Your Guide to a Frugal and WasteLess Christmas

We may assume that our tradition to give gifts on Christmas may stem from the story of the Three Wise Men bringing valuables to Baby Jesus. And while it is true that the Christian holiday of Christmas has always been associated with gifts for centuries, the beneficiaries of these gifts were Christian rulers, not children, and the date of gift-giving was New Year’s Day. However, this tradition changed over time, eventually spread to North America, and after the 1823 poem The Night Before Christmas and the 1843 novella A Christmas Carol (Source), gift-giving on held on Christmas Eve was born.

Then, in the 20th century, when industrialization enticed workers to move from the farms to urban centres, “the prescient among the nation’s businessmen saw that they could use the emerging custom of Christmas gift-giving to increase their sales,” (Source: The Modern Christmas in America: A Cultural History of Gift Giving. W.B. Waitts). Thus, the gift-giving tradition that we know today was born. 

WasteLess Christmas Guide

This WasteLess Christmas Guide provides you with great tips on how to celebrate this holiday with your loved ones without creating waste. 

Today, household waste can increase more than 25% during the holiday season (Source) and after 6 months, only 1% of everything that the average person buys is still in use, while the other 99% have been discarded (Source). So this holiday season, let’s collectively rethink gifting and celebrate the holidays in a WasteLess way by embracing frugality.

There are other tokens of appreciation that we can offer our loved ones to shower them with the appreciation and love they deserve. To help you give love, not waste, we, for example, are offering you the WasteLess Christmas Guide.

Table of Contents

Reducing means wasting less money

When you give up on the idea of gifting stuff, you waste less money on “just buying something.” You also save on gas (or electricity – depending on your ride) by not having to drive to the stores. If you’re shopping online, you also reduce your impact by not having packets shipped to your door, which may not save you money directly but indirectly, because even free shipping is not really free but rolled into the price you’re paying for that item.

You also have to buy less wrapping paper, bows, tape, gift cards, etc. This can quickly add up.

In Canada 545,000 tonnes of waste is generated from gift-wrapping and shopping bags each year.

Reducing means wasting less time

When you give up on the idea of gifting stuff, you waste less time obsessing about “what to buy” and running around trying to find that “special gift.”

To make matters worse, with stores suffering from massive supply shortages this year, they may have already run out of the item on your list, which could eat up even more of your time, scouring multiple stores or trying to find an alternative present. Removing yourself from this gift-giving frenzy hence frees up your time for more meaningful family activities. 

You also waste less time by not having to wrap all of your acquisitions and writing all those greeting cards. 

Reducing means less stress

Let’s face it: Shopping is stress, even if we try to convince ourselves otherwise. Racking our brains trying to think of the “perfect surprise,” packed stores, “sold out” signs, the thought of receiving our credit card bill, standing in long lineups, or even having to wait for that package that you just bought online and hoping that it will arrive “just on time,”… All those are sources of stress.

When you give up on the idea of gifting stuff, this stress won’t face you this year and you will be sleeping better.

Reducing means less unwanted stuff

In Canada, one third of the population, roughly 13 million people, will receive at least one unwanted gift this year (Source). Besides the financial implications of millions of dollars going down the drain for gifts that are not appreciated, many of these unwanted gifts will also find their way into a landfill or incinerator unused.

Reducing means less impact

Every gift that we buy has to be produced somewhere. This requires the mining of nature’s riches, shipping them around the globe from processing plant to processing plant to make the final product, shipping the final product to warehouse after warehouse all the way to its final destination.

And that’s not where this gift’s life ends. If it’s a wanted gift, it may be in use several times before it is being discarded. If it’s an unwanted gift, it may find a match in a different household, where it will be used for a while. However, ultimately, this gift will approach its end of life and be sent to a landfill or incinerator. Both of these options are bad for the planet.

Gifts aren’t the only wasteful Christmas habit, however. Let’s also take a minute to talk about our beloved Christmas trees.

What’s more: It takes on average 8 years to grow one Christmas tree (Source); a tree that will only be decorating our homes for a few weeks that year, before being ditched, which is not sustainable. In fact, the sales of Christmas trees have been growing by about 15% every year since 2015 (Source) in Canada, leading to a Christmas tree shortage this year again, because fewer trees are being planted and climate change is affecting their growth and survival.

It takes on average 8 years to grow one Christmas tree, which is then used to celebrate a one-day holiday. It's time to rethink.

And then there are exports. Did you know that Canada exports Christmas trees worth $50 million each year, while it imports artificial ones for around $61 million (Source)? This again adds to the impact, because these trees that are moving into either direction need to be transported somehow.

And if you’re thinking about buying an artificial Christmas tree instead of a real one to avoid wasting an 8-year-old tree for a 1-day-holiday, please know that these artificial trees are made up of PVC plastic and the average family uses it on average 5-7 years only (Source), after which they end up in the landfill.

“But isn’t PVC recyclable?” I hear you say… So, let’s clear up one misconception about recycling while we’re at it. Items made from fused materials (so, anything that is not purely one specific resin) would need to be taken apart to be “recyclable” and given the amount of waste we produce as a society, this is just not being done at scale. So, “recycling” is not and never was a solution to our waste problem. It’s a bandaid solution and a way to calm our guilty minds. Only using less (being frugal) and wasting less can get us out of this mess.

So, what to offer instead ?

I can feel that you’ve been itching to have this question answered since you started reading this article and we’ll not scratch that itch.

You’ll be surprised that the answer is actually very simple:

Spend quality time with your loved ones.


Various studies have revealed that families who spent time with their loved ones doing meaningful activities, had a merrier Christmas (Source) and that children remember more fondly the simple everyday family dinners, holiday get-togethers, and bedtime stories, than the gifts they received (Source).

Spending time with your loved ones doing meaningful activities, such as going ice skating, is not only better for the family dynamic and forming fond childhood memories, but is also better for the planet.

Here are a few meaningful activities  to consider:

  • Baking cookies together creates memories of togetherness and caring.
  • Story time during which memories are shared by parents and older relatives with younger family members, allows the family to connect the past and present. It also teaches children their family history.
  • Gift a membership to a library, toy library or sports club, music lessons, or a massage.
  • Gift homemade items, such as a tray with cookies or bread.
  • Pass down a second-hand item that you know will provide joy for years to come.
  • Plant a tree in honour of the recipient.
  • Host a cookie swap
  • Organize a donation drive to collect warm clothing and blankets for a local homeless shelter.
  • Reading a Christmas story together can teach about love and peace. But we’d encourage you to go one step further and act on the underlying thought to also teach empathy and collaboration, for example by:
    • inviting a neighbour, who is alone, for tea or coffee.
    • volunteering at a community event to serve a hot meal to the homeless, take an animal at the shelter for a walk, or spread some cheer at a local senior home.

WasteLess Christmas Gatherings

If you’re inviting your family over for Christmas, resist the temptation to “order take-out” and instead use the time with the family to cook a meal together.

Here are some ways to ensure that your gathering will be as WasteLess as possible:

  • Use reusable dishware and borrow from family, friends, or neighbours if you do not have enough. This is yet another example of a “meaningful” activity to infuse into your Christmas traditions.
  • Put your candles in the freezer for a few hours before your dinner to extend their burning time.
  • Ask your guests to take home some of the leftovers so no food will go to waste. Let them pack it so they can determine how much they can realistically eat over the coming days.
  • If you still have a lot of leftovers, create little care packages for lonely neighbours or the homeless.
  • Create your own traditions, such as enlisting a cleanup team that will help take some of that burden off your shoulders.
    There are obviously no limits to your creativity when coming up with WasteLess habits and traditions for our family.

Each tradition begins at some point in time; let the WasteLess ones start with you!

For more ideas and tips, feel free to check out our WasteLess Christmas Guide.

STUFF-ing is for turkeys.

Happy WasteLess Christmas

WasteLess Christmas Guide

This WasteLess Christmas Guide provides you with great tips on how to celebrate this holiday with your loved ones without creating waste. 

It’s our mission is to help Canadians
waste less
by learning to truly reduce consumption and breaking free from wasteful habits!

Get Involved

Let's Connect

Phone: +1 (604)-500-8376

WasteLess Society
c/o Connie Reichelsdorfer
PO Box 55028
Southgate Mall PO
Nanaimo, BC V9R 6L0

2021 – WasteLess Society. All rights reserved.

Created with in Nanaimo, BC.