day, up until Christmas, they appear somewhere in the house with a new note suggesting a fun activity that promotes generosity and kindness.
“Let’s bake some cookies for the neighbours”.
“Let’s collect some of your toys and give them away to the local children’s hospital”.
“Let’s donate cat/dog treats to the animal shelter”.
And our daughter LOVES it.
- Christmas magic – tick!
- Teaching my little girl how to be an awesome human – tick!
- And zero waste – tick!
The other thing we’ve changed in the last couple of years, is our approach to Christmas food and this is one area where we’ve seriously simplified. The tradition in years gone by was that we would have Christmas at my folks’ place and, every year, my mum would take on the role of head Christmas chef (as mums often tend to do). She always claimed to enjoy it and every year churned out an obscene amount of delicious food for Christmas Day. But, the reality was, it exhausted her.
So, for the last few years, we’ve taken our Christmas show on the road, choosing a scenic spot away from the city to park up my parents’ campervan and spending Christmas Day enjoying the great outdoors. Taking my mum away from her kitchen, her “nuclear-war ready” pantry and her myriad of kitchen gadgets has made us simplify significantly. Now, instead of mum cooking absolutely everything, everyone brings a plate to contribute to the Christmas feast. And last year was the best.
We were all in the campervan, staying at beautiful Kawhia. I was preparing some food, everybody was pitching in and we were nearly ready to eat. And, just as I was adding the finishing touches to the meal, I turned to mum and asked her “so what did you make?” She paused for a moment and then…dawning realisation. “Nothing!”
“Good work!” I replied, in all sincerity, and gave her a high five.
Because I don’t think Christmas should be about stress. It shouldn’t be about expectations, it shouldn’t be about maxing out your credit card, it shouldn’t be about waste. It should be fun. And it should be about relaxing and spending time with people that you love. Which is what I plan to do this Christmas and all the ones after it.