(Because part 2 always comes before part 1.)
Last year, I called an end to wrapping paper once and for all, at least in my wrapping. Wrapping paper is the ultimate in consumerism. You buy it, then rip it off and immediately discard it in favor of whatever is inside. (Unless you’re under 3, a furry animal, or both.)
Disturbingly, wrapping paper and bags account for 4 million tons of trash annually (source). On the upside, we don’t have to do it. According to the same source, “If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.” Let’s be those people, okay?
Needless to say, this waste sits very poorly with the sustainability I want for my lifestyle. I’m not giving up hot showers just yet, but I really can’t say that my failure to buy rolls of garishly printed shiny paper has caused me much suffering, or even any loss of festive-ness in our Christmas season.
This is partly because my conception of Christmas decorating has always tended away from the plastic and mass-produced and toward the textures and traditions that have been used for centuries–wood and glass, homespun, brown paper and string, interspersed with green boughs, holly and berries. (See, for example, my Christmas pinterest board.)
Some minimalists forego presents altogether, but we’re not quite there yet. I love giving and receiving presents. Small presents, big presents, presents that climb on rocks… Sometimes the presents are things someone needs, even if he doesn’t know it: a thrifted spring jacket to replace one that’s worn out, a homemade waterproof bag to carry his shoes home from work instead of an old plastic bag. Sometimes they’re just nice. Like books. Or beer. Or chocolate. Mmm, chocolate.
I love wrapping presents. I love seeing the presents grow under the tree as Christmas approaches. This is unlikely to change. What have changed are the wrappings themselves.
Here are a few ways to do Christmas without doing wrapping paper. I’ll tell you now, they’re all easier, cheaper, and/or more fun than that shiny paper on the roll that always rips when you’re in a hurry.
Part one: paper
Brown paper (oddly called ‘kraft paper’ on teh interwebs) has been staging a comeback. Once the wrap of choice for any kind of parcel (in the days before single-use shopping bags), it was eclipsed by purpose-made ‘wrapping paper’, but no more. If you live in the US, paper bags are a sturdy option. The UK doesn’t seem to favor paper bags. I am, however, graced with an abundance of brown paper whenever I open a package from amazon. Heaps of paper. Festoons of paper.
Pair it with string, colored ribbon, or tinsel. For extra sustainability, fabric ribbons can be used year after year, or repurposed for other crafts. But even using recycled paper is a step in the right direction. (Make sure to have a recycling bag by the tree so it doesn’t go to the landfill!)
For extra fun, embellish with colored pens or markers, or kick it up a notch with silver and gold sharpie. Anyone can draw a tree or a snowflake. Just take it one line at a time.
Junk mail is the worst. My little environmentalist heart just bleeds every time a giant flyer goes straight from my letter bow into the recycling bin. (It would bleed even worse if I read the flyers, though.) But there is a bright side, at least for bright adverts! Things that are printed in bright colors and patterns look equally bright under the Christmas tree. Or if you’re aiming for a more subdued, classy look, go for plain black-and-white newsprint with red string, ribbon or tags.
My subversive little self also enjoys using promotions for commercial Christmas junk to avoid having to buy wrapping paper. It just warms the cockles of my heart.
A few months before Christmas, I start keeping an eye out for magazines with nice pages. This year’s stars were a lovely glossy sales magazine from a supermarket, a fundraising catalogue from the John Muir Trust (some lovely wild landscapes in that one, naturally), and the Christmas edition of the Historic Scotland magazine. The full-color, glossy turkey and bright red lobster were a big hit at the St Nicholas* gift swap this year. The winter edition of any catalogue should have some great, glossy pictures. If you don’t get catalogues (email me to tell me how you manage it), ask friends for theirs.
*In the Netherlands, St Nicholas’ Eve, the day before the saint’s day of St Nicholas, is the major December holiday. It’s become a tradition for our Dutch friend to throw a party featuring a most fabulously convoluted gift swap game. Much better than your standard white elephant swap.
You can get big sheets by removing the center staples, or just taping pages together. Use exactly as wrapping paper, but with smug satisfaction that you’re not contributing to Christmas landfills. And of course, recycle after use! (Or burn; we always had two bags for Christmas wrap, one for the woodstove and one with the awkward ribbons, etc.)