We believe it should be easy to enjoy a happy, healthy and sustainable festive season. With this in mind, here are 12 ways to have a more joyful and conscious Christmas this year, from renting a living tree that can be replanted, to filling your home with delicious natural scent and sharing unforgettable experiences with your loved ones. Enjoy!
1. Go walking in nature
Science tells us that walking promotes new connections between brain cells, and helps delay the usual cognitive decline that comes with age. Where we walk matters, too. In one experiment, students who strolled through a nature-filled botanical garden performed better on memory tests than students who pounded city pavements.
With the stress and strain of the current situation we find ourselves in, it’s more important than ever to get outside for a dose of fresh air and a change of scenery, allowing your thoughts the space to wander freely. Whether it’s a yomp across the moors, an atmospheric woodland walk or a waterside amble you’re after, find the perfect route via Ramblers, Wildlife Trusts or Woodland Trust.
2. Send a plantable Christmas card
Cut down on paper waste, create a mini wildflower meadow and help bees and butterflies to thrive all by sending a plantable Christmas card. Made from recycled seed paper pulp, these ingenious creations come decorated with a water-soluble festive design and filled with wildflower seeds. Once Christmas is over, rather than throw the card, you can grow it – sowing the seeds inside to create a pollinator-haven.
3. Shop small
With high streets suffering the brunt of recent restrictions, supporting small, independent businesses has never been more vital. Independent stores are often the best places to uncover unique and characterful gifts, like handmade ceramics, prints, soaps, candles and jewellery. Alongside the shops on your street, try Trouva and Etsy to support 100s of independent boutiques and makers from across the UK and Europe. Follow your favourite artists on Instagram and look out for flash sales of one-off works to pick up a piece to treasure forever.
Don’t forget the indie bookshops either, many of which are now providing virtual tours of their shelves, local delivery services and Zoom book clubs. Have a browse of World of Books for quality used books at competitive prices, or check out Near St to see which high street shops stock books that you’ve found online.
4. Shop sustainable
Just as important as shopping small is making sure your purchases are planet-and-people-friendly.
For an irresistible curation of consciously created, beautifully-made goods all in one place, head to A Sustainable Department Store. Championing independent makers of homewares, clothing, jewellery and beauty, A Sustainable Department Store only works with brands who meet their environmentally-friendly standards, making it easy to shop ethically without compromising on style.
Other sustainable shops we love include the Ethical Superstore, for a huge range of eco, vegan, palm-oil-free and Fairtrade products, and Cornish brand Finisterre, for 100% organic cotton tees, recycled fibre swimwear and Merino wool knitwear made from the first and only flock of British Merino Sheep. Thought Clothing, meanwhile, use bamboo, hemp, organic cotton and wool to craft their effortless designs, which are built to last. A new pair of PJs always goes down a treat at Christmas, so why not make yours a block-printed set from Naked Generation, ethically made using traditional techniques, natural dyes and 100% cotton.
Cambridge Baby is a lovely site for little ones, full of sustainably-produced clothes in natural, healthy and organic fibres, whilst Myriad Online specialise in beautiful, non-plastic toys that encourage imaginative play.
5. Opt for sustainably-grown tree – or rent one that can go on growing!
Whilst the idea of a Christmas tree conjures daydreams of a richly scented Nordic spruce, felled for your home in a snow-laden forest, the reality is a little less romantic. Unfortunately, many trees are intensively farmed on an industrial scale, using a cocktail of herbicides and fertilisers, such as the notoriously toxic glyphosate. Plus, too many real trees get dumped every year rather than recycled.
Habitat-harming pesticides aside, a real tree is still undoubtedly more environmentally-friendly than a plastic one. Although companies may say a plastic tree will last you ‘a lifetime’, they last a whole lot longer than that in landfill, taking centuries to break down and polluting the environment with microplastics as they do.
So, what’s the most ‘conscious’ option when it comes to choosing a tree? If you decide to go real, opt for a tree with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) ‘seal of approval’, which guarantees it has been grown to set environmental standards. You can also visit bctga.co.uk or growninbritain.org to find growers in your local area.
Interestingly, more and more farms, plant nurseries and garden centres are now offering tree rental services. Within these win-win deals, a living tree is delivered to your door, you decorate and enjoy it for the usual festive period, then the farm or garden centre will collect it and replant it in January. What’s not to like? Visit www.loveachristmastree.co.uk or have a google to find similar schemes in your area.
6. Fill your home with natural light and scent
Make a joyful occasion of the longer evenings and bring a glow of cosy contentment to your home by lighting candles. Steer clear of synthetically-scented varieties made from paraffin wax (a by-product of the oil industry, often treated with carcinogens like benzene), the toxic fumes of which can add to invisible indoor air pollution and exacerbate sensitivities and allergies. Instead, opt for clean-burning, vegan, sustainable soy wax candles, scented with natural, pure essential oils.
We like soy wax candles by Self Care Company, Neom Organics, and new-comer GLØD. Each candle scent by GLØD (meaning ‘glow’) is inspired by and named after a woman who has achieved something amazing, and for every candle sold they donate £1 to the charity Women for Women UK.
Whilst there is some debate over beeswax candles, many people believe in their air-cleansing benefits – citing their ability to remove common allergens like dust and dander from the air. Our founder, Tara, absolutely loves them: “I like how pure beeswax candles burn much more slowly than paraffin candles, with barely any smoke or scent. They feel wonderfully natural, and are great for anyone with asthma or allergies. I buy mine from a local Cornish company called Nature’s Beeswax.”
7. Drink (with a clear eco-conscience) and be merry
Proving you can still pour yourself a glass of your favourite festive tipple whilst keeping a clear eco-conscience, organic wine is made using only organically certified grapes, grown without wildlife-and-health-harming pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilisers. By drinking organic, not only are you reducing toxins in your own body, but you’re also helping to protect soils and water.
We’re big fans of the hugely varied selection available from Vintage Roots and Dry Farm Wines. As an organic alternative to Prosecco, try the Meinklang Prosa Frizzante, a delicious, rose-hued fizz – perfect for celebratory glass clinking.
Biodynamic red wine (consumed in small quantities!) may even have the green light for good gut health, thanks to the fact it is jam-packed with gut-friendly polyphenols. One study showed that drinking a glass of red wine every evening with dinner for 20 days resulted in a marked increase in ‘good’ gut bacteria associated with slimness and lowering cholesterol.
8. Go foraging for natural decorations
Embrace nature and introduce some greenery to your home with winter foliage. Think Scandi-style simplicity, and bring the outside in with sprigs of eucalyptus, pine, yew, holly, fern, bright berries and rustic pine cones. Use your foraged finds for festive table settings, or arrange them in vases or atop mantelpieces and window sills.
Using an old coat hanger, try weaving branches around a circular frame to create a DIY wreath (kids will love getting involved with this). Finish it off with ribbon and dried orange segments, or keep it minimal and stick to an all-green theme. If you don’t feel up to making your own wreath this year, why not get one from Bread & Roses, a social enterprise that helps refugee women rebuild their lives in the UK through floristry training programmes and more. Their Evergreen Wreath features entirely locally sourced foliage, making each one unique.
9. Get your festive food from local farm shops
If your budget allows, instead of lining the pockets of the supermarkets, get friendly with your local farm shop and support independent delis instead. For pesticide-free peace of mind, seek out local, organic produce and stick to seasonal, organic fruit and veg.
If you’re planning on serving-up a meaty centrepiece this Christmas, opt for higher welfare, ethically-produced, organic meat. Not only will it mean fewer food miles and fairer practices, but your feast will be free from the antibiotics found in intensively-farmed alternatives – and it should taste delicious too. Try Coombe Farm Organic in Somerset, Cusgarne Organic Farm in Cornwall or Eversfield Organic in Devon for grass fed, sustainable organic meat direct from a farm.
We also love the hand-crafted, meet-your-maker feel of the online food marketplace Yumbles. Committed to making the tasty, healthy and all-natural food accessible to conscious food eaters across the UK, Yumbles make it easy to get hold of all sorts of small-batch, socially-responsible and free-from goodies.
10. Gift an experience
Rather than buying yet more ‘stuff’ this year, why not give the gift of an unforgettable experience you can enjoy together.
For the foodies in your life, there are cookery classes, alcohol tastings and elegant afternoon teas galore. Forced to close during lockdown, lots of restaurants are also now offering home-delivery meal kits, so you can recreate your favourite gourmet dishes at home whilst supporting struggling businesses. Coasteering courses, surfing and zip wiring will have the adrenaline junkies satisfied, whilst crafting workshops – from jewellery-making to upholstery and print-making – will cater to budding creatives. Annual membership to environmentally-friendly organisations like Woodland Trust and National Trust makes a thoughtful present which lasts long after Christmas day.
An experience gift doesn’t necessarily have to cost anything, either. Make your own ‘voucher’ and pledge to visit a gallery together in the new year, cook them a meal or go on a wild camping weekend.
11. Wrap-up well
Most of the wrapping paper on big retailers’ shelves can’t be recycled due to the fact it often contains plastic, glitter or foil. Opt instead for the low-key elegance of recyclable brown paper tied with string, reusable ribbons in cheerful colours, or even a sprig of foliage.
12. Visit a virtual Christmas market for handmade gifts
The illuminated wooden huts of a cosy Christmas market might be a firm fixture on the festive calendar, but this year, thanks to the chaos caused by the current global situation, things are moving online. From Edinburgh to Bath, iconic Christmas markets across the UK are going virtual, allowing you the opportunity to shop directly from local artisans and secure some unique, handmade goodies for your loved ones without ever leaving your living room. Check market websites for details, and keep your eyes peeled for smaller makers’ markets advertised on Instagram.