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Everything I know about a Thrifty, Ethical, Handmade Christmas

28 November, 2014

There they all are, popstars with that winsome, pouty, tragic look: “Do they know its Christmas time at all?”

They could be singing it about me. Or every other English expat sitting out here on the other side of the world.

(Sorry Bob. And, um, Africa, I guess. Although that song is a teency bit demeaning, though, no? Anyway, gosh. This is just a frivolous festive post, okay? Not a discussion about the White Saviour Industrial Complex…)

Because: no! It totally does not feel like Christmas while I am getting sunburnt weeding the sweetcorn patch or watching my daughter and her mates decorate a stick of bamboo stuck in the sand on the beach in lieu of a pine tree embedded in snow.

(I’m not really complaining though, really, honest…. although I do love to rock a vintage Christmas jumper… but the sun is nice and all, of course…)

The fact of the matter is though, I haven’t been thinking too much about festivities really. I do mean to step it up a notch next week.

I have, over the last few years, however, thought an awful lot about Christmas. I thought I’d share all the favourite things I’ve bashed out, in a timely way, so you can crack on with them as advent begins.

1- This advent calendar was such a pleasure to make, and such a joy to look at. I can’t wait to pull it out again on Sunday and fill it with poems and jokes and prayers and sweets and dreams and thanks. (Another blogger helping me put more thought into Adent is Sacraparental with this 76 advent ideas post.)Alternative Handmade Advent CalenderBeautiful Handmade Advent Calendar with pockets

2- A post I wrote last Christmas, with a lot of help from the whole of Facebook and Twitter, has gone kind of crazy. It is Sixty Great Gift Alternatives to Toys... and it is truly awesome. (Totally allowed to say that as only a few are my own ideas!!) It is packed full of cool as present ideas for kids, that don’t include filling up their bedrooms with more plastic crap. Share it around your family to inspire them! Find it here.

3- These homemade cinnamon Christmas birds are yummy smelling and fun and beautiful and just the very thing to make to get into the spirit of things. Must make them immediately. Homemade cinnamon Christmas birds

4- However, I have sourced some awesomely cool fair trade gifts for children in my time. Here are my favourite ethical toys, if you’d rather. (Also, any Londoners reading- the Fair Christmas Fayre is on tomorrow on Oxford Street. No jokes, this is the ONE HUNDRED PER CENT BEST PLACE to buy every single gift for everyone. More details here.)

5- My Top Tips for a thrifty yet awesome Christmas are here. Hey, look. If there is one thing I know, it is how to enjoy life and not spend any money. I reeeeeeeally believe we need a new kind of Christmas- one that doesn’t drain the earth’s resources or our pockets.everything I know about a thrifty handmade Christmas

6- Possibly my all time funnest craft. Razmataz dinosaurs. And cowboys. They look perfect as placeholders for Crimbo dinner… or even with a little cotton around them to hang on the tree.DIY Christmas Glitter Figures

So much to make and do! Think I’ve just managed to convince myself it IS Christmas by writing this. Hoorah for my fickle, easily persuaded mind!

Would love to hear about any awesome ethical Christmas posts you have read recently, or any way your family celebrates a Christmas that is easy on the earth…

 

Thrifty

Can you have an ethical and money saving Christmas?

14 November, 2013

It feels strange writing about Christmas. We’re currently all on a beach in our pyjamas watching the surf roll in. It’s a wild and deserted stretch of coastline – we’ve been camped for 24 hours and have only spotted one other soul in the distance. It’s a time-stealing beach; hours are plundered clambering over dunes, chucking rocks at waves and finding treasure in the flotsam (so far Ramona has unearthed two pink shells, one dead lizard and a tampon applicator.)

But Christmas, eh? That time of year when we all pretend to love mince pies and hate brussel sprouts. (When clearly mince pies are of the devil’s lair and sprouts are little cabbagey Iced Gems plucked from God’s own garden.)

The challenge I embrace each year is trying to keep festivities ethical but not too lavish.

It often seems that ethical, eco choices come at a price; that an ethical Christmas involves just spending more money on Fair Trade gifts and an organic turkey. However increasingly I’m finding that the ethical choice can be a thrifty choice- that by simplifying our ideas about gifts and foods we can reconcile these things.

And I think that the sentiment of Christmas – peace, love and joy- makes this a perfect time to really wrap our heads around the idea of celebrations that are fair and just for people and planet.

Here are some thoughts about how we do that:

Think creatively about your advent calendar

There are so many awesome ideas about handmade advent calendars! Here is my own one handmade advent calendar – a pocket one which we fill with charity shop gifts or poems or craft stuff. I love Mel’s handmade advent calendar – made with a branch!
We have also begun a reverse advent calendar so for every day we open a pocket and get something, we put a tin of food into a box to take to the food bank. The children have really go on board with this.

Make Christmas about the things you do together, rather than stuff you consume
We are slowly building up a set of activities or rituals we do each advent. We are lighting candles and singing and have a few places we go to see the lights together. I love Sacraparental’s ideas for celebrating advent together and really beleive that we can make Christmas about the joy we get from being together, rather than giving each other things!

Get to a fair
There are tons of ethical fairs around, market stalls where you can buy every single gift you need under one roof. The best (erm, hehe, I may have created it but have handed it over this year because I’m just too busy… beach duties etc) is Fair Christmas Fayre on Oxford Street, London. This year it is on Saturday 30th November and is the ultimate one stop shop for ethical gifts. There are also fairs in Edinburgh, Bristol, Manchester and other places. See here for more details. Buying at a fair saves on postage and packaging, gives you the full spectrum of ethical (eco, handmade, fair trade) and is likely to put all your cash on the hands of smaller, tax paying independent retailers.

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Become a rubbish wrapper
Wrapping paper must be one of the biggest yuletide money wasters (hello? £6 a roll?!?!?) and environmental disasters. What is the point? (I know, I know. The whole of humanity can be divided into wrappers and rubbish- wrappers. I am rubbish.) Wrappers: become rubbish- wrappers ! Not in the way I am which is a wonky-oops-no-Sellotape-I’ll-use-blu-tack kind of a way. In an imaginative and beautiful, make bows and roses out of newspaper kind of a way. I‘ve seen it done beautifully.

Be creative about presents
There are loads of alternatives to heaving Santa sacks and shelves of trinkets you don’t want. Presents can be wonderful, but too many can make them an enormous financial and ethical burden.
My extended family has done Secret Santa each year to great success – just having one gift to buy makes it much simpler and thriftier.

This year we are going even more streamline with no presents at all, instead we are going to do something together, go to a show or a big day out as our present to each other.

Please see my epic list of non toy gifts for kids– it is gold, put together buy a bunch of Facebook mamas.



Handmade Christmas decorations

One of the activities we focus on is making Christmas decorations together. We love it! It is super thrifty because not only do you get a cute little handmade Christmas decoration at the end of it, you also get a whole free family activity! See my list of handmade Christmas decorations here.

I’d love to hear how you make Christmas enjoyable, thrifty and ethical. If you want some more of my ideas check out 6 Steps to a Thrifty Christmas– covering trees, frocks, food and decorations.

Tally Ho, must dash to do some parenting- Ramona has just brought me a rusty pole with a crab leg on top singing Happy Birthday. She turns three tomorrow and she must be letting me know the kind of pressie she is hoping for. I could probably manage some washed up junk with some sea crud on it.

Thrifty

Six steps to a thrifty Christmas

22 November, 2012

For the first time since we were students Tim and I are REALLY having to reign it in, money wise. We don’t have a lodger for the first time since having this GIANT mortgage, both of us only work part time and we just spent every last penny on a beautiful van called Betty. Of course, we aren’t poor, we just don’t have any dosh, if you know what I mean. We could get all entrepreneurial, and take extra hours and craft things up and sell and things, but Alan Sugar we’re not. Every spare moment is bound up in Enjoying Life and Committing to the Things We Value, of which money simply isn’t one.

So, this Christmas is becoming Seriously Frugal. Fortunately we have been practicing for a few years now, and here are six ways we are doing it:

Christmas Trees
Every year for the last few years we have picked up a discarded tree from a school or college. It does mean waiting a bit longer- at least mid-December but sometimes you don’t find one until the 20th. But these trees are ENORMOUS and WONDERFUL! Big fatties, we had to push it through our giant front window last year as it wouldn’t squeeze down our hall. The schools are normally thrilled to have it taken off their hands. We gloat as we sail past other massive trees going for £70.

Presents
For the last 3 years we have only do Secret Santa in our family. We agree a price and use an internet service so it is all proper hush, and someone else is in charge. (The one year I did it I managed to know exactly who was buying for who, I well messed it up.) This way someone gets something really thoughtful and there are not piles of pressies sitting around that provoke only pseudo-thanks.

For other people, dear friends and children, I don’t tend to do much, and if I do it nearly ALWAYS involves a jar. (These 18 ways to upcycle your jars should provide some ideas.)

Tim and I have never done proper Christmas presents, we stick to a £10 budget, and I suspect we will do the same with Ramona. I feel pretty passionate about helping Ramona to understand that Things don’t Equal Happiness, and that love can be shown in millions of ways even throughout a traditional period of gift-giving.

Decorations
I haven’t bought any Christmas decorations in my life, I am the opposite of my sister who is obsessed with them. But I have crafted some up over the last couple of years using pegs, old fabric and scrabble letters (sound gorgeous, don’t they?!) and have been rather pleased with myself! This search on Pinterest will hook you up with millions of possibilities.

Food
I have only hosted one family Christmas before and we simply shared the food gathering out. I think this is becoming increasingly normal, as people struggle to find the bulk of money to lay on an exceptional festive spread at their party.  I have a friend who every year does Christmas with  her old school chums and each year each one brings a different traditional contribution. Just this weekend someone wrote in to the Guardian Money supplement, questioning this practice and the overwhelming response by readers was that guests contributing food made for a special and wonderful celebration. Don’t be shy.

Wrapping
I am officially the world’s worst wrapper  (Wrapper that is, not Rapper- in terms of Rapping I am actually rather excellent, particularly with Do the Bartman and Ice Ice Baby). Often my gifts look like I have pulled them out of the bin (I usually have) (JOKES, honest, I only get things out the bin for myself.) (Cor, now I sound bin selfish) because wrapping requires a finesse I don’t have. I always use recycled paper and my pressies always look ugly.  However, I have a dear friend who wraps everything with newspaper and her gifts look AMAZING! Just check out the possibilities of using recycled wrapping.

Christmas Frocks
Christmas time is a time to look nice, no? To feel happy with your outfit, to feel fresh. For me, a new frock is synonymous with the festivities and has been since I was a tot. If this is the same for you I have to say: Get ye to a Swap Shop now! I already have a swap organised, at a local cafe down the road. A little google could show up one in your region, and if not just organise one for your street or even just your friends. It is THE thriftiest way to clear out your wardrobe and get some new things in, and have a whale of a time whilst doing it. I could not be more of a fan!

As you can see, I only have 6 areas that I have attacked with my Wand of Frugality. I am sure there are a million more. For those of you who have been doing a thrifty Christmas for yonks, how do you do it? Would love to collect some ideas on here.Awesome ways to have a thrifty and fantastic Christmas