Changing Christmas Traditions


Bernadette from Don’t Mess With Dahab shares how she celebrates Christmas in Egypt with less plastic. Living with less plastic forces you to be creative and at times flexible.

Traveling to or living in a foreign country during the holiday season often means letting go of our own family traditions and embracing new practices. Trying to make our celebrations plastic-free can also mean accepting that the traditions we grew up with may need changing. Handmade ornaments are hung on whichever house plant is thriving. Gifts are no longer wrapped in colorful wrapping paper but are instead tickets to concerts, deposits into college funds, or crocheted scarves. Cards are not hand-written and mailed but created and sent digitally.

Food, of course, plays a central role in many holiday celebrations and our household is no exception. Our meals have varied over the years and have drawn on our combined American/Italian/Scottish heritage. Since moving to Dahab, the meal that used to be my mother-in-law’s domain is now our responsibility. My husband takes care of the main course and I am always in charge of dessert.

We celebrated our first Christmas here seven years ago. My parents were visiting and my mother’s birthday was a few days before Christmas. Her favorite cake is Strawberry Shortcake and, luckily for us, December is prime time for strawberries here in Egypt. This cake then became our new Christmas tradition. No matter what we eat for dinner, everyone expects Strawberry Shortcake for dessert.

But this year will be different. As I’ve come further in my journey to eliminate plastic from my life, I can no longer justify the plastic packaging needed for my Strawberry Shortcake. The strawberries are easy to purchase plastic-free as long as you REFUSE to buy them on the polystyrene trays wrapped in plastic. I can bring my own bag instead and buy them loose, assuming the green grocer has not run out!

Plastic-free strawberries

The ingredients for the cake are also easy to purchase plastic-free. The cream, unfortunately, comes in Tetra Paks which aren’t even recycled here. If I were in Cairo, I would probably be able to get fresh cream directly from a milk shop, but sadly this is not an option here in Dahab. So I sat last night looking at my kilo of beautiful fresh strawberries and wondered what I could make that would not involve plastic. Yes, I could make a different cake that didn’t involve cream, but instead I pulled out a chunk of chocolate from the freezer, melted it, and then drizzled it over the berries. Quick, easy, delicious, and plastic-free! (The chocolate comes in paper packaging.)

Plastic-free Christmas desert
We gobbled up those strawberries last night and agreed – a delicious dessert with the added bonus of being red (and green if you leave the tops on)! I’ll just make the presentation a bit more pretty and festive and we will all enjoy a new plastic-free Christmas tradition.

What Christmas traditions have you given up or modified in order to have a plastic-free celebration?

Happy Holidays!!

Remember: Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle.

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