There's no denying it. Christmas is in the air. It seems to happen earlier and earlier as each year passes, doesn't it? Harvest and Halloween pass and boom - before we can dump the rotten pumpkins in the food bin we are drawn right in to the twinkly festivities and the pressure is on.
Some of us (not me) are stealthily organised, buying gifts during the year, storing them away so not to panic when the Christmas music starts to blare through the speakers in the town centre – a serenade to indicate that time is running out and the countdown to Christmas is well and truly on.
Others of us are less prepared – hoping that perfect gift idea will fall on our lap, jump out at us in the shop or more likely on our screens, with more of us opting for the ease of online shopping now than ever before.
It can be an incredibly stressful time, with to-do and to-buy lists as long as your arm. It’s easy to get swept up in the madness of it all, counting it as part of the ‘buzz’ or ‘atmosphere’ but as we begin to join in with the festive lead up, maybe there is a different example we can take that steers us gently away from the hype and the flashing lights. Maybe there is a way more reflective of the Christmas Story we know and love so well that we can tune our ears and hearts to – one of generosity, peace and of justice.
How can we be more mindful of the world around us in a culture that steers us to only think about ourselves?
Christmas and all of the associated Western trappings can have some pretty awful side effects on the World; on people and creation. The tonnes of waste through non-recyclable wrapping paper, decorations, boxes and gift bags, heaps of unwanted presents, loan sharks preying on the vulnerable and people wracking up huge amounts of debt to keep up appearances. Surely there is a better way to do things?
Choosing to have a more ethical Christmas does not have to take away from the beauty of gift-giving, in fact, it only enhances that beauty. Once we delve deeper into alternative, more ethical options we can see that how we spend our money can add to the beauty of belonging to each other, bringing true ‘Joy to the World’. Tell me now if you are tired of the Christmas Carol puns. I could do this for days.
So what does it mean to buy ethically?
Buying ethically is choosing to be an active consumer, rather than a passive one.
Buying ethically means taking the time to find out who makes our stuff and if it’s made in a way that respects people and the planet.
Buying ethically gives the power back to the consumer and in turn empowers others.
Buying ethically is a statement – another way of living out what we believe; that we are all connected and we are all valuable.
Although we still have a long way to go in terms of supply chain transparency it has never been easier to be mindful of who and what we give our money to. Progress is slow but it is being made and where we put our money makes a difference.
I'm not here to give you another gift guide today. There are so many of those, and we all have different taste, so instead I offer my thoughts & top tips on how we can make Christmas more mindful & ethical this year:
1) Set Boundaries
Have an open discussion with your family about presents this year. This is a biggie - get other people on board. Suggest a Secret Santa style of gift-giving – where each person draws a name and buys for only that person? Maybe you decide together to set a price limit on gifts? The pressure to buy and spend a certain amount of money can really dampen the joy of giving so why not live a little lighter this year by having those conversations early. Make presence, not presents your priority this year.
2) Buy Small
Who are the independent makers in your area? Who is working hard at a craft that is often overlooked for faster cheaper versions? Websites like etsy.com and folksy.com are great for finding beautiful one-off gifts where the profit goes directly to the maker. You can buy jewellery, art prints, hand-knit items and ceramics, even narrowing down your search to your local area in the knowledge that you are supporting a small business in a society where biggest seems best. Christmas is also the perfect time to buy from the beautiful artisan and food markets that pop up in City centres and town squares. Seek out the makers. This is what the Indie Christmas Giveaway is about after all!
3) Buy Selectively
There are some excellent shops both on the high street and online that are committed to sourcing their products from the most transparent supply chains. Beautifully curated online stores like Decorators Notebook, The Future Kept, and Ethical Superstore are great for finding unique gifts as well as everyday items. Supporting shops that are deliberating championing fair-trade and more ethically certified products is a great way to get what you need without compromising on quality or style.
4) Buy Differently
A few years ago we decided to buy our family alternative gifts from well-known charities. We bought my parents a goat, my brother some chickens and our friends got a toilet! Thing is, this goat lived in India and was actually given to a family in India on behalf of my parents to supply them with milk to drink or sell on, the chickens were in Bangladesh and the toilet was given to a family in Cambodia. There are numerous charities that now have gift options like these: you can buy sanitation supplies with Oxfam, toilets with Tearfund, or cows with Christian Aid. Every gift, given in the name of your loved one, is making a massive difference to people in the worlds poorest nations. *disclaimer - see point 1 about getting family on board before going down this route! When they expect an iPod dock and "get" sanitation supplies, it might not be received in the manner you expect...!*
5) Do Your Homework
Maybe now is the perfect time to look at what companies and brands are treating people and the planet with respect? Who is paying a living wage? Which manufacturers are dedicated to not creating more waste that is ruining creation? Websites like ethicalconsumer.com are great for spot-checking items to see which brands are leading the way (some content requires a subscription but lots of it is accessed for free). They rate every kind of product from bicycles to toasters to guide you to the most ethical choice.
You might also want to check on the brands, companies and products that you are already enjoying and giving your money to. Lidl, Morrisons and Aldi have become the first major supermarkets in the UK & Ireland to pay their staff above the National Living Wage, which is a great example to other big chain stores. Marks and Spencer have also made big progress with their ‘Plan A’ – their commitment to helping protect the planet by sourcing responsibly, reducing waste and helping communities.
For your other favourite retailers, now is the time to look up their supply chain policies, corporate social responsibility policies and if they don’t have them – just ask! Send an email or contact the company through social media. As a paying customer, it’s your right to know!
6) Be Content
Much of our learning about choosing more ethically must be rooted in contentment with what we have. When we understand our privilege and can recognise how much we already have then we can make wiser choices when we spend our money. We must drown out the adverts and the noise that tells us contentment comes packaged up prettily underneath a tree and remind ourselves that true contentment comes from things we cannot touch or switch on.
Why not start by being more intentional about one or two of these things this year? If we each made decisions with a little more thought and purpose, we could collectively make some important statements.
A version of this post first appeared in Herald Magazine & contains affiliate links.