Christmas on my horizon

by Beverley Paine

Today I feel the need to reinvigorate our three decades old philosophy of living a relatively simpler life, using less, recycling more and treading gently on this amazing planet. In the hustle and bustle of a busy life it's a little too easy to lose focus.

Christmas is on the horizon. After I've written this I'm going to wrap some tinsel around a potted plant growing up one of the structural posts in our living area, then add some pretty baubles plus an inherited set of fairy lights. Indulge in some traditional Christmas cheer. It's the first time in nineteen years we've had a decorated tree. Life is different now: the family has expanded and it feels like Christmas wants to assert itself. And that's okay.

But I can't help feeling that I need to be assertive about the way commercialisation of Christmas is creeping back into our lives too. 

In A Less Expensive, More Meaningful Christmas, Beth offers a list of sensible and practical ideas for controlling the budget at this time of year, including using a potted living tree each year. Two of the presents I'm giving are 'wooly bushes' planted in stylish terracotta pots I purchased at half price a couple of months ago. I'm going to add a few edible decorations, a strand or two of tinsel and half a dozen baubles. They can be used again next year or planted out in the garden, their soft silvery foliage and tiny red flowers that attract honey eating birds a delight all year round. I love the idea of a real tree and what better than an Australian native plant! It is a gift that ultimately gives back to the environment. And the environment is one thing that most people seem to forget about at Christmas.

This year our house is adorned with new LED lights as well as our collection of white and coloured fairy lights. Now that we've added another 1.5KW of solar photovoltaic panels to our stand-alone power generation system we have surplus electricity, even on the those cloudy days. I'm not taking them down once the holiday season is over either: the little cheerful winking lights add a touch of magic after the sun has gone down and they are much softer than our ordinary lights for sitting and chatting with friends long into the evening. Some people might question the sanity of draping the house in pretty lights: for me it is an expression of childish delight, adding the magic of colour to our lives and reminding me that life is ever playful. And because of our solar power we don't have to worry about electricity bills!

Creative and Clutter Free Gifts is a series of blogs about alternatives to the spending frenzy that create happiness for retailers and frightening credit card bills in January for their customers! Giving donations, gifts of food, experiences, service, cash are explored in separate blogs along with other tips for simplifying Christmas. This year I'm putting together little hampers of home made food and garden produce along with a bunch of flowers from the garden.As well as being a labour of love, it will help me stay focused on keeping my lovely garden in tip top condition as the summer weather becomes established.

In her article on Living A Better Life, Deann reminds us to make Christmas a feast for the senses, not just our tummies! Potpourri, scented candles, fresh flowers, potted herbs, mints and tiny conifers will help to create a calm and enjoyable atmosphere throughout the holiday period. Freshly baked mince pies, delicious fruit platters, smoothies and herb teas will tempt the taste buds. Add soft background music of your choice to keep the party mood rolling along.

A great idea for presents are games the whole family plus guests can enjoy. There are a huge array of new and old favourites from which to choose. And don't forget outside play. When our children were young we'd add a Frisbee or bouncy ball for fun on the lawn or at the beach.This reminds us that Christmas is about connecting with people we love and enjoying each others' company.

Tina (Bellaonline) offers an idea that maybe controversial for some to the Christmas mix, but it's one I am beginning to appreciate a lot more as I get older: re-gifting. There are so many lovely things around my house in as-new condition that, although once precious and important to me, I am ready to let go of as my life become less cluttered. It's important when re-gifting to focus on giving, rather than the need to get rid of! Sometimes I store items for years waiting for the right person to come along.

If you are toying with not using commercial wrapping paper this year, Jill (Bellaonline) suggests simply placing gifts unwrapped in 'used pretty baskets'  found in opportunity or goodwill stores. Making your own gift wrapping paper with the children is also a fun idea: use butcher paper or recycled brown paper bags, decorate with crayons or stencil with paints. Tie with raffia twine bows for a pleasant rustic look. And as Jill say in her blog, "best of all, the paper, bags, and newsprint can all be recycled or composted".

And finally, while on my meanderings around the internet I found this awesome blog about one mum who wanted to instil the gift of giving in her children: 31 days of giving on a budget. She asked her children to do odd jobs around the house which she rewarded with cash that they then saved in a specially purchased piggy bank. As Christmas approached they spent their savings on gifts for others.

For a while I was beginning to get caught up in the commercial hype as Christmas draws closer. Even an old hand at living simply and frugally can get a little lost now and then and needs a gentle reminder and nudging back toward actions that reinforce and remind me of my lifestyle values and goals.    

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