Christmas: the annual curation of over-eating, awkward family dynamics, terrible singing, and a whole lot of non-recyclable wrapping paper ending up in the landfill. And cake, of course. But for many, Christmas is less a time of cheer and more a time of panicked consumerism. A time where the good sustainability habits you’ve built up are forgotten, and all your reasons for reducing your meat intake are pushed aside for the Christmas turkey. That being said - we’re not judging. We’re more than a little guilty of slacking off around the holidays.
Of course, there’s two sides to every coin. Christmas also means spending time with your friends and whānau, digging into some hearty chews for four days straight, and knocking back more than a few brews with the people you’re closest to.
To look the coin right down the middle, Christmas can be the best and worst time of the year, depending on who you ask and how in tune you are with your sustainability radar. So what exactly does Christmas mean in 2021, and what’s the best way to keep it plant-based, eco-friendly, and on the good side of Mother Nature?
Christmas, or consumerism?
It’s a fine line, we know. Somewhere along the way, Christmas went from being a celebration of Christianity, to a celebration of family and friends, to a celebration of consumerism and non-recyclable gifts. Nowadays, it seems people are more concerned with the number of gifts they can throw under the tree, rather than the thoughtfulness behind them - thoughtfulness for the recipient, as well as mindfulness around their impact on the planet.
According to Deloitte, “some 80% of retailers expect sales to increase this holiday period, compared to 60% in 2021”, with a Finder New Zealand Survey estimating the average New Zealander will spend around $1,012 on festive purchases this Christmas. For many people, the pressure to spend on expensive gifts can cause a lot of financial stress around the holidays, which we reckon is about as far from the true ‘meaning of Christmas’ as it could be.
So what gives? How exactly can we change the narrative on Christmas, while still enjoying Grandma’s pudding and gifting the people you love presents that will bring them a little happiness? Well, good news is, you can still have your cake and over-eat it too. But maybe, before you get trigger happy on Black Friday deals and shopping malls drowning with people, take a minute to think about how you can keep it eco-friendly, sustainable, and maybe even plant-based this Christmas.
Top Tips for Keeping it Eco
Eco friendly gift-giving
A great option to keep your gift-giving on the right side of festive is to gift experiences, rather than material things. A concert, an event, restaurant vouchers, an online masterclass - get creative. You know your person better than we do.
For physical gifts, consider utility and durability. Be harsh with yourself - will your person really like, use, and hold onto this present? Or will it likely end up in the landfill sometime in the next week, gathering dust right there next to the Turkish Delights and the t-shirts the old man didn’t like? Confronting, isn’t it. Instead, why not give gifts that will be used again and again, that are better for the environment, or that consider a more sustainable approach. Or just take it right back to the earth, and gift a native tree this Christmas.
The last part of eco gift-giving is looking for Certified B Corporations, or brands with eco or social accreditations you can trust. Certified B Corporations are businesses that “balance purpose and profit” - and with only a little over 4,000 companies certified globally, it’s one of the most robust eco certifications a business could achieve. To be legally certified, businesses are required to “consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.” Oh, and that applies to the parent company rather than the brand, so there’s no greenwashing allowed here.
Ditch the wrapping paper
Wrapping paper is a huge problem, not just in New Zealand but all around the world, and never more so than at Christmas time. In Aotearoa New Zealand, it’s estimated we use around 1600 tonnes of wrapping paper every Christmas. That’s the equivalent of 10,000 trees. If that doesn’t get you stirred up and ready to ditch the wrapping, consider the 25,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste that is expected to be discarded this Christmas.
Look, we’re not ones to point our fingers, but this is a big one. The vast majority of that wrapping paper is not recyclable, and will end up decorating landfills incredibly quickly come Boxing Day. So this year, why not ditch it for some recyclable (or recycled) paper, soft cotton wraps, or that now-handy newspaper from last week?
Find an eco-friendly alternative to your Christmas tree
We’re not a fan of the fake kind. By which, more specifically, we mean the plastic kind - plastic that inevitably ends up in our landfills, oceans, and streets. But while a real tree is the next step up, we also can’t advocate for a mass culling of trees around Christmas time. Kind of defeats the whole ‘plant-based future’ thing.
Don’t worry, we’re not advocating for ditching the Christmas tree for good. We’re not monsters. But this year, why not get a tree in a planter? That way, you can go away and plant it later. Round two of having and over-eating on the cake.
Another alternative is to really get your creative juices pumping, and put together a ‘Christmas Tipi’ instead. No trees, no plastic, no soil. Just good ol’ fashioned Christmas creativity.
Our Top Tips for Staying on the Plant-based wagon this Christmas
Offer to host Christmas at yours, and treat your guests to a 100% plant-based feast
It’s time to spread a little Christmas cheer of your own on this one. We’re talking bringing the storm inside and inviting your friends and family around for Christmas at yours for a 100% plant-based Christmas dinner. Or even a 90% plant-based dinner. 75%, even. Whatever it is, there’s a whole lotta plant-based alternatives now that might just hit the spot this Christmas.
If you’re not quite ready to commit to the Tofu turkey and an all-out vegan Christmas dinner, start with vegan desserts. Whether they’re Countdown provided or you’ve gone all out and baked your own plant-based Christmas cake from scratch, there’s a wealth of vegan Christmas food that would compete fiercely with their non-vegan alternative - like these Vegan Chocolate Pots by Jamie Oliver. Three whiskey’s deep and no one will even notice. Just ask your uncle.
Suggest delicious plant-based alternatives to Christmas favourites
We’re talking cream, cheese, butter - this lot is in just about everything, and may be an easy way to sneak some plant-based alternatives in the mix. Baby steps.
Contribute your favourite plant-based meal to Christmas lunch
Speaking of baby steps, does hosting Christmas lunch sound worse than being injured for ski season? Understood. If you’re heading over to the family base for Christmas, why not offer to bring your favourite plant-based Christmas food over instead? Even getting a few plant-based dishes on the table can make a big impact in the long game. Better get started on that vegan Christmas pudding.
Always have a few plant-based snacks on hand
The snake of the Christmas world, snacks will get you every time. It’s all well and good to walk into Christmas lunch with the ‘health is wealth’ mantra, but when the chocolate eclairs and corn chips are eyeballing you from mere metres away or the red-meat jerky is jumping out at you, it’s a good idea to have a few plant-based snacks on hand that you can turn to instead.
If you’re after the sweeter snacks, try these Vegan Carrot Cake Bliss Balls, or this Plant-Based Gooey Caramel Slice by Chelsea Winters.
Remember why you jumped on the plant-based wagon in the first place
Lastly, remember why you’re on this journey. When you’re tempted to forget all about your plant-based diet and dig straight into the roast lamb, remember why you first decided to get on the plant-based wagon - whatever your ‘why’.
Christmas is Christmas, the good, the bad, the vegan Christmas breakfast and meat alternatives for protein hunters alike. When it comes down to it, we reckon the most important thing is to enjoy the day. Enjoy the family time, enjoy the loose laughter and free flowing brews, enjoy the plant-based snacks passing between the whānau and enjoy the eco-presents wrapped in cloth under the Tipi on Christmas morning. It’s Christmas, after all.