With Christmas around the corner, the idea of a ‘green Christmas’ is gaining favour, promoting sustainable living, particularly since the traditional ‘white Christmas’ may be a tall order with climate change leading to delayed snowfall in certain locations.
As the world pledges itself to objectives of mitigating climate vulnerability, looking at responsible production and consumption as envisaged under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) # 12 and SDG # 13 on climate change, a leaning towards natural living, especially during festivals, is becoming necessary.
While doing away with plastic-based and PVC Christmas trees may not be entirely possible, as these are sources of local industries and employment to scores of artists across the world, minimising synthetic décor, reusing trees, and balancing decoration with natural, recyclable materials may contribute to an eco-friendly Christmas.
So, how can we celebrate a green Christmas and contribute to making the planet more sustainable?
Traditionally, evergreen Christmas boughs were prevalent much before the advent of indoor artificial Christmas trees. Living trees contribute to the necessary natural capital and green infrastructure in the longer run, in spite of the convenience attached to artificial trees. According to a report in the Guardian (2018), a 6.5 ft tall artificial tree has a carbon footprint equivalent to about 40 kg of greenhouse gas emissions.
With climate sensitivity and consciousness, the focus is back on using living trees and shrubs like the Eastern White Pine, Juniper, Firs, Blue Spruce, Red Cedars make for beautiful choices in colder environments. In India, the commonly found Thuja, along with varieties of cypress and pine (especially cook-pine) are considered living Christmas trees. Additionally, with a focus on decorating and nurturing these, concepts of Christmas farms and nurseries are flourishing across the world.
Flowering shrubs and plants like Red Poinsettia with vibrant red and green leaves, Christmas Flower / Snow Flake that has white, fragrant flowers are other ornamental plants popular during this time. Moreover, red, white and yellow chrysanthemums abundantly found during this time of the year in North India are other options. Reusing existing artificial trees and renting living trees are other practices.
An interesting way of decorating living trees in the gardens and balconies (wherever possible) is to make these trees attractive hotspots for bees, butterflies, and birds. Hanging bird trays, seed mixes, fruits, natural pinecones, and twigs on living trees help promote biodiversity and encourage a harmonious interaction of flora and fauna, a facet absent in the urban landscapes of our times.
Additionally, decorating living trees and shrubs is also a productive way to encourage children by creating awareness on the importance of birds and other threatened fauna like bees.
Holly wreaths and other wreaths made of pine cones, pine leaves, floral wires on doors, entrances, and in gardens are other organic ways to commemorate the ‘green capital’ associated with the festival. Natural pine cones through the year painted with white, green and red watercolour are other common decor ideas.
Gingerbread, herbs, fruits
Herbs, fruits, flowers and edibles on mini trees indoors include seasonal gingerbread, cookies, berries, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves for balmy aromas, and nuts. Homemade candies, seasonal fruits like oranges and apples not only add to the natural quotient but help in minimising waste from artificial decor. Traditionally, there existed the concept of a ‘paradise tree’ which included decorating the Christmas tree with apples.
In German markets, trees decorated with golden apples and ginger cookies, in addition to scenes made of gingerbread known as ‘Lebkuchen’ are a common sight.
Wreaths and mini trees made of fragrant herbs like rosemary are other herbal creations to spice up celebrations naturally.
According to a famous legend, the 16th-century protestant reformer Martin Luther (as reported in http://www.history.com) was once walking through the woods in the evening around Christmas time, when he was bedazzled with stars that shone through the beautiful trees around. Inspired, he made a tree for his family and lit candles on its branches. This legend perhaps is credited with the tradition of natural candles around the Christmas tree.
Usage of non-paraffin candles made of beeswax, soy-wax are quickly gaining popularity. Candle-making is an interesting ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) activity and a tradition across Christmas markets. Candle dipping, also known as ‘Kerzenziehen’, is prevalent in Germany. With concerns of light pollution rising, moving to solar-powered lights and efficient LED lights are great choices to brighten up the ambience.
Gift wraps and paper ornaments
Since lots of gifts are exchanged during the season, wrapping papers and bags made of waste paper, woolens, newspapers, scraps and cloth are other ways of minimising carbon footprints during festivals. Origami decor is a famous concept practiced the world over. Paper birds, swans, flowers, fans, and other ornaments of paper, like chimes, are used popularly as these are lightweight, making for an engaging crafts activity. Additionally, many places in Europe encourage usage of no plastic glasses and give reusable cutlery for parties on a fee.
Natural ideas may not be very appealing in comparison to the glitter-based decor which is cheaper, convenient, and has longevity, but make for recyclable choices, nonetheless.
During Christmas, the world over, markets throng with local artists and craftsmen showcasing their talent and brilliance. One could purchase eco-friendly gifts and support their livelihoods as well. Handmade soaps, incense, jams, candies, paper jewellery, plants, flowers and other traditional savouries could be promoted. In India, the vast network of self-help groups could also participate in fairs and haat bazaars, specialising in modern concepts of chocolate crafts, traditional cookies, gingerbread, crafts and arts. These engagements would diversify their incomes and also capacity development. Moreover, the vast varieties of local delicacies could be promoted during this time of the year, in addition to dedicated Christmas tree nurseries and farms, thus contributing to twin objectives of ecology and sustainable living.