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How to have a sustainable and considered Christmas

However you like to celebrate, there are dozens of ways to make the festive period more mindful. Here are a few suggestions from ELLE Decoration and friends...

Christmas scenes illustrations
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Here are a few suggestions from ELLE Decoration and friends...

It’s the thought that counts...

*It may be an overused adage, but what does thoughtful gifting actually entail? Obvious, perhaps, but nothing is more heartfelt than exchanging handmade gifts. Even for the less crafty among us, edible treats are a safe place to start: ‘The joy of making a foodie gift is that you are thinking about the person you are making it for from beginning to end. Simple chocolate truffles, chocolate-coated nuts or Christmas cake will always go down well,’ suggests chocolatier Paul A Young.

*For designer Matilda Goad, thoughtful gifting is often about going back to simple pleasures: ‘I think it’s lovely to bring something for a host – potted plants are my go-to as they smell divine and canal ways be planted outdoors post-Christmas. I’m also fond of giving edible gifts too, such as raw honeycomb frames, which can be enjoyed together at long, leisurely breakfasts.’ Try Bees & Co for honey gifts.

*If you’re after something more long-lasting, enrol in a course or workshop and give your handmade creations to your nearest and dearest – Blackhorse Workshop in Walthamstow, London has a course programme including jesmonite coaster casting and crafting wood chopping boards.

*Personalising your decorations and trimmings, as well as gifts, with little twists can make even the most commonplace of Christmas ephemera memorable: ‘I’ve been customising my crackers for years by hiding crystals inside. Each person gets a stone that relates to them and an explanation of the crystal’s properties – much better than a bad joke,’ says event designer Fiona Leahy.

*A thoughtful subscription is a good alternative if you’re not the hands-on sort, and tailoring it to their tastes and passions speaks volumes. Fairtrade coffee beans from Old Spike Roastery are roasted in Peckham and support homeless people with training and employment. The Willoughby Book Club, meanwhile, offers personalised book subscriptions based on the receiver’s favourite authors and titles, handpicked by literary experts – not an algorithm in sight.

Christmas scenes illustration
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Acts of kindness

*Giving back needn’t mean forgoing indulgence, as we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to covetable wares that have a philanthropic edge. The art world has long embraced this idea, with the likes of House of Voltaire, a not-for-profit pop-up that sells artworks to fund its educational programmes, and Into art, a charity that works with people with learning disabilities and produces art, design and fashion. This year, Carl Freedman Gallery and Counter Editions have created ‘100 Years’, a series of limited-edition prints by renowned artists (including David Shrigley and Tracey Emin) that celebrates the centenary of Save the Children, with a third of profits going to the charity.

*For homeware, British brand Aerende sells products made in the UK by people facing social challenges. Even if inspiration fails to strike and you end up giving the classic Christmas gift of socks, make it a pair by Jollie’s, a company that donates a pair of its stylish organic cotton socks to the homeless every time a pair is sold.

*Counting down to the big day can be made more selfless (and less sugary) thanks to Advent of Change’s calendars, which donate 50p each day to a different charity.

*Meanwhile, taking time out to help in person is part of many people’s festive routines: ‘We would only have our own Christmas lunch after we had all helped carry out a variety of jobs for charities such as The Salvation Army. The kids particularly appreciated their Christmas lunch having helped feed and take care of those without any family at the centres,’ says The Wolseley’s Jeremy King.

Christmas scenes illustration
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Rethink resources

*There’s no beating around the bush – Christmas creates huge amounts of waste. Clever and creative ideas can help to reduce its impact, though. Follow the eco-lead of design studio 2LG: ‘We love to have a real Christmas tree but last year we decided no more, asit was definitely too wasteful, so we invested in a Himalayan pine (pinus wallichiana). We keep it in a pot in the garden and bring it back inside every year.’ Suzie de Rohan Willner, CEO of Toast plans to wrap her gifts with paper, ‘I have been collecting over the year, including relevant newspaper articles, magnificent images from favourite magazines and Toast’s handmade paperstring, with a sprig of heather. The whole unwrapping experience will hopefully be as delightful as the discovery of the gift within.’

*Proving that using recycled materials needn’t be so serious, Eleanor Tattersfield of stationery brand Marby & Elm has a tongue-in-cheek approach to repurposing materials:‘I like reusing Christmas cards. I find it darkly hilarious. Use last year’s cards and cross through the names of the recipients inside and write your own. I found an old Victorian one where this had been done and I thought it was brilliant!’

*For decorations, consider things that can be foraged near to home: ‘Wrap up warm and go for a walk with someone you love, to seek out foliage for table decorations. Little dried grass sprigs or lichen sticks look so lovely in small stem jars and gathering them can be a welcome breather from the commercial side of things,’says Terri Chandler of flower studio Worm.

*There are a plethora of stores and makers offering luxe goods for gifts made using sustainable means and/or recycled materials. Hampson Woods produces practical wares such as hand-carved chopping boards and hooks from fallen trees, while newcomer Goodwaste, exclusive to Selfridges, makes accessories and furniture with offcuts of marble and stone.

This feature appeared in ELLE Decoration December 2019.

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