Household Sustainability

Household Sustainability

Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

The authors engage critically, and constructively, with the proposition that households are a key scale of action on climate change. They confront dilemmas of practice and circumstance, and cultural norms of lifestyle and consumerism that are linked to troublesome environmental problems – and question whether they can be easily unsettled. The work also illuminates the informal and often unheralded work by households – frequently the poorest – in reducing their environmental burden. This important book is critical to understanding both the barriers to household sustainability and the ‘unsung’ sustainability work carried out by householders.

Chapter 17: Christmas

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, climate change, environmental economics, environmental sociology


Christmas has been described as the world’s greatest annual environmental disaster (Bryant 2009). Christmas decorations, gift-wrap, cards, food and gifts contribute significantly to intensive resource consumption and waste, particularly among high-income groups in the West. Understanding sustainability dilemmas associated with the contemporary Western Christmas requires an appreciation of the festive season as much more than a religious ceremony; it is also a cultural event of immense economic significance. Christmas has a long history and contemporary cultural value as a celebration of material abundance, with roots stretching back at least to pre-Christian Roman festivals (Miller 1993). Christmas is a treasured period away from work, a welcome annual foil to daily routine. It is a time to affirm family with feasting, and practise generosity with gift-giving. It is also a time for upholding wider social ties, through sending cards, distributing and receiving gifts, and sharing meals. Focus turns to giving to children and those who are less well off. Given Christmas’ focus on material abundance, attempts to reduce Christmas gifts, decorations and food in the name of sustainability confront the cher- ished ‘Christmas spirit’. Yet Christmas is also a source of significant stress. Householders worry about the affordability of Christmas, over-spending, the influx of excessive stuff arriving in homes in the form of gifts, maintaining the Christmas spirit in the face of commercialization, eating too much, and family conflict. It is no coincidence that the modern form of Christmas emerged at the same time as industrial capitalism, the time when material items became mass-produced and consumed for the first time (Carrier 1993). In the current economic system, capitalism is increasingly dependent on the Christmas season (Basker 2005). While attracting some anti-consumer protests, Christmas is the most intensive trading period of the year.

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