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Buying gifts at local markets is a great way to support the local economy and contribute to a generally more sustainable celebration of Christmas! Photograph by John Kelly.

Make A Difference: Dreaming of a Green Christmas

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CHRISTMAS, a time for getting together with family and friends, exchanging gifts, eating and drinking, talking and laughing.

At religious ceremonies around this time, the Christian churches encourage their congregation to consider the meaning of Christmas.

Christian churches and other religions have also become more vocal in encouraging action regarding climate change.

Pope Francis in his encyclical letter in 2015 stated, “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

Christmas is a time to put our worries aside if we can, including those about this environmental challenge.

Instead of worrying, doing something to reduce our climate impact can increase our enjoyment – and be easier on the wallet.

A time for giving

It’s interesting to think back on previous Christmases and consider the highlights. Gifts are certainly an important part, both giving and receiving.

Do you remember what you gave and received last year? A few special ones probably come to mind but what about the rest? Many are long forgotten and discarded.

A European survey found 15% of people were unhappy with their Christmas gifts. These were probably the last minute pressies we stressed over on Christmas Eve.

We know we are buying a guilt gift when we spend more than is necessary on things that aren’t necessary.

It’s good to step off the merry-go-round of buying lots of gifts for a moment and decide if we want to get back on it.

This isn’t an excuse to release our inner Scrooge and buy bamboo socks for everyone. A bit of thought can result in gifts that are appreciated yet don’t have a carbon cost.

First of all, gifts don’t have to be physical items. A paid subscription to a music, news, entertainment or training app is always appreciated.

Hotel and meal vouchers are popular. An outing together is fun – perhaps a summer trip to Inis Oirr or a concert you want to go to. Membership of organisations like glór and Burrenbeo give events throughout the year.

Most children though, and plenty of adults, like to find something with their name on it under the tree.

Buying local products supports our neighbours. Buying sustainable products supports companies that put in the extra effort to respect the planet. You can stop two gaps with the one bush by
going to the various craft fairs that are on for all your local and sustainable gifts.

Before you buy lots of toys for very young children, it’s worth keeping in mind that they can sometimes be happier with the box than with the toy that was in it.

You won’t be very popular if you gift wrap a selection of different-sized empty boxes, but it helps to remember that playing on the floor with them is part of the present.

Older children, particularly teens and tweens, are likely to appreciate a low carbon gift if they are concerned about the climate emergency.

As with adults, thinking of their interests and finding sustainable or Irish-made products is likely to go down well. Experiences are a great option and all the better if you are part of it – like going to a match with them.

The Secret Santa or Kris Kringle tradition in some larger households might be one you could try. Because each person buys for only one or two other people, the gift can be better quality with more thought given and fewer gifts overall.

How you wrap can reduce waste – but it is a gift, so wrapped in an old tea towel might dampen the enthusiasm of the recipient.
And when it comes to great presents, a home-made gift or card is always special. It’s the thought – and effort – that counts.

Food glorious food

The shopping trolleys around Christmas time are a sight. Overflowing with all sorts of sweet and savoury items, and still a dash off to find something that was forgotten – the cranberry sauce!

In our plans for wonderful meals and full cupboards, we can get carried away and buy much more than we can possibly eat.

That excitement is definitely gone when we end up throwing lots of food away in the days after Christmas – never a good feeling.

So perhaps a pause when we take a product from a shelf – do we have enough already? And when we do have too much in our fridge, can we freeze or otherwise preserve it and avoid binning it?

And for the food we do end up throwing out, the brown bin is the best waste separation we can do. It brings all the goodness back to the soil, avoids methane given off in landfill and is a great alternative to peat-based compost.

When it comes to drink, considering the low carbon option is a bit like counting elves on top of a pin, and probably just as useful.

It’s complex, although Irish cider gets the green star. A clear way to reduce the impact is to reduce consumption – a bit drastic maybe?

Deck the halls

Greenery is just wonderful to bring indoors at this time of year. Hanging holly on doors and windows is an ancient tradition, probably pre-Christian.

An old Irish belief was that on Christmas Eve an angel would stand on every point of the holly leaf, and that the Good People would come in from the cold to shelter in the holly branches.

And of course, there’s much more than holly – ivy, pine branches, cones and twigs. Pretty much anything you can find looks lovely in the house at Christmas.

The Christmas tree is a later custom and dates from the 16th century in Germany.

The tree decorations originally were candles but safety certainly favours the move to fairy lights – and LED lights keeps the energy use down by a factor of about 40 compared with the old incandescent type.

More importantly, LED lights save the frustration of finding the bulb that has blown.

If you have been wondering about the most climate friendly Christmas tree that you can get, a tree in a pot is top of the list.

But you need to have space in a garden to plant it out and it needs plenty of watering to recover from the Christmas festivities.

It’s not a good idea to keep it in a warm living room for longer than a week, so be prepared to plant it out before January 6.

Comparing the climate impact of a standard cut tree with an artificial tree, the lower impact choice depends on how long you are likely to keep the artificial tree for.

If you are likely to pack it away neatly and bring it down from the attic for more than four years, artificial is the way to go. If you do go au naturel, make sure the tree is composted afterwards and not sent to landfill or incineration.

A more minimalist approach – and one that saves pine needles on the floor – is a simple decorated bare branch, perhaps painted silver if you want to be extra fancy. And it is definitely the cheapest option.

For decorations, it’s nice to keep some that have been in the family for a long time but they do get tired, and we get tired of them.

Making decorations, especially with younger family members, may not result in the most stylish tree or room but gives a glow of satisfaction that mass produced decorations don’t.

As with gifts, buying locally-made decorations supports local families and have the added advantage of being that bit more unusual.

Relax, enjoy yourself

Having a glass of mulled wine with friends is better than mulling over the carbon footprint of posting Christmas cards (reduced because An Post vans are electric now).

Even without trying, we may have a lower carbon footprint over Christmas than at other times.

Many of us drive a lot less than normal. If family are gathered together in one home rather than two or three, the heating emissions are less – all the better if we are in the best insulated home. Many energy intensive industries are closed over the period.

Christmas family gatherings may be an opportunity for the conversations that Pope Francis proposed.

In these conversations, focusing on the common concerns with mutual understanding is more constructive than bombarding some unfortunate relative with facts over Christmas pudding – and certainly better for family relationships. Little is gained by fretting, feeling guilty or pointing fingers.

As with all climate actions, those in power have the power to do most although everyone can make a difference.

If you want to reduce your carbon emissions at Christmas, take the steps that will have the greater impact and be easy to do.

This is likely to be gifts, followed by food – assuming transport is fixed. Do what is best for you and your family at this time of year. Whatever you choose, have a lovely Christmas.

Include some local, sustainable gifts
• Gift subscriptions for year round entertainment
• Reduce food waste – who really likes Brussels sprouts?
• Bring green into your Christmas decorations
• Let every Christmas light be an LED light

Sean Cahir C&M Foods Tulla

Traditionally in Ireland most households reared a couple of pigs in their backyard and fed them with the leftovers. Now they are reared in state of the art farms where animal welfare is paramount. Every part of the pig can be used – feet for crubeens, hocks for gelatine, neck fillet for pulled pork, the blood in black pudding, loin and pork steak for roasting, shoulder meat for sausages, belly for spare ribs, even the ears are cooked for dog treats.

Pork meat can be processed into bacon by adding saltpeter to it and allowing it to cure for five days, giving a whole new ranges of use for the meat. The back or streaky bacon can be cut as a joint or into rashers. The leg when cured becomes your Christmas gammon to complement the turkey.

We do lots of this processing in our factory in Tulla and our thanks to our local butcher shops in Clare who always support local suppliers of Irish meat. 
Over the festive season when tucking into the “fry up” or the Christmas dinner, think kindly of the humble pig.

John Hogan, Clare Crafts

Clare Crafts would like to encourage consumers to think local when they shop this Christmas.

There is an abundance of unique and beautiful products available and made in Clare.

Clare Crafts have upcoming Christmas fairs in the Lakeside Hotel, Killaloe on Sunday, November 28, and the Old Ground Hotel on Sunday, December 12.

We will be showcasing the best of fused glass giftware, jewellery, ceramics, handmade soaps, wood products, candles, knitwear, home-made cakes and many more gift ideas to help Santa with his list. All details can be found on www.clarecrafts.com and on their Facebook page.

Locally-made products support local employment, use sustainable raw materials where possible and cut down on plastic packaging.

With more people shopping online now we would ask everyone to see if they can buy a product locally instead, providing a vital boost to the local economy. Think before you click! Shop local. Shop green!

Santa Claus, The North Pole

In Santaland, we’ve been looking to see how we can do our bit for the climate emergency and reduce our carbon emissions.
Our transport emissions are very low. Rudolf and his team of reindeer are fuelled by carrots and other vegetables and hay. We are making sure that all vegetables are organically grown and the hay is from beautiful flowering meadows.

Some children have written to me that new houses in Ireland won’t have chimneys and are worried I can’t get in. We solved this problem years ago, when more children started living in apartments. When I concentrate very hard I can pass through a window pane, even when it’s double or triple glazed.

In our workshops, our elves are being trained by the older elves in making toys the way we used to long ago, using wood and cloth and other natural materials and we are reducing the amount of plastic toys.

We are giving more gifts of family outings as well so that everyone can have fun together all through the year.
Some elves were getting very worried about the snow around us, and afraid that it might melt. When we made this plan to reduce our emissions, everyone was much happier to know that we are solving this problem together.

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