News | 11th Dec, 2011

Wishing you a very conscious Christmas

Sunday, 11 December 2011
Michael Green, Domain, The Age

What would the festive season be like without the bells and whistles?

One way of preparing for Christmas involves buying new things – a lot of new things. But there are other ways too.

The New South Wales Uniting Church runs a website called What Would Jesus Buy?, which contains articles and links – both spiritual and secular – on the matter of consumption. As the website's co-ordinator, Stephen Webb, explains, its tagline is ''Stop the shopocalypse''.

''For Christians, this is the time of advent, so there's lots of thinking about the way we lead our lives,'' he says. ''How can we use our time and income to do something useful, rather than just contribute further to the consumer culture around us?''

This year, with scientists' warnings about climate change continuing and the global financial system seeming ever more volatile, there's a growing chorus for a different kind of Christmas.

In the United States, the Occupy Wall Street movement has not only spread throughout the country, but also to Santa's sleigh, with a campaign called Occupy Xmas. It draws on Buy Nothing Christmas, a longer-standing initiative complete with amusing, snarky posters (''Santa Came, Jesus Wept'').

On the environmental front, Mr Webb says the relationship between consumption and climate change is clear, but can be minimised with careful thought.

''You can still buy certain things and have a good time without contributing to injustice, pollution and global warming,'' he says. ''And as we celebrate, we can think about what we're celebrating and what is of value to us.''

If you're looking for hints about alternatives, Environment Victoria has put together a festive season guide, which contains gift ideas and tactics for reducing waste and needless expense, from wrapping paper to table decorations.

''Christmas is a time of incredibly high consumption, in so many ways,'' says Michele Burton of Environment Victoria. ''There are all the presents, wrapping and cards, but there's also all the food, and typically, a lot gets wasted.''

Meat, especially red meat, leaves a hefty mark on greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity. ''We're not suggesting you go vegetarian for Christmas, but it's a good idea to reduce your meat consumption,'' she says.

For more information about the footprint of your yuletide food, see the Ethical Consumer Group's guide to Christmas, and its new Guide to Ethical Supermarket Shopping, updated for 2012.

When it comes to gifts, Ms Burton says families could opt for a Kris Kringle, rather than buy for everyone; make or bake their own presents; or give experiences rather than things. ''If you do buy something, choose items that will last – for example, wooden toys will last much longer than plastic ones,'' she says.

If the choices appear too complex, keep the details in perspective by focusing on bigger issues around the home, such as buying GreenPower, limiting consumption overall and avoiding flights. The eco-savings of obsessing over reused wrapping paper will be well and truly shredded if you jet to Bali on Boxing Day. On that note, Ms Burton says the holiday season is a fine time to establish patterns for the year to come. ''You can look back on the year you've had and the choices you've made, and aim for your Christmas to reflect the way you want to live,'' she says.

Have a squizz at our green gift guide

And take a peek at our Festive Season Guide