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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…



DIY glitter figure decorations

18 December, 2013

Quick! It’s Christmas! COVER EVERYTHING IN GLITTER.Glitter Figures Tutorial

I am always picking up small plastic figures from charity shops and car boots sales- sometimes whole plastic bags of them for 50p. I rummage through it saying to Ramona “One for you, one for me” until they are all dished out. She plays quite imaginatively with them and I craft them up. (These Cowboy and Indian pots were probably my favourite. Until now.)

I also like putting glitter on stuff. Really, who doesn’t? Anything goes. (See: shoes)

Glitter on tiny plastic toys is a WINNER!


Grab some glue- a nice toxic shoe glue is a goody, something that dries quickly but is really strong.

Grab some glitter.

Apply glue to your figure in centimetre patches, dabbing it in the glitter before you do the next centimetre.

Don’t get your fingers involved. (I was Goldfinger for about 3 days.)

Apply a string to hang on the tree or a name tag for a placeholder.


Merry glittery Christmas everybody.

(HARHAHAHAHA *evil laugh* Your guests will have glitter in all their nooks and crannies for MONTHS.)

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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.


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.


On not wishing you a Merry Christmas

25 December, 2012

Like 99% of carol-lovers, my favourite Christmas hymn is Oh Holy Night (ESPECIALLY this rendition. Jokes. Ha, I need you to go and listen to the whole of that and chuckle because it I am momentarily going to get a bit serious-pants on you… plus  YOU KNOW that is what that same 99% of us sound like when we attempt to sing it.)
Oh Holy Night has radical roots and inspired the odd bit of world-change. It was written by a socialist poet, rather than a pious church-goer, and partly due to this and partly because this lyrical lefty collaborated with a Jewish man on it, it ended up being banned by the Church (Gah, they are always banning the good stuff!!!!)

“Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains He shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in His name all oppression shall cease.”

Despite being outlawed the hymn spread across oceans and the words of this final verse captured the hearts of American abolitionists. It was woven into their rich creative story telling and became part of the movement against slavery.

Back in Europe, a few years later, out in the fields of the brutal Franco-Prussian war, it was used again with most practical inspiration. Legend goes that on Christmas Eve, in the midst of the blood bath, a solider jumped out of his trench and, belted out all three verses as the conflict hushed around him. His hymn was met by a hymn from the other trench, and there then followed 24 hours of peace.

Because, you know what? Beauty does this. It takes our hearts and minds and shows us what is possible. Words and stories and images capture our imagination and motivate our hands and feet. Our fingertips grasp the edges of justice and freedom and peace.

For me this happens when I encounter the story of a marginalised family and the birth of a vulnerable baby, when I sing the carols that portray the mystery of what was begun in that dusty shed. For others it happens when they light their evening candles of Hanukkah  to reflect on even more ancient stories about second chances and peace. And for others who are celebrating the break in the cold harsh winter, the rebirth conjured up in the as-old-as-the-earth solstice inspires change.

So yes, it is Christmas day. But I’m not sure I will say Happy Christmas… we come from so many deep traditions and incredible heritages… yet we share so many common festive themes. So whatever you are celebrating, I wish you a day filled with tangible possibilities:
peace in your relationships
generousity in your neighbourhoods
freedom in your hearts
social justice in our Governments
the promise of a fresh start
And a glimpse of beauty to help you believe these things can happen.



A hippyshake kind of a Christmas

23 December, 2012

It is…

Christmas plantSunday 23rd December and here are a couple of glimpses of Christmas at our house.

I haven’t done quite as much Christmas crafting as I’d hoped – most things I have done have been little quick jobs. This Christmas tree was whipped up out of a hessian sack and some of those star Ikea lights we have had for donkeys years. It was inspired by another Lucy’s canvas fairy light tree and takes up a huge chunk of wall, which is marvelous.

Alternative Christmas Tree Although the pocket advent calendar was a pretty epic undertaking. Ramona has LOVED doing it each morning, it is the thing to make her jump out of bed, making the crafty slog well worth it. Even if it has mostly been sweets rather than my original lofty ambitions of filling it with poetry (*laughs at self thinking I was ever the kind of person to actually do this*  Maybe next year I could attain that kind of depth.)

Alternative advent calanderI had a wonderful time cutting up some vintage books *gasp* to make this weird 3D collage nativity scene, with some wires and a jar. I put glitter in the jar, in an attempt to make a snow globe. But obviously the paper isn’t waterproof so there is no liquid inside… the glitter kind of just thumps in a clump from top to bottom. Gah, so much for the magic of Christmas eh, making my glitter float. Nativity snow globe collageWe did buy a tree, rather than hustling one out of a school skip as we normally do. But we bought a tiny potted one in the hope we can keep it. (Although since getting it most people have told us that they die alot.) It is mostly decorated with my decoupage birdsLittle potted treeEven our war mongering vintage soldier is getting festive with some sheet-music paper chains…Festive SoldierOne of the things that massively adds to our festive cheers is listening to music- or “merkin” as Ramona calls it. (It is fortunate that only a few people know what a merkin is, because we will often  be out and about with her shouting “MERKIN!” whenever a little melody reaches our ears from a passing car or teenagers phone.)

As well as the traditional bumper album from Sufjan Stevens my favourite albums this year are:

  • A Very She and Him Christmas
  • This Warm December by Jack Johnson and Friends
  • The Boy Least Likely to – Christmas Special

Oh, how we jive to these joyous refrains.

Hope these next couple of days aren’t too frantic for you and that you get lots of time to make merry too!

What does Christmas look and sound like in your home?

PS- If you are a subscriber I have just managed to switch you over to start receiving posts from – woohoo! Which means you may have missed some posts over the last week, do do check our Peaceful Parenting amongst others.


Homemade Decoupage Bird Ornaments

18 December, 2012

It is true, I do have a thing about birds. And sticking paper onto things (or decoupage as the fancypantsies call it) – so here is my perfect craft, homemade decoupage birds. I made them with our Christmas tree in mind, but depending on the paper you use could be done with any season, person or occasion in mind. birds3

You will need:

Air drying clay

Cookie Cutters

Cool patterned paper

Homemade mod podge

The clay bit

Take some air-dry clay (salt dough could well do, I imagine, too)

Take a cookie cutter (I used my new homemade birdy one) or even just some scissors.

Cut out your shapes out!Air drying clay birds

Poke a hole in the top wear you want to thread them and then leave to dry.

The decoupage bit

Place your shapes onto your chosen paper and draw around it once.

Draw around your outline AGAIN -this time with an extra 1cm border.

Cut around the BORDER shape, so it is about 1cm bigger than your clay item

Cut into it, towards the original pencil park, at 1cm intervals

It will look like it has flaps all around- this makes it super easy to curve your paper around the corners.Decoupage clay birds

Get out your homemade mod podge and brush it onto the inside of your paper, and your clay item.

Pop your clay item onto the inside of your paper – so that the pattern is on the outside of your item-   and use your fingers to curve the flap around the edges of your item.

Turn it over so you can see the patterned item, and push the paper firmly onto the item.

It might take a bit of careful manipulating, until your are happy with it – no air bubbles of papery/ sharp edges. Give the whole thing an extra lick of mod podge.

Re-poke your hole.

It should  be dry in a couple of hours. I gave mine all a lick of resin, to shine them up. You could also use varnish, or leave them matt. DIY Decoupage birds

A whole flock of them now adorn our tiny potted Christmas tree.

*eeek a little physical surge of excitement just came upon me* …


Have you made any Christmas decorations this year? Would love to see them if you have link?