With COVID-19-induced lockdowns and restrictions spanning several months, many of us have missed the fruits of ecology and nature around us. Nature enthusiasts among us had it exceedingly tough with the new home-bound realities. Now, as 2020 finally comes to an end with Christmas carols ringing in, elements of nature could be brought home with living trees and authentic celebrations derived from our natural surroundings.
If anything, COVID-19 taught us to produce and consume sustainably, thus invoking the importance of sustainable consumption and production – goals of which have also been envisaged under Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) # 12.
Toward these objectives, concepts of natural and ‘green’ festivities have been gaining momentum. ‘Green’ Christmas, eco-friendly Christmas, ‘white’ Christmas have become popular over the years. In several countries where winters characterize snow-capped mountains and trees, it is not uncommon to spot natural pines and firs covered with snow, lights, and other decorations. Over time, a lifestyle change is also being seen as we switch to a more conscious and ethical standard of living and consumption. Moreover, the amount of plastic and synthetic waste generated doesn’t augur too well for the collective goals of mitigating threats of a climate crisis and global warming, envisaged under SDG # 13 on climate change. For instance, according to a 2018 report in The Guardian, a 6.5 ft tall artificial tree has a carbon footprint equivalent to about 40 kg of greenhouse gas emissions.
With the fruits of ecology being central to all Christmas celebrations — with living trees, floral wreaths, pine cones, fruits, flowers, and winter herbs — here’s looking at a potpourri of natural decorations to choose from.
The red poinsettias are possibly a favourite floral choice on adding a dash of red, green, pink, and white to indoor spaces. During Christmas especially, poinsettias come in rich reds and plum pinks that make for a colourful spectacle, syncing well with the green vibes around. These are abundantly found in well-maintained nurseries, flower shops and gardens, and have become popular as a nature-friendly festive exchange. Similarly, many varieties of cacti and succulents are slowly entering sustainable living spaces, owing to their low maintenance and also the variety of green hues these have to offer. Christmas arrangements using succulents have gained a lot of popularity as bright, ‘living’ Christmas trees. Similarly, the Christmas cactus with its bright pink blooms steals the show.
Beautiful red and white salvia splendens are some beautiful flowering delights during winters and summers, both seen in gardens, nurseries, and homes. The velvety flowers of red salvias with green leaves are quite a floral delight to cherish during the festival. Salvia splendens vibe with the overall Christmas colours around and look abundantly prosperous. Likewise, the red anthuriums with their soft, heart-shaped petals, remain popular throughout the year and make for excellent indoor plants.
During winters — especially in Delhi — one can’t miss the earthy, flavourful, aromatic chrysanthemums. Floral shops, public gardens, and nurseries bloom with these smiling red, white, maroon, and yellow Chrysanthemums. The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), Delhi, organises the annual chrysanthemum show during the second week of December, every year. Similarly, red hydrangea bushes are other seasonal flowers around this time. Other plants like red crotons and aglaonema are other beautiful greens.
As we graduate toward producing and consuming more sustainably, real, living Christmas trees are gaining far more precedence than the convenient, artificial ones. Blue spruce, firs, pine trees are the most commonly found ‘living’ Christmas trees decorated with environment-friendly lights, and other natural ingredients.
A common way to prepare a Christmas tree is to use a branch of the locally-available pine tree or decorate potted Thuja shrubs (Mor Pankhi in Hindi), ferns, especially asparagus ferns, palms, and the indoor-friendly araucarias. These green pyramidal shrubs and plants with red decor are common living tree ideas, typically coexisting within urban spaces. To ring in celebrations that are pure and authentic, natural pine cones, dried flowers, dried fruits, herbs can be used. The idea is to have renewable Christmas trees contributing to sustainable living, with natural scents of trees, forests, and lively fruits of nature around.
In the absence of any of these trees or plants, any other tree can be decorated, purchased, and planted toward Christmas celebrations, thus adding fresh forest-like and natural aromas to our living spaces.
Fruits of ecology: flowers, fruits, herbs
In many countries, Christmas coincides with the season of berries, and citrus fruits – particularly, winter berries and oranges. Aromatic pomander balls which are simply clove-studded oranges make for a fragrant tree ornament. Similarly, spices such as star anise, cinnamon, and rosemary are popularly used in flower and holly wreaths, over and above meals and delicacies.
Star fruits around this time are also frequently used to decorate the quintessential stars on the trees. Holly berries, leaves, and red mistletoe (which albeit has poisonous berries) are increasingly used in Christmas wreaths for doors and windows. Similarly, fallen pine cones painted with glitter and paint are other interesting DIY craft ideas.
The way forward: green livelihoods
In 2020, all of us finally woke up to the latent economic potential of self-help groups (SHGs). Projects that focus on nurseries and farms in collaboration with the forest department can add a wealth of ‘green livelihoods’ enabling rural development and economic empowerment.
Inter-scheme convergence projects of the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) with MGNREGA have been undertaken in several districts focusing on different tree plantations of economic and ecological importance. Similarly, such initiatives focusing on seasonal flowers and trees could be undertaken in collaboration with the department of horticulture. These ideas shall give a new impetus to the floriculture and crop diversification objectives of agriculture and forestry.
Similarly, thematic handlooms and handicrafts can be promoted to further the objectives of the ‘Atmanirbhar’ and ‘Vocal for Local’ campaigns.