An eco-friendly South African Christmas

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Meredith Fernandes

It is a pleasure to welcome local Botanist and Eco-warrior Meredith Fernandes to the ReTrade Project this morning to chat to us about how she makes this festive time of year eco-friendly - with a South African flair! 

Christmas is a magical time of year...

where families gather around to share in the spirit of the season-
eating, drinking and being merry. For so long we have fully embraced the concept of a traditional
white Christmas- we deck out our houses in plastic pine trees adorned with colourful tinsel,
twinkling lights and mismatched trinkets collected over numerous years.
However, us in the southern hemisphere are fortunate to enjoy a summer Christmas. Maybe it’s
time to leave these forgien ideas and instead embrace our own unique traditions. The best part of
reinventing is that we, as South Africans get to do it better- so let’s find a more authentic, minimal
and earth conscious holiday experience.
This months blog post provides some practical ideas for ensuring that your Christmas is as waste free
and earth friendly as possible. If one can change just one aspect or action of our Christmas
celebrations this year, you will have made a difference.


Action 1: Buy thoughtful gifts

No one needs another soap on a rope! Instead of these generic gifts that are often bought for the
sake of it, try to think of more timeless presents. Wooden toys, leather, or woollen items can make
beautiful gifts for children and adults. Invest in our local economy by sourcing locally made products.
By supporting your community one is usually rewarded with high quality goods and you're
promoting localised trade. Shop for good quality second hand items such as clothing, books and
furniture to find some stunning, one of a kind items for family and friends.
Unique condiments, that are a bit pricey at the usual grocery shop, such as honey, olives, olive oil
and spices are great gifts that will be enjoyed. Potted herbs brighten up a kitchen space and are
useful. If you have the time, add your own personalised touch by making gifts. You could endeavour
to create homemade soaps, candles, crocheted items or baked goods. These gifts can make great,
thoughtful presents- who doesn’t love yummy homemade biscuits presented in a repurposed bottle.
Try to promote green products amongst your family and friends by buying them environmentally
friendly items such as beeswax wrap and material covers to protect your Christmas leftovers.
Another great idea is to gift people experiences such as day trips, holidays, vouchers for a massage-
the options are endless. For those looking to spread their generosity, you could also donate money
to a worthy cause on your loved ones behalf.


Action 2: Avoid wrapping paper

Those aiming to lead a more earth conscious lifestyle tend to try avoid single use items. Although
wrapping paper looks like paper, and even has the word in its name- most is not recyclable! Metallic
wrapping paper, those containing glitter and any with a sheen like lamination cannot be recycled!
Instead, I suggest that one should opt for reused newspaper or use traditional brown paper. These
gifts need not be dull because you can embellish them with a pretty ribbon and card. Pinterest can
give you a million ideas for wrapping gifts using reusable items such as material. Gift bags, especially
those made of brown card, are also a relatively easy and reusable.


Action 3: Ditch store bought Christmas crackers


Unless you buy the real luxury crackers (contain your excitement for that toenail clipper!), most of
the cracker gets thrown away including the junk plastic toys and seriously outdated knock-knock
joke. Skip the Christmas crackers and prevent adding to our already overflowing landfills.
Why not create a fun activity to do with your family instead, such as a hide and seek activity for little
chocolates or smaller gifts hidden around the house or garden. Write jokes or questions on pieces of
paper that can be pulled out of a hat or tucked under your dinner plate to stimulate conversation
and reminiscence about the year. These little silly games could become a time-honoured tradition in
your family without the added waste.
If your family are adamant that Christmas crackers adorn the table, then opt for making your own
crackers that are filled with quality gifts- maybe a nice chocolate or a small bottle of alcohol. Making
Christmas crackers could be a nice pre-Christmas activity for families with children. Once again
Pinterest is overflowing with ideas.


Action 4: Fake Christmas trees

Many of us already own a fake Christmas tree and its decorations that are hauled out of a dusty box
in the garage once a year. Invariably these items last a really long time so for now there is no need to
chuck them away in search of being ‘more green’. However, avoid buying into this consumerism trap
with more Christmas decorations and when that tree is eventually falling apart ensure you dispose
of it correctly. Looking for an alternative- buy a potted tree you can bring in during the holidays and
decorate with strings of popcorn (like the good old days) or scraps of material, painted pine cones
ect. Another possibility would be to buy a cut down tree- in South Africa pine trees are invasive and
should be removed so stick one in your house for Christmas. Many Christmas markets are selling
lovely wooden or wire Christmas trees for a nice simplified design- also makes a good gift!


Action 5: Green up your Christmas meal

We have all been conditioned to enjoy a traditional roast and overindulge on Christmas Day. To be
kinder to the planet try prepare less meat for your Christmas meals. This doesn’t mean your meal
needs to be boring- it’s summer why not diverge from the traditional lunch, pack a picnic and head
down to your nearest park or beach. Get creative and enjoy some delicious summer salads. If you
must indulge in meat, try to buy organic meat from local farmers.
Food waste is often a big problem, ensure that you prepare enough food for the number of visitors
and that all leftovers are carefully stored and prepared for following meals. If you are left sitting with
a lot of leftovers take a drive through your neighbourhood and gift it to those less fortunate.
As the last Christmas of the decade quickly approaches, let’s take a moment to sit down and
evaluate our current lifestyles- see where we are overcomplicating and what simple changes can be
made to ensure that our lives are more in tune with nature.

Enjoy your holiday season with your loved ones and aim to make the new decade even more earth-friendly!


About the author:
Meredith is an ecologist that works at Nelson Mandela University. She is also the owner of the newly
established wedding event company Fleurs Sauvages. She loves arranging pretty flowers for
weddings and aims to source fresh, in season, local flowers and be as eco-conscious and waste free as possible. She will be enjoying her Christmas picnicking around the pool at a friend’s small holding in Port Elizabeth.