Week 5: Inspiration everywhere at Christmas.
Updated: Apr 20, 2020
A big part of making little changes, is to to take inspiration from others. I have already found so much inspiration from our friends and family when talking about this challenge we have set ourselves.
Christmas especially, seems to be a moment in the calendar where there is so much inspiration and creativity around being more planetwise. Just by talking to friends, we have lots of changes we can make for Christmas now, and every Christmas. From reusing old Christmas cards for gift labels, shopping for certain gifts exclusively in charity shops - talking to friends has been a really lovely example of how we are all connected.
It has also been a great example of how, whilst governments argue about whether or not change is needed, and whilst corporations analyse the economic impact of change to the balance sheet - there is so much change already happening from people all around us.
Part of the reason I started writing about being 'planetwise' is because I believed that we could all have a shared purpose, and that we listened and acted instead of arguing and talking. Christmas has been a brilliant example of that - and it feels the needle of attitudinal change is moving when it comes to making individual changes to Christmas traditions that seem small, but together can have a big impact.
There is also inspiration everywhere by searching the Internet. We can be kinder in how we select our Christmas tree, our decorations, or how we plan and source our family meal. There are stories online about joy of creating your own gifts, re-gifting, shopping in independent stores, or focusing more of the gift of time and shared experiences rather than the mentally draining stress of charging up and down a high street or retail mall for this year's must-have toy or gadget. Of somehow giving back or giving to our communities through time and money, or simply involving ourselves more in the community events that happen up and down the country each Christmas.
It is also a very conflicted time, as we are sure it is for many families. We don't want to stop giving gifts for example, because not only are presents are undoubtedly brilliant to receive, but also the feeling of happiness you can achieve by giving to others is also very satisfying. Wholesale changing this and wholesale changing everything about our Christmas is going to be hard to do in one leap. The challenge this week therefore, is to firstly use the inspiration of others to make little changes that keeps the essence of the Christmas we would like, but introduces ways of being more planetwise. And then hopefully introduce one new idea ourselves, to others.
It is also important that the change we make, is something that can be made permanent, and is a change to something fundamental in our own habits. Any change we make or new idea we have this Christmas, should either be a real change for us, or should be interesting or joyful to the recipient. We should not try to impose our own view of what Christmas should be, or force a change that makes us feel good but has no real impact.
Considering all this - the change that I have selected to write about, is something that happens on the run-up to Christmas rather than the day itself, and is a traditional that many love, many of us feel uncomfortable about, and many of us feel both of these emotions at the same time. It is something that is so ingrained in our habits, and is one of the areas that tends to attract split opinions.
It is the exchange of cards.
On the surface, it does seem like a environmentally frivolous exercise. In a world where we can digitally exchange information in seconds, and a world where using resources in reckless ways should be avoided, exchanging cards seems to be a shining example of wastefulness. Even our ideal of the process, sitting in front of an open fire with a glass of wine, tends to be practically replaced some years by hastily scribbling out cards at the kitchen table, to people who we barely know or remember, and just adds to the image of Christmas cards being an outdated or arduous exercise.
Yet at the same time - I love receiving cards at Christmas. Each card brings back a moment or memory. Even if we didn't see a person or a family for a long time, the connection created by that small effort of sending a card is something I find very special. This year, even the process of pegging up the cards on the stairs was even more exciting, as with a 3-year old child in the house, each new day and new cards through the letterbox adds to a art gallery of festive images for us to enjoy as he comes downstairs each morning. A living gallery of people in our lives that we can introduce him to vicariously through where they live, through stories or how we met, or what they mean to us.
I hope also this feeling works the other way. Some of the people who we send cards to, are relations from a generation such as ours or before, where the written word was something that was exchanged more frequently through holiday postcards or general letters of wellbeing or thanks. For these people, who have probably seen a diminishing number of cards and letters over the years as we find other ways of sending greetings, this must seem like a sad ending to an age where the exchanging of good wishes came with more thought than a few keystrokes on a computer keyboard.
There is also a compelling argument for the sourcing of cards. It is perhaps not a perfect solution, but the majority of manufacturers ensure that paper and envelopes are either recycled or are from sustainable sources and carry the FSC badge. Some will also give portions of the revenue received through sales to causes or charities that are progressive to either our lives or of the planet or ecosystems. This year especially, we saw this becoming more and more prevalent in the cards we received.
All this means that I am not ready just yet to stop sending cards, but wanted to see if there was a planetwise way that we could keep this traditional alive, plus introduce a principle that we could extend to other parts of our lives.
We decided that at least we could make the cards, and therefore skip a few steps in the manufacturing process, as we have access to a printer at work and access to a small boy who loves painting. This led us to researching the right type of paper to use, and whether we could do it in an entirely compostable way, so that after we had delivered the wishes through the card, the cycle could be closed by the paper simply being returned to the earth in some way.
Through this, we came across an idea and piece of inspiration, which not only ticked the box of compostability, but also gave something more.
Imagine, that you could send a card, and that the recipient could open and enjoy that card strung up on a wall or on a mantlepiece over the Christmas period just like a 'normal' card.
Imagine then, after Christmas was done, there was a twist. Instead of throwing it in the trash or the recycling, imagine the card contained wildflower seeds, and you could bury the paper in a pot or in the garden, and know that it would compost. But, imagine that as well as this, the card would actually give back - and with a bit of care and a bit of watering - the seeds in the paper would grow into your own spray of wildflowers. Our discovery was exactly this - plantable seed paper. Design the card at home, print onto the plantable seed paper, fold into a card shape - and after it had been enjoyed, where there was once a card there would be flowers.
For us as a family, this was an exciting and planetwise discovery that gave us a way of making another little change. So this week, we have been making and sending plantable seed Christmas cards instead of regular Christmas cards. We sourced the paper from a website of the same name (plantableseedpaper.co.uk), which has many other inspirational ways of using the paper on their website and many other occasions that can utilise seed paper, such as weddings, envelopes, or simply strips of seed paper. Although we are just an individual family, if we are discovering this for the first time then we hope others will discover seed paper also through our cards, and can use this as inspiration to use this paper in other ways.
Outside of Christmas, and to make this change permanent - it also got me thinking about all other occasions that we would normally send or use paper. We can use this paper for birthdays, for thank-you cards that come after events such as Christmas and birthdays, or for general correspondence and notes around the house. We all write many cards, we all write lists - whether that is shopping or in preparation for holidays or families visiting - there are so many opportunities we have as a family to use this discovery to spread not only thoughts but flowers.
Take this idea further, and perhaps on a larger scale we can create something that adds sustainability to the paper that cycles through the world again and again. Imagine if mainstream greetings cards companies took up this innovation, and used their expertise to raise the awareness of plantable seed paper as an option in their range - for cards or even just for envelopes. Perhaps it would need to come with caveats, as it may cost a little more or may not be suitable for sending across global boundaries for biodiversity reasons. But it feels like the benefits could outweigh the costs.
Imagine if some of the major supermarkets or retail stores began to use seed paper in their receipts instead of regular receipts? Perhaps this is a stretch, and perhaps the argument here could be that receipts are an outdated concept as a proof of purchase anyhow, but as a transitional step this would mean that receipts that fly around the green verges of our roads would be replaced by bursting clusters of wildflowers, or lavender.
Along with this little change, we tried to use as much inspiration as we can from others this Christmas. We are all connected, and by sharing our great ideas, we can make changes individually and collectively, that can create attitudinal and ideological change, and actual change.
Finally - we also do not want to pretend that we have created ourselves and totally sustainable Christmas. We will have turkey, although it will be sourced responsibly. We hope that Santa will bring our little boy the remote control car he has requested. We hope our Christmas will add to the magic overall, of both our families and friends celebrations and the magic of our planet. It is all about the next choice.
Next Christmas, we will make new choices, that make next Christmas a little better for our planet than this year, and the one after, and the one after that. Bit by bit, introducing new habits and being more responsible as a family, we will make new traditions to replace the old.
This also means that we hope our home made green tomato chutney goes down well too with its intended recipients, it is made with love but also our inability to grow ripe ones.