It’s a Wrap! Making it a Green Christmas

Let’s be realistic. No matter how eco-conscious we are there is no way around the season where it is better to give than receive. We may have all been taught that it is the thought that counts, but we are not immune to those cultural pressures that say that presentation is all that matters. There are ways though where we can beat the super consumers at their own game and get kudos for creativity.

There are lots of ways to minimize waste and still present gifts that show care, attention and a sense of occasion. It takes a bit of time and ingenuity but it is all fun stuff and very low tech. Here are some of my tried and tested eco-Christmas stratagems.

1.    Handmade gifts are always appreciated. This year I am giving friends jars of homemade mincemeat, apple butter and jelly. To dress up the jars I put on attractive labels (including all the ingredients) that I print on my computer. Using some fabric remnants I cut ‘frills’ to tie on top of the jars ‘just for pretty’. I got a scrummy sugar free muffin recipe and a batch will be a present for my diabetic friend Brenda.

Likewise, if you give baked items, think how you can minimize waste and use of plastic. A zip lock plastic bag will keep baked goods fresh and can be re-used. Get out the pinking shears and your fabric remnants to make an extravagant bow to top off the bag.

2.    Recycle last year’s paper. Given that my mother lived through both the Depression and wartime paper shortages we always saved wrapping paper and re-used unrumpled sheets for smaller items until every scrap was used up. Likewise, we also saved ribbon for a ‘second life.’

3.    Many standard gift-wraps are made from paper that cannot be composted. When you buy new paper consider buying plain brown wrapping paper or wallpaper lining paper and using raffia to tie. Complete the decoration with ‘found’ items from nature like bird feathers or pressed flowers and leaves. Get out the scissors and decoupage with appropriate images that will bring a smile to the recipient. You can also get the kids involved by having a potato print or stamp session to customize your homemade gift-wrap. Newspaper comics can work well and I am even considering wrapping small items with tear sheets with New Yorker cartoons on them. Just try to match the cartoon to the recipient’s own sense of humor!

4.    Fabric bags with drawstrings are a no-brainer even for someone likeme who has minimal sewing skills. You will need some dressmaker pins to hold the seam for the drawstring to tunnel through. Hold up your ribbon and use this to gauge how wide to make that! Sew a straight line down that edge. Fold over your piece of cloth. You are only two sides short of a gift bag! Sew those together but just as you are about to finish make sure to leave some space to put the ribbon through the drawstring opening. The easiest way to put the ribbon in is to fasten a safety pin to one end and tunnel it through until you come to the end. Your bag is inside out – so just pull it right side out, pop in the gift and draw the string close. Very low tech. And you can use the bags again and again. These can work really well for wine bottles, flavored homemade cordials and liquored fruit.

5.    We never wrapped stocking gifts when I was a child and I’m not too proud to say that I am too grown up not to still want a stocking on Christmas morning. If you still hang out a stocking for Santa consider making or commissioning a stocking that will hold slightly larger items like books, DVDs, and CDs. Last year I asked a crafty friend to make a special stocking for my beloved. It has his name on it and even has a little pocket to put in cinnamon sticks to make it seasonally sweet smelling. My niece is one of those crafty kids so this year my gift from her is my own personalized stocking of her own design.

If you can support local crafts people, that’s terrific. The future is local! But if, like me, you have far-flung relatives and live out in the sticks, support online businesses like Lehman’s that market hand made products from their locality. Fair trade is not just about supporting developing countries. It is also about supporting our own dynamic and developing communities closer to home.

Taking this sort of ecological affirmative action – small but thoughtful steps – reduces carbon footprint and starts the business of New Year’s resolution to “Reduce, Recycle and Renew” early.

It can also be an awful lot of fun!

© Bee Smith 2008

About BeeSmith

I was born in Queens, N.Y, reared in Pennsylvania, did university in Washington, D.C. Then I moved to England for nineteen years. I lived first in London and then in Leeds. After my partner's sister died of cancer in 2000, we decided to take the leap of faith and move to Ireland to be nearer his family. Despite our friends thinking we were mad and feckless, it has worked out. The angels really do look after fools! We have a cottage on an acre and a quarter three miles from where the River Shannon rises. We have a polytunnel to grow vegetables and fruit organically, a small orchard of apple trees and plans to create a sacred space on the land over the rest of our lifetimes. We share our home with two tortoiseshell cats, Zelda and her daughter Zymina, and three dogs, Murphy, Pippin and Cara.