Green Yuletide : organikal seasonal inspiration for gifts & home decoration

by Julie Gibbons on December 13, 2010

julie in snow pic

Adjusting to the season

Thrust into an icy winter earlier than we have been used to, we are reminded of why the yuletide season’s celebrations have become so important, especially to those of us in northern climes.

Long, dark nights ahead with no hint of respite for many months to come, it’s important to recognise nature’s signals and one of the best ways we can do this is to incorporate her inspiration into our celebratory rituals. For the midwinter is the time when the sun is ‘reborn’ and that alone is cause for much joy.

Turning your holiday preparations into a creative exercise, using natural materials and avoiding the excesses of ‘should’ and ‘ought’ and ‘need’ when selecting gifts to offer friends and loved ones is one big step you can take towards making this season as joyful as it can be.

Your actions will not only help make you, your friends and family happier – you will be making your own contribution to preserving this beautiful planet, its local businesses and some of the true spirit behind your special winter celebrations, whichever version you choose. And do remember, not everyone’s festival is the same as yours, even when it’s not so obvious…

The fir tree

A most potent symbol of the season, it is sometimes said that Christmas trees were first brought into the home to provide shelter for fairies, to keep them warm for the winter. Whether this is true or not, the fir tree has long symbolised immortality and continuity and evergreens have been used to decorate our homes for centuries.

It is also now accepted wisdom that buying a real Christmas tree from a local grower is much more environmentally sound than sourcing a fake tree – even when the tree you’re buying is cut down for the purpose;

  • Sourcing your tree from an approved BCTGA (British Christmas Tree Growers Association) or NCTA (National Christmas Tree Association) grower is environmentally sound – no long haul transportation & a code of conduct are adhered to.
  • Tree farms provide valuable habitat for several species of wildlife, whilst growing trees recycle carbon dioxide.
  • Fake Christmas trees usually include harmful plastics & metals and are shipped from the Far East. They are non-biodegradeable, and transporting them generates unnecessary carbon emissions.
  • Real trees can be recycled in many different ways. Your supplier may even arrange to collect it – taking it through the complete lifecycle. Otherwise contact your council or Lets Recycle.

Visiting your local tree farm is something you can do with friends and family, turning the whole process from choosing your specimen, getting it home (you will usually be offered transportation for a small fee) and decorating it, into a much loved ritual for many years to come.

And there just isn’t anything to beat that smell, is there?

We’ve been unable to go and choose our tree this year what with the chaotic and dangerous road conditions :( but we’re looking forward to its delivery in the next week or so. Never too early, please…

robin decoration

The decorations

I remember the days when our family home was festooned with plastic ornaments, glitter, tinsel, balloons and more – from top to toe and that’s all we knew about Christmas decorations.

Thankfully, it’s practically fashionable now to choose hand-crafted, locally sourced and nature inspired decorations – although not always easy. I visited our local florist last year to try and source materials for decorations only to be met with the most hideous of fake plastic creations, when what I’d had in mind involved actual plant life!

Mistletoe has been used for centuries to decorate our homes – with many magical and sacred qualities associated with it. Not least the notion of it as a potent fertility symbol – but did you know it’s only supposed to retain its magic if it hasn’t touched the floor?

Holly and ivy signify the power of life renewed – and are a much accepted part of this festival. A few sprigs here or there – on a table or fireplace decoration will help you embrace the time honoured celebration of the passing of the shortest day.

Handcrafted banners, whether knitted, made from recycled paper, chillies or otherwise can bring you together with your family to produce something beautiful and meaningful at a time otherwise dominated by those hideously glaring shops and blaring Christmas muzac.

And you know what? You don’t actually have to make them yourself if you’ve no inclination, time or artistic ability. there’s plenty of brilliant crafters out there willing to do the work for you. Just look at Etsy and Folksy for instance … and Wiggly Wigglers has mistletoe, hopbines and other natural decorations available for mail order.

The gift wrap

I used to love wrapping presents up so much that my friends would give me theirs to wrap for them! It’s something that means just as much to me as the gift inside. I’ve come to realise it doesn’t mean just as much to most folk!

What I do detest is the millions of rolls of festive wrapping paper bought at this time of year. All those trees. All those chemical dyes. All that waste!

This year you don’t have to participate. You really don’t! Get creative and think of reusing any newspapers or magazines you have lying around. Last year I wrapped most of my gifts in the packing material included in some of my mail order deliveries, saving it up all year just for that purpose. It needed a little de-crinkling but with a few personal embellishments (I painted some dodgy gingerbread cookies with metallic paint to use as gift tags) it looked great. Admittedly, I also used some florists cellophane over the top as a finishing touch, but one roll of this lasts for longer than a lifetime, and we saved it all for re-use once the packages were opened – no tape was used in the whole process!

There’s lots of instructional video out there about paper alternatives. There’s a Japanese art called Furoshiki, for instance:

And if you are given ready made, shop bought gift bags this year – do keep them and return the gift in them next year. You know you want to :)

The cards

Oh, this has already caused controversy in our family! What to do? Buy charity cards, make a donation to charity and buy e-cards? Hand craft my own design as in years gone by? Or not bother?

My mum (I love you mum) thought I’d be ruining everyone’s Christmas if I didn’t send any cards this year. Really? I’m definitely sure that I wouldn’t ruin it. Not for everyone, at least ;)

I like to send cards to people when they’re not expecting to hear from me. It’s always nice to receive a hand-written card by mail in this electronic age, is it not? But the ritual of  Christmas card writing just seems so wasteful to me nowadays and I know I’m not the only one.

Look, whatever you choose to do will be the right decision for you. You can buy cards that are made from an alternative material, so they’re tree free.  You can buy cards just for those folk you don’t see very often and know they would miss hearing from you this festival. Or you can send out a special wish on the stars to everyone that means something to you and hope that they will hear a whisper of it on the wind.

Moondragon Cards have a great selection of tree-free and Yule celebration cards which are particularly beautiful.

I’ll be making my mum a special card – it obviously means a lot. As for everyone else – I think I’m going to opt for the unexpected. If I do send any e-cards, these cheeky cards from Then There Were None would be the ones I’d go for.

gingerbread cookies

The gift of food

How much money are you prepared to spend to celebrate this festival? My guess is if you’re reading this you probably don’t go in for all the mad consumerism.

However, this is traditionally the time of abundance – so how to reconcile the two? You can offer an edible gift, of course you can…

It’s an especially easy choice even if you are otherwise challenged in the ways of the kitchen. A gingerbread cookie, a box of fudge (or if you’re scottish – a round of tablet). You name it, they’ll love it – and they’re so easy to make. Don’t know how? Then spend some time looking up recipes on the webs. That’s all I do…

Last year we made chutney and spiced salt and cranberry ketchup. We even made spiced Vodka! All the recipes were in the Nigella Christmas Book. All it really involved was some time spent in the kitchen stirring things and decanting into pretty containers. But it was so way more fun that spending town in the shopping centre.

Round up

Whatever you’re celebrating, however you do it, make sure you give a thought to how you want to do it. Decide on a policy for what feels comfortable for you. It might not be easy to share it with those around you – but if it’s important to you, you’ll figure it out.

Even if it’s too late this year, then find some time to reflect on how you want it to be next time around. I know there’s some changes I still need to make to make it my perfect Organikal yuletide. Meantime, I’m going easy on myself and doing what I can to ensure my festival is as beautiful as I want it to be.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mrs Green @ my zero waste December 13, 2010 at 10:14 am

Hiya :) Lovely post; thanks for sharing all your wonderful ideas. I remember reading a while ago how disappointed you were with a magazine you had bought in the hope you would find a yummy main course for your Yule dinner – can I ask what you have decided on in the end?

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Julie Gibbons December 13, 2010 at 10:32 am

Hullo Hullo! And congrats again to you for your most Green Household award, Mrs Green – most well-deserved…

I was thinking about making the Layered Squash, Barley & Spinach Pie from the recipe in this year’s BBC Vegetarian Christmas magazine this year, but I know I won’t …

I’m going to do a traditional roast with ham for the meat eaters in the family and a cranberry and goats cheese tart for the veggies.

But if it was something different, it would def be the layered squash & spinach pie … it just looks so, well – yuletidey ;)

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