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.

You Might Also Like

  • MsXpat 14 November, 2013 at 11:41 am

    I’m a big fan of craft fairs. I also usually recycle my wrapping and cards.

  • John 14 November, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    I make Christmas cards with Beth every year which works out much cheaper (you can buy recycled card rather cheaply!) and this year we’re using old wrapping paper to decorate them!

  • John 14 November, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Actually, it’s Emma who makes them she’s just logged in as John for some reason!

  • Ali 14 November, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    My most thrifty gift wrap came from pinching my friends Japanese newspapers. Wrapping up presents in news paper with a strip of rescued origami paper or salvaged wrapping paper and tied with ribbon (saved from another present!). Soooo many people complimented my artistic gift wrap vision… I wasn’t about to let on that pretty much all of it was plundered from my friends recycling box the day before bin day!

  • Kat 15 November, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Just bought my 18month old son a gift secondhand on eBay! I think I’ll do it every year – it’s not like he can tell!

  • ThaliaKR 15 November, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Thanks so much for the reminders, links and inspiration 🙂

    I’m SOOO with you on wrapping paper.

    And most importantly, HAPPY BIRTHDAY RAMONA!

  • helloitsgemma 17 November, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    Oh I love this! *checks out Bristol one*.
    I find Christmas increasingly depressing for the fact it’s so commercial, so much money and resources get wasted.

  • Adrienne 27 October, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    for years we’ve had a family “rule” (exceptions allowed) – that Christmas presents must be Fair Trade, Recycled, or made in New Zealand (where we live). Many of our Christmas presents are bought in charity shops. Cleverest wrapping paper was when one daughter bought a stash of old maps from a second hand shops. Presents looked so exciting that year. (And the next too because we always save and recycle the wrapping paper).

    • Lucy 28 October, 2014 at 11:19 am

      Ah, maps- the BEST wrapping! thanks for your comment!