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  • Writer's pictureMama Bear & Mama Wolff

Thrifting Christmas: An Ethical Holiday Challenge

Ahh...the holidays are officially upon us! Whether you have decorated or not, I am sure images of festive celebrations have danced around in your head. There’s more than sugar plums in there, after all. What do you picture when you imagine this time of year?

Perhaps red noses, little elves, long lines and curled ribbon of various colours come to mind. But what about the day after Christmas? When you think about that, what do you see? I’ll

tell you what I see.


The amount of waste created by the world during the holidays is almost sickening to think about. Wrapping paper, bows, plastic packaging, batteries. Cheap toys that break easily and hardly survive to be donated before next Christmas. One time use products such as wrapping paper, are sure to have Mother Nature weeping instead of singing “its the most wonderful time of the year”.

More like, most wasteful time of the year.

One country can produce enough paper waste to equal 35,000 trees. And that’s not even mentioning the damage that plastic packaging creates.

Zero Waste Canada, a Vancouver-based advocacy group, estimates each Canadians tosses about 50 kilograms of garbage over the holidays, 25 per cent more than the rest of the year, thanks to the purchases of 3,000 tonnes of foil, 2.6 billion Christmas cards and six millions rolls of tape.- Global News, 2017

Many recycling centres will refuse wrapping paper simply because the dyes and ink are so strong. It’s often too expensive for them the strip it out. And paper with glitter is even less viable.

Considering burning it instead? You can, but be aware that most wrapping paper is made with chemicals and dyes that you do not want to be inhaling or putting into the atmosphere.

We all need to be making more of an effort when it comes to giving and receiving. It’s often easy to believe ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when it comes to waste, but remember. Just because you’ve tossed something away into the garbage doesn’t mean it’s really gone. There is no magical ‘away’ place on a different planet somewhere. It’s all still here with us.


Christmas was a big deal in my home growing up. We had the music and did cookie baking and had the big tree with all the colourfully wrapped and decorated gifts. See, my mother was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. In that faith, any practicing member is forbidden to celebrate Halloween, Christmas, etc. Not even their own birthday. When my mother grew up and moved on from that religion, she decided that holidays in her home were going to be big and beautiful.

And so, I grew up with a more Hallmark version of the holiday, but the meaning of Christmas (to give, and to receive with love and thanks) was still very much prevalent. My mother taught me about donating my old toys to children who weren’t blessed with a big white Christmas like I was and we participated in a shoebox program that sent crayons and books, etc to children in third world countries. One year we even volunteered at the thrift store and at a gift wrapping station.

In my mid twenties I read my first book on minimalism and it was like a whole new world opened up for me. I suddenly looked at things under a microscope of sustainability and low waste. I started truly giving a damn about recycling and the environment, and what I was consuming and outputting.

Papa Bear and I’s first Christmas as husband and wife was one I will never forget. We’d only been married and living in our first home together a few months. We’d just found out we were pregnant. We had a hand me down plastic tree from a relative that looked slightly fuller than the Charlie Brown tree but we decorated it with love all the same.

Our second year in the apartment was even more magical. There were three stockings that year. We finally had our little girl. She got to put an ornament on the tree.

But both years, the gifts were scarce. Especially compared to what I’d grown up with. Our finances were tight and so our Christmas was small. I felt like a failure because I wasn’t able to create this picture perfect family Christmas they way my mother had. But looking back at the pictures now, I really don’t care how many gifts are under the tree. I care about who’s around it. And I’m really hoping to give more focus this year on the impact our Christmas outputs for the planet.


Do you remember the excitement you would feel as a kid when the Sears Wishlist catalogue would come to the door? Getting out a pen and circling ALL THE THINGS in hopes your parents would cave and your hearts desire would be waiting for you under the tree Christmas morning?

Now we have Amazon and about a million other online stores. So many online stores that Sears has had to close down because they weren’t making enough money to keep their stores lights on, never mind a mass produced printed catalogue. Man, I miss that thing.

There is no shortage of things and stuff to buy this holiday season. Out with old, in with the new, right? But where is out? And what’s really so bad about old anyway?

When you really stop and think about it, how much of the new is actually getting used beyond Boxing Day? What is chosen to be played with, worn, watched and selected from a shelf after the ‘shiny new toy’ excitement has worn off. Not just by children, but by adults as well. I know I am guilty of it. Purchasing items for friends or family members because it’s cute or accepting a gift that I know for a fact is going to end up donated or in a landfill. And rejecting a gift you know may not be used or is just going to end up in a landfill is one sure way to make any holiday awkward as all heck.

So...what can we do? Those of us that want to change the narrative around gifting this holiday season?


First thing we can do is change our idea on what a gift is or what it should look like. The reason that we present someone we love with a prettily wrapped gift is to show them they are on our minds. That we appreciate them. And often we desire the gifts to represent what they mean to us, either by size, amount of money spent or number of presents we provide. Choose quality over quantity and what would most wholly benefit the person receiving your token of love and thanks.

1. We can gift experiences. We all wish we had the extra money to take that macaroon baking class or subscribe to Skillshare or other online course. This year when someone asks you what you want, give them a Wishlist that doesn’t involve a trip to the store.

2. We can also gift time together. You know those silly coupon books that were all the rage a few years ago? Free foot massage for mom. Or Homemade pizza and movie night with dad. Let’s bring those back! And the best part is they are 100% customizable.

3. We can forgo Christmas altogether and travel somewhere as a family. Make memories that last beyond New Year’s Eve. Put the money you would have spent on nonsense towards the travel industry. Bonus points if you stay in Canada and support your own economy! We have so many beautiful places to see in our country.

If you jet off somewhere warm with a beach to escape the snow though, don’t think I’ll judge you. In fact, save me a seat. I am in no mood for winter this year.

4. Large families and friend groups can adopt a Secret Santa type ideal where each member is assigned or selects another member and focuses on gifting only that person. So instead of stretching out your budget of say $100 to five people at $20 each, you can gift one person a really wonderful quality item or experience they will remember forever.

5. We can shop local, small business, hand made and eco friendly options. Ethically backed companies. Non toxic products. Book the woman you love a boudoir session, or your family an at home lifestyle session with a local photographer, for example.

6. We can choose wrapping alternatives such as cloth, baskets, or recycled paper. Forgo tape altogether and use ribbon or string.

7. Make sure when people ask you what YOU want, you tell them something you actually want or need. Something that goes along with the principles of gifting you believe in.

8. And we can thrift from charity shops, secondhand stores, garage sales, public markets, etc.

If you don’t have time to go digging through Value Village, online sources such as Facebook Marketplace, EBay, Poshmark, etc are a good alternative.

(I cannot sing enough praises about the gems I have found for Baby Bear on FB Marketplace this year! It’s quite dangerous, honestly.)


Is that a challenge? Heck yeah it’s a tough one too. The best things in life are usually the hardest. It’s okay if you need to start slow. If you only replace one or two gifts this year with the methods I mentioned above. If you can do more, that’s great!

The goal with this challenge is not to make anyone feel bad about themselves or what they’ve done in the past. It’s just a wake up call, and a sign that there is a better way. This holiday season, shop with more intention. Focus on where you are purchasing gifts from. Where your hard earned money is going.

And bring that intention with you into the new year.

Excuse me, new decade!!!

Whether we are parents or not, our behaviours influence the next generation. Including the choices we make to create holiday traditions they grow up with, and are impacted by. If there was ever a time to shake things up, it’s now.

Good Luck! -Mama Bear

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