10 ways you can have a more meaningful Christmas this year

A green and ethical Christmas is one with more meaning and connection, says Sophie Unwin, director of Remade in Edinburgh, and she's sharing her top 10 tips on doing things a bit differently

I BUMPED into my neighbour at the grocery recently and I asked her what she was doing for Xmas? She told me that she doesn’t "do Xmas" and struggles with this time of year. 

It was nice to hear such an honest answer, especially when there can be so much pressure to express a sense of jollity – which, of course, we are unlikely all to be feeling all of the time. 

This pressure of how we feel goes hand in hand in hand with a pressure of how we behave – and a narrative that we need to buy everyone gifts, even if they’re things that nobody needs or wants and will throw away. George Monbiot put it succinctly in an Xmas column, 'The Gift of Death': "Stop trashing the planet to show them you care."

This pressure of how we feel goes hand in hand in hand with a pressure of how we behave – and a narrative that we need to buy everyone gifts, even if they’re things that nobody needs or wants and will throw away.

And if there’s an alternative, surely it must be coming back to our deepest values, and cherishing what we care about – family, friends, people, animals and the nature around us that we are part of, and ultimately depend upon.  

And there are practical ways we can do this. Why not buy someone an experience rather than stuff: a massage, a night out to a gig, or to the theatre, for example? 

Or why not make your own presents? Getting crafty at home can involve making collages, creating photo albums, or cooking a beautiful meal or cake.

There’s lots of great suggestions out there already for a green Christmas already so here’s a wee list with a Scottish twist:

1.) Give your time

You can register with Volunteer Scotland for a whole range of volunteering opportunities. If you’re Edinburgh based, why not check out 'Appetite for Change Scotland', a wonderful group of local food organisations that are putting on Xmas meals and other community meals with volunteers.

2.) Give a learning experience

It’s a wonderful gift to learn a new skills – and there are lots of evening and day classes and courses that start in the New Year – check out your local adult education college. 

At the Edinburgh Remakery you can learn skills as varied as bookbinding, upholstery, using a sewing machine, and book appointments in how to fix your laptop or phone – saving lots of money in the place. Find out more here. 

For a team outing, why not check out Edinburgh organisation MY Adventure – that offers affordable adventure days out from coasteering to mountain biking – with profits going to local youth charity.

3.) Get ideas from organisations you trust; buy local and from social enterprises

Common Weal’s new Common Market has a growing range of independent, ethical and local stockists – selling everything from scarves to curry kits!

You can check out Scotland’s social enterprises here and Edinburgh’s directory on the new Buy the Good Stuff site

4.) Give something pre-loved 

Zero Waste Scotland research says that 80 per cent of people say they would welcome a second hand gift.

Most people have a favourite charity shop near them – and you know the money will go to a good cause.

At the Edinburgh Remakery, we sell a selection of quality affordable computers and furniture – you can buy online as well as in our shop.

5.) Give a membership to a place where you can appreciate nature 

There are some amazing spaces to visit in Scotland’s Wildlife Trusts and RSPB reserves.  

6.)  Do you know a child that would like a new bike? 

Kids outgrow stuff quickly so it makes particular sense to buy second hand. Why not check out the Bike Station – they have branches in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth.

7.) Give a voucher – then people can choose what they want and not have something wasteful

We sell them at the Edinburgh Remakery – starting from just £5. What a lovely gift to be able to go on a workshop in the New Year. Pick them up from us at 125 Leith Walk in Edinburgh.

8.) If you’re giving stuff – then make it something that’s something that lasts 

Companies like Patagonia have a strong commitment to ethics, making outerwear that’s designed to last and be repairable. Check out similar companies at new website http://www.buymeonce.com/

9.) Give the gift of your company

What nicer than to suggest a day trip with a friend – it could be a walk somewhere in nature or a trip to a free exhibition – at this time of year many galleries are almost empty. For example, the Natural Library for Scotland has a lovely exhibition, 'You are Here' - on maps - until April. Spend your budget on travel rather than on stuff.

10.) Give yourself the gift of a retreat

Like this one: http://www.dhanakosa.com/

You don’t have to be a Buddhist (or want to be one) to go on one of Dhanakosa’s introductory meditation retreats – weekend and weeks, often paired up with other activities like hillwalking, photography and t’ai chi. 

Organised on a donation basis – they are an affordable way to connect and slow down by beautiful Loch Voil in the Trossachs.

Sharing is caring – and so is repairing. It’s not just about ending a throwaway culture of stuff – it’s ending a culture of throw-away people and coming together as a community.

Values are important. Defining our beliefs can help create a compass for our behaviour. And at this moment in the world, it seems that they are deeply under threat. 

There was a quote from notorious Trump strategist Steve Bannon when he declared: "Darth Vader is good. Satan is good. Power is good." And while it was argued that he was sending up the liberal media I have no doubt that he was looking to shock, confuse and create anxiety with these words. 

It’s straight out of a Dylan song: "What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you’ve reached the top." 

Let’s face this deliberate illogic down, hold tight to each other, share our stories and create our own narratives.

Coming back to my neighbour, she said that she’s not going to buy anything. She says instead of "doing Xmas" she’s going to organise a pot-luck lunch for anyone in the street so we can all get to know each other. What could be more festive than that?

Picture courtesy of Sophie Unwin

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