Better Christmas – giving ethically

I am a big fan of Christmas. Although they never had bags of money, my parents always made Christmas seem magical when my siblings and I were small people. Looking back, it was the little touches and family traditions that made it special, rather than piles of presents and endless amounts of food and drink.

The excess surrounding Christmas is undeniably high on the grotesque level. Stuff for the sake of stuff as far as the eye can see. Mountains of cheaply made plastic landfill fodder, oceans of never-to-be-recycled wrapping paper and cards, and plate upon overloaded plate of food. Consumerism at its absolute worst.

So what are we to do? Shut the door and pretend it isn’t happening? Turn our backs on the vacuous madness? Maybe. But that’s not what I want to do. I remember Christmas so fondly from my childhood and I want to keep this celebration alive. At its heart, I believe it’s a time to share with the people you care about.

Here are a few ways that you can make your Christmas gift giving more ethical this year. It’s by no means exhaustive and there’s loads more info at your fingertips online. I wrote this with adults buying for adults in mind as that where my life is right now. I know children make it trickier so if anyone’s got any tips for that area please do share.

  1. Experiences are better than objects. I’m not talking strictly about the pricy Red Letter Day balloon flights and supercar driving experiences here. How about a voucher for an independent restaurant or coffee shop or the cinema? Or a voucher to go and learn something new, like an art class, a cooking course or a dance lesson? I love these types of gifts. It’s even nicer when it’s for something for the receiver and the giver to do together, like breakfast out or watching a film together.

Cinema vouchers:

Learn something new vouchers:

Food and drink vouchers:

Watercolour class at Bristol Folk House, 1930’s. They still run today!
  1. Support local businesses. I know it can be difficult to find time to get out to these places. For many years I did all my Christmas shopping from my laptop. But you can still buy online from many local business and most will take orders over the phone. If you can get out and about, markets are a great place to start. Loads of different products, all in one place, often handmade and local too. Personally I don’t think you can beat a jar of homemade marmalade and I’d be happy to get as many jars of orangey deliciousness as possible. There’s more to markets than jams and preserves though: art, jewellery, home ware, toiletries, second-hand books and records to name but a few delights.

Tobacco Factory Sunday Market
  1. Give a giving gift. WARNING: think carefully about the recipient. Your ten-year-old nephew might not love this. Lots of adults too are disappointed by charity donations as presents. Test the water if you’re unsure. You can by little physical presents (water bottles, mugs etc) to accompany your donation so that everyone has something to open on Christmas day. What’s brilliant about these presents now is that charities offer a whole range of things you can put your money specifically towards, such as seeds, taps, toilets and baby care. Amazing right? If others aren’t keen, ask for your presents to be charity donations. Pick charity you really care about and spread the word to your family and friends.

Oxfam Unwrapped Christmas gifts
  1. Home made with love. Anyone who’s ever received a homemade gift will know that they do just mean more than shop bought ones. A picture, a poem, a piece of jewellery are all extra special when they have been created by a loved one. I know not everyone feels comfortable getting creative but there are so many things you can make. My mum’s been making my dad a jar of lemon curd every year for as long as I can remember. He always says it’s his favourite present. I’m a big advocate of the handmade voucher or IOU. Offer to do something special for someone – a job you know they hate at home, cook them their favourite meal, babysit, do their shopping. Think about what you’d love someone to do for you as a treat and go from there.
  2. Buy from responsible companies. Thankfully as the interest in shopping ethically has risen, companies are beginning to take heed and share more information with consumers. We’re still a heck of a long way from transparency though, which leads me to believe that there aren’t a lot of traders on the high street I’d be happy giving my money to. A notable exception is Lush (one of only two companies to qualify for a Fair Tax Mark) who also pride themselves on sustainability and cruelty free products. Chocolate is obviously a big one at Christmas. Questionable tax payments make Cadbury’s a no-go. Try Divine, Green and Black’s or BojaBoja instead. Whatever you buy, look online for fair-trade, ethical and sustainable retailers. Do your research before you buy.

  1. Pre-loved presents. New doesn’t mean better. It really doesn’t. Use charity shops, second hand shops, Gumtree and eBay. You’ll be able to find most things second hand if you’re willing to put in slightly more work than the usual Amazon quick click and buy. Books are a great and easy thing to buy second hand. I love reading a book I know someone else has read. It feels like sharing.
    Bristol is packed with brilliant charity shops
  2. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, buy less! Simple isn’t it? Set limits with friends and family and do not over spend! We seem to have developed a fixation with ‘hauls’ and the sheer number of gifts we give and receive. This is madness and reminds me of the spoilt Dudley in Harry Potter, who counts his birthday presents.  The Instagram haul pic is pretty much the same thing. And let’s all be totally honest adults – do we actually need anything? Probably not. Stay away from shopping centres, magazines and Amazon; they will try desperately to convince you of the opposite!

I hope this has been in some way helpful. As I said, there are more answers out there. If you’ve got ideas on how to give more ethically, we’d love to hear them so please comment below.

Ellie x


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