Christmas Consumerism

I was going to wait to write this post at the beginning of December, in time for all the Festive Season craziness, but this last week I attended a seminar on Sustainable/Responsible Consumption and it made me think the earlier the better to try and get people thinking about their Christmas habits.

Yesterday I happened to pass through two stores in the centre of Santiago, Casa & Ideas (everything you need for your home) and Ripley (a huge retail store like Edgars or Woolworths). I was assaulted by giant snowmen and reindeers, millions of glittering baubles and goodness knows how many other decorations. All made in China and all with an early bird special discount. A great incentive to start buying early!

A window Display in Casa & Ideas. Snowflakes, in 30 degree weather!

Anyone for a giant reindeer or Father Christmas!

Ribbons, candies, baubles and lots of glitter… decorations galore and 2 x1!

Rows and rows of shiny baubles

Beyond the price issue (one decoration cost the equivalent of 3USD, so about R30 I suppose), the environmental and social cost of one sparkling decoration is unthinkable. How much does the labourer in a Chinese factory get paid to make these decorations? What resources are used in the manufacturing process? What do we do with the decoration after the Christmas season is over? Yes, many people reuse decorations from one year to the next, but many marketing campaigns encourage using different styles or colour schemes from one year to the next, so who knows how many people actually reuse all their decorations.

Now, don`t get me wrong – I love Christmas, but I am faced with a Christmas tree conundrum of my own this year. I love the idea of having a Christmas tree in our apartment, and recently Rodrigo`s mother gave us her large tree as she changed apartments and it is too big.

The conundrum is that we haven`t got a single decoration for the tree…

So do I go to the stores I just mentioned and stock up on “quality” Chinese bling??? No, I hate that idea! Not only because finances are tight and I want a budget Christmas, but more so because I am acutely aware of the consumerism nature of holidays these days, especially Christmas.

So, it is time to get my creative juices flowing and make all my own Christmas decorations, using mainly materials I have in my house. I plan on having a recycled/reused Christmas tree! Who knows how it will turn out, but with the help of countless arts and crafts blogs on the internet I have some great ideas. Now every tin, paper or plastic I see, I am thinking of how I can turn it into a Christmas Decoration. Watch this space for the results…

But, there is more to Christmas than the decorations on a tree… there is the not so small and usually quite stressful issue of gifts. What to buy, how much to spend, where to find the time to go shopping with the thousands of other people thinking exactly the same thing?

During the seminar I attended, there was a talk by one of the founders of a Foundation here called Ciudadano Responsable (Responsible Citizen) and he mentioned the Christmas Campaigns they do every year to try and make people think twice about where and what they buy. Many people in the seminar mentioned the concept of “your purchases are your vote”. We as consumers have the power to decide where to spend our money and buying items from a particular brand or shop, is giving them our vote of approval for their products. But what if for once, we thought about using our “vote” to support the entrepreneur who sells handmade crafts in local markets or from their homes; or small businesses trying to make a difference by creating sustainable products. Why don`t we “vote” for these innovative and creative people instead of sticking to the business-as-usual approach of spending our hard earned money in the giant retail stores.

The Cuidadano Responsable Campaign has some useful tips to think about before buying not only a gift at Christmas, but anything at any time of the year. Here are some that I thought would be handy to share:

  1. Give Fairly” – avoid gifts from companies or brands that use child labour, test products on animals or have a poor environmental performance record. This may sound quite difficult to do considering this type of information is not exactly advertised on the product lable. But perhaps you could do a quick internet search for the name of the manufacturing company and see what kind of press coverage they get worldwide.
  2. Give Life” – by this they are referring to trying to avoid gifts that use a lot of packaging materials that are just going to get thrown away afterwards and end up causing damage to the environment.
  3. Give Love” – try and avoid the overconsumptive habits of Christmas by buying lots and lots of gifts, especially at the last moment, but rather put some thought into one special gift for that special person.
  4. Give without too much energy” – especially when it comes to gifts for kids, try to avoid those that need batteries (as few of these are ever recycled) or that use a lot of energy. Just think about where that electricity is coming from…
  5. Give for the future” – avoid gifts that are short-lived and try and buy things that will be useful for a long time to come.

These considerations may seem obvious to some of you, but I doubt that any of us truly think about them at the moment of making a purchase. So I think it is high time that we “put our money where our mouth is” and make Christmas 2012 a more responsible celebration.

But how, you may ask? Where can I find gifts that are perhaps more sustainable in one way or another? Where can I find local handicrafts?

Well, in Santiago at least, there is no end to the options you have:

– Many municipalities have markets in the weeks leading up to Christmas that support local entrepreneurs. Find one in your municipality or a municipality nearby. The advantage is that many of the items on offer are far cheaper than what you could find in any mall. Plus you know exactly where your money is going.

– Once a month there is the Feria Verde in Barrio Lastarria which showcases environmentally friendly products from a range of small businesses. Go to for more information

– Visit the Ciudadano Responsable website ( for a guide to businesses selling all sorts of sustainable or ecological products.

– For artesania with a difference, go to Arte Nativo Alfonso makes amazing artesania out of picoyo which is the resin from dead araucania trees.

– Think about buying a friend or family member that is super stressed a relaxing massage or a therapy session. I know two incredible therapists who run their own businesses. If you are interested, send me a message and I will put you in contact with them.

And if you are reading this from South Africa or elsewhere in the world, I am sure there are many options you have for avoiding using your “vote” this Christmas in the big retail stores, but rather in support of smaller businesses. You just have to make the effort to look for them…

I will now get off my soapbox and start getting creative on my recycled Christmas decorations. Watch this space…

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4 Responses to Christmas Consumerism

  1. linda koch says:

    Again an excellent blog my love, you hit the nail right on the proverbial head! well done. It is sooooo difficult to find anything anywhere that is NOT made in China… our local africans make the most wonderful beaded tree decorations, I will get a couple and send them out with the cd’s from Drakensberg Boys Choir OK. Have a wonderful day. Mum

  2. Tricia. says:

    So agree with you Ingrid. I pretty much avoid anything made in China as much as possible. Will be in Sunderbans and Darjeeling over Christmas so will not be buying and decorations anyway.Tricia.

    • ingridckoch says:

      I am so jealous of your trip to the Sunderbans. I wanted to go there where I was in India for work in 2008. But my only option was sharing a cabin on a boat with 10 Indian men, so I decided to give it a skip. Please send photos!

  3. Helen says:

    Bravo!!!! We are all inundated with things we don’t need. As for those electric toys…! The only “exercise” the kid gets is in one finger – pressing the button.

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