Have a Merry and Sustainable Christmas!
Happy Holidays, Deck the Halls, and aren’t we all dreaming of a white Christmas? It’s time again for a few days of good food, exciting Christmas gifts and being cozy with friends and family. Or maybe for a few days of overeating, stress and a mountain of stuff that makes you wonder just how much climate change you just caused? What it’s really time for is that we together make the holiday season more sustainable, both for us as human beings and for the planet we share. The University of Gothenburg is showing the way!
A traditional Swedish Christmas is associated with a certain degree of opulence and gluttony. As if suddenly, nothing is too much or too extravagant. Maybe it’s time to start being a bit more modest in the way we celebrate the holidays. More modest to save our planet, and more modest to make us feel better. And, honestly, what could be more appropriate in Sweden – the land of moderation – than a modest Christmas?
Reduce the Amount of Food
‘The traditional Swedish Christmas smorgasbord offers a lot of pork, such as ham and meatballs, as well as herring and various kinds of cabbages, and none of these items are problematic per se from an environmental point of view. Instead, it is the overabundance of food that is the biggest dilemma. We tend to prepare more food and goodies than we end up eating,’ says Anna Post, senior lecturer in nutritional science.
She therefore advises everyone to carefully plan the meals based on how many people are eating and what they like, rather than on what ‘should’ be on the table.
‘If you’re not expecting a lot of people, buy a few slices of ham instead of the whole thing. If your guests like vegetables with the ham and herring, that’s a good idea, or otherwise you might just end up throwing away a bunch of food,’ says Post.
Choose the Right Fish
Smoked eel shouldn’t be on anybody’s table this Christmas.
‘The eel should be avoided altogether since it’s red-listed, which means that the stock is dangerously small. Herring and mackerel are better choices, most species are listed as yellow,’ says Carl André, professor of marine ecology.
However, for those who cannot do without the smoked eel, there is a sustainable option, namely the tropical fish called Clarias.
‘It’s a freshwater fish farmed in land-based facilities with a focus on sustainability and recycling of nutrients. When smoked, it is said to taste and feel like eel,’ says Kristina ‘Snuttan’ Sundell, professor of zoophysiology.
Another fish that works well is salmon, which is both healthy for people and good for the environment.
‘But make sure to choose certified salmon. There are several different certification systems, like KRAV and ASC, which take into account for example how the salmon is farmed and what it is fed,’ says Sundell.
Paper Instead of Tinsel in the Tree
So how should we deal with the issue of Christmas trees?
‘Everything we do affects the environment in some way. A real Christmas tree needs to be chopped down and transported to the buyer, but it still has a smaller environmental effect than a plastic tree. Personally, I prefer a locally produced real tree, and if I can choose, I get the top of a tree that was being logged anyway,’ says Göran Wallin, senior lecturer in environmental sciences.
But a tree is not a Christmas tree until it has been decorated. In recent years, there has been a strong focus on microplastics, which are everywhere, including in the tinsel we like to decorate our Christmas trees with. So skip the tinsel and instead use more traditional materials.
‘When people in Sweden started using Christmas trees in the late 1800s, there weren’t many decorations for sale. Instead, people made everything at home. There are a lot of nice descriptions of Christmas decorations from that time that can still be used today. Bags, baskets, cones, flags, bookmark angels and snowflakes made out of paper and cardboard are some examples,’ says Anneli Palmsköld, professor of conservation.
Don’t overdo the gifts
‘The Swedish Retail Institute expects people in Sweden to spend SEK 78.5 billion on Christmas shopping this year, which is up three per cent from last year. However, the day after Christmas, there are going to be tons of people trying to sell brand new stuff online, so it’s easy to understand that many Christmas gifts are really not very appreciated.’
‘Try instead to buy Christmas presents with more precision, so that the recipients will only get things they like and will use. Buy quality stuff that will last a long time, in terms of both materials and design so that the recipients won’t get tired of the things you give them. And, if possible, reuse wrapping paper and ribbon,’ says Palmsköld.
And Last But Not Least, Have a Mentally Sustainable Christmas
The holiday season can be very stressful for many people. It’s like we need to work really hard to make it as pleasant and peaceful as we believe it should be. Mission impossible? No, not at all, says Mats Eklöf, senior lecturer in psychology.
‘If you want a peaceful Christmas, you need to avoid getting caught up in the holiday stress. One good piece of advice is to turn off Facebook, Instagram and other sources of internet entertainment, and stop reading the articles that make it seem like everybody is going to have a flawless and perfect Christmas except you. Also, avoid going shopping to see what there is to buy. Follow these tips and avoid getting bombarded with impressions, which in turn will help you stay calm and feel less stressed.’
Thus, in an era when it feels like the Christmas shopping season starts earlier every year, it is important to plan for the intense few weeks ahead and honestly ask yourself: What do I want?
‘Think about how you want to celebrate Christmas when you still have access to your full mental capacity, before the Christmas craze begins and you get overstimulated by the hustle and bustle. And the more affected you get, the more you are pulled into the whole thing. This is not just a psychological effect, but also a result of how your brain works. The whole commercial bonanza is largely about trying to bypass your sense of reason and appeal directly to your emotions.’
Take It Easy
The way Mats Eklöf sees it, the key to a stress-free Christmas is simplicity.
‘Celebrate Christmas as simply as possible. Make a smorgasbord with a few but good things on it. Drink alcohol in moderation to reduce the risk of conflicts escalating. Make it possible to unwind by keeping your home peaceful and quiet. Definitely don’t go after-Christmas shopping. Reduce the stimulation in all possible ways. Take it easy,’ he says.