Five Easy, Ethical Ways To Do Christmas Better

Your last-minute guide to keeping Christmas green, local, cheap and easy.

It’s been a long time since I believed in Santa. I’m not religious, so that dimension of Christmas celebrations is somewhat lost on me too. Family, food, friends, not going to work — I love all that, and am happy to celebrate it. But gift-giving? I’m sort of forgetting why we, as adults, still insist on doing that every single year.

Even if it’s just amongst your family, gift-giving seems like a relic of the Santa-believing years of childhood, something akin to bags of lollies or afternoon nap-time. Of course the idea of giving is that it’s just another way to be nice to someone — but when you walk through the city and soak up the season’s extreme advertising, sudden influx of charity muggers, ubiquitous sale mark-ups and the prevalence of iconography of gift-wrap, the contemporary postmodern Christmas seems to be more about the spending of dollars than the partaking in nice quality family time.

In a family of adults, it seems strange that we send emails to each other asking what we would like, find those exact items and buy them for each other, only to feel generally underwhelmed by it all. It’s not really magical. It’s not really even enjoyable. It’s basically a chore.

So much garbage is created from wrapping paper, decorations, food and even Christmas trees — not to mention discarded, rejected gifts. In Australia, it’s estimated that we spend around $25 billion on Christmas each year, and throw away three million tonnes of Christmas food. That’s cool for the economy, I guess, but it’s less cool for the environment. It’s also not great for our self-respect as people who want more from our interpersonal relationships than shiny things.

So my mission this year is to enjoy Christmas with my family, friends, sunshine and wine without costing the environment and encouraging bad habits. I’m looking for something like a mindful Christmas, where we don’t rely on symbolic purchases to show love, and we try to minimise the disruption we cause to our environment.

With that in mind, here are five ways that you can make your Christmas a little kinder to the earth, and your pocket. No crafting involved.

1. Give Green

Literally. Plants make amazing gifts, but if you can, give seeds or bulbs. A gift that keeps growing is a lovely way to help someone get their herb garden started, or might just bestow on them a new holiday activity. Seeds and bulbs rather than pre-packaged and potted plants come with less plastic waste and don’t have to go through the trauma of re-potting either, so stand a greater chance of survival.

Basically, most people are enthusiastic but totally terrible gardeners, so give them the easy version.


Get someone’s green thumbs going with Sow ‘n Sow seeds ($39.95 for a box set), which come in beautifully-designed cardboard packets, with space to write a name and message.

If their garden’s already growing, why not buy them a compost solution? Worm farms are great for people with yard space, and bokashi boxes ($170 for a kit) are an amazing invention for apartment gardeners — you can even make your own.

Put those food scraps to good use, and grow more food from them! Guys, I found the answer to the whole capitalism thing!


We don’t all have a patch of eternal life-giving ground, though. If their life is unsoiled, why not give that special someone a DIY mushroom growing kit ($22.95), made of used coffee grounds for a sustainable and enjoyable fungi growing experience!

These boxes can be grown inside an apartment, room or garage, and oyster mushrooms are so delicious. (See also: 4. The Gift Of Deliciousness.)


2. Give Without Power

If your gift needs batteries or plugs, maybe rethink it. Aside from the fact that it’s either a) from the past, b) a walkman or c) makes an annoying noise, 75% of computers bought in Australia every year end up in landfill, with a huge amount of them getting thrown out around Christmas to make room for upgrades.

If you’re upgrading a device, recycle or exchange the old version. You can trade in old technology at EB Games or swap an old bike at Bike Exchange. Better still, make it part of your Christmas/New Year’s resolution to donate your old clothes to charity, or join a toy and book appeal to clean out the closet and give to those who really need it.

Let’s not forget about all the non-internet devices that also use a bunch of power, like household appliances — especially coffee machines. Why not buy someone a coffee maker that doesn’t need power? Try an Aeropress (from $30) or a V60 ($40).


The coffee lover is actually pretty easy to give to. Aside from the power consumption, Australians throw out over a billion coffee cups each year. Why not buy your serial take-away addict a KeepCup as a present, and add a colourful little element of sustainability to someone’s life for under $20.

And if KeepCup’s just too mainstream, or the recipient already has one, how about some Coffee Joulies ($59 for five) to keep their brew at just the right temperature? These little guys get dropped in your cup to cool your coffee to optimal sipping temperature and keep it there for longer.


 They are basically magic.


3. Give For Others

Capitalism has come pretty far. We can now give to charity while also giving to each other*.

The Good Gift Shop collects products from social enterprises in one handy site, so the money you spend goes to worthy causes. “From children’s literacy to global sanitation, and from environmental sustainability to employment of disadvantaged communities, social enterprises exist to benefit the community.” They’ve got stuff for kids, Kris Kringle, women, men, games, edibles… everything. Genius!


For the digital gifter or giftee, The Humble Bundle sells great computer games for cheap, with proceeds going to great initiatives like the American Red Cross, Child’s Play Charity, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, World Land Trust and charity:water.

You can buy games like FEZ (pictured below), Gone Home, and Papers, Please for cheap and for a good cause. Plus, no packaging. Hellooooo, holidays.


Oxfam Unwrapped is also good for those who want to make an ethical statement — buy someone a goat for people in another country to truly shun consumerism this year. Their cards, which are sort of vouchers for charitable gifts to needy people, are funny and lovely. Also: tax deductible!


* NB: Slavoj Zizek believes giving to charity while giving to each other is an hilarious delusion. He explains, in his Marxist, post-modern, cultural theorist way, that the Starbucks coffee that donates $1 back to charity has been created to balance out an equation of ego and guilt that drives consumerism. You, as a consumer, are going to buy a coffee; you have approximately $3 worth of consumer guilt; the fact that the corporation gives $1 back to charity takes your guilt balance down to $2, and the ego boost from “being charitable” rounds that down to $1. Zizek argues that this charitable benefit does more for alleviating consumer guilt and making further sales than for the “selfless act” of charity itself. Soooooooo, uh, ahem. Perhaps it is also a gift to your ego. Christmas is complicated for feelings. Please don’t get upset. Anyway.

4. Give The Gift Of Deliciousness

If you’re cooking up a Christmas feast, stay away from the turkey and the chestnuts, and stick with seasonal fruit and vegetables. Fresh strawberries, avocados, mangos and bananas will bring happiness in the form of delicious nutrients. If you do have to do the traditional Christmas roast, buy from a local butcher, not the supermarket. Check out what’s currently in season at the Seasonable Food Guide.


If you’ve got some time off before Christmas, why not make someone an edible present? Preserved gifts like pickles, marmalades and jams last for months if properly canned (the above set goes for $18.15, and you can find great recipes here), and a box of home-baked cookies shares the Christmas spirit without the Christmas waste.

5. Kris Kringle

If you really have to give a traditional gift, cap your consumerism by limiting your gift-giving to one present with a dollar value limit. It’s a staple at the workplace but it’s becoming increasingly popular in families too. You buy one present and one present only, so make it a good one – and unlike the workplace lottery of $10 craptastic terribleness, you can up the limit a little and get one meaningful present each.

You should also consider the value of giving a service. You can’t throw a massage in landfill. For something more interesting, why not buy a voucher for a trip to the Onsen? The recipient will have a wonderful experience at their own convenience, support local businesses, and not a single wrapping paper will be shed. (While we’re on the subject, re-use paper, wrap gifts in fabric, or buy recycled; LoveMae and BioMe have some stylish, cheap and sustainable alternatives to garish Xmas wrapping.)

If you’re keen to celebrate friends and family without worshipping the God of Shopping, why not start a new tradition? It’s more important that you spend your time over the festive season with friends and family than in the department stores — and no one deserves the stress of shopping centres this season. Consider it your year off.

Amelia Schmidt is a writer, copywriter, web developer and web designer living in Melbourne. She’s interested in food, technology, sustainability, ethics, literature and film, among far too many other things. You can read her food blog here.

Feature Image: stamped fabric wrapping from