Greening Your Holiday Season
You can enjoy and savor the winter holiday season much more this year by not allowing it to overwhelm you with its unhealthy demands on your frame of mind, your waistline, and your pocketbook.
Instead of joining the frenzied mobs of harried shoppers jostling to accomplish holiday tasks, save yourself grief and credit card debt by going green, putting the demands of the holidays into proper perspective, and celebrating as a conscious consumer: sustainably, powerfully, and, yes, even happily!
Creating Sustainable-Style Holidays
Both the art and spirit of gift-giving can get lost in the great shuffle of commercial expectations during the holidays. How many people do you know who miserably and perfunctorily slog through their holiday shopping lists trying to find all the suitable gifts they feel obliged to buy? How many spend the first few months of the new year trying to lose the ten pounds they packed on during the holiday season?
The holidays have come to symbolize excess to the extreme. Celebrating them in this fashion is not a sustainable practice—not for our bodies, our bank accounts, or our planet. Millions of tons of gift wrap and other post-consumer paper products end up in landfills every year. The average American with a credit card adds $1,000 to his or her debt balance during the Christmas shopping season.
There is no end to the possibilities of gifts that come from the heart. Something you have made with a special person in mind will be a special gift, whether it is a small work of art, a photograph, a delicious meal, a bar of homemade soap, or a sincere compliment.
By making conscious choices when it comes to the holidays, you can reduce seasonal waste. According to a U.S. Department of Energy study, if everyone replaced their conventional holiday lights with LEDs (light-emitting diodes that use computer chip technology rather than incandescent filaments), at least two billion kilowatt-hours of electricity could be saved in one month. We are fortunate to have more options than ever for green products that save energy, reduce waste, and are ethically manufactured. By advocating alternatives to wasteful practices, you utilize your consumer power in a way that makes a difference.
Ask yourself these few key questions before buying anything in order to reduce your spending on gifts that are not eco-friendly:
- How far did it have to travel from where it was made? Was more energy spent getting it here than in making it?
- Was it manufactured ethically? What pollution and by-products were created as a result of its production? What human resources were involved?
- Does the person I am buying this for really need it? Will he or she use it?
- Can I afford it? How many hours of work will it take me to pay for this? Is it really worth it?
The Caring and Sparing of Holiday Trees
If you choose a live, potted Christmas tree this year, be sure to give it adequate water and not weigh it down too heavily with ornaments. Live trees also fare better if they are not brought indoors for too long of a time, particularly if you keep your home well heated. If you decide on a fresh tree, be sure to properly recycle it after Christmas—it can be ground into wood chips to mulch a garden or park instead of finding repose in a landfill. To find the nearest tree recycler in your area, visit to the Earth 911 Web site and input your zip code.
While artificial Christmas trees consume energy and petroleum-based materials during their manufacture, the impact that they have on the environment is lessened by the number of years one artificial tree may be used and reused. But there are even better ways to save trees during the holidays:
- Make stylish yet simple gift tags this year with the greeting cards you received last year.
- Send holiday wishes via e-mail to save paper, stamps, and cents.
- Eschew disposable plates and cutlery at Thanksgiving, even if you’re planning a large gathering, by renting plates and cutlery from a local party service company.
- Wrap presents in the Sunday funnies, sheet music, or old maps.
- Call the 800 numbers listed on mail order catalogs to request that you be removed from mailing lists.
- Treat your friends and family to 41 Pounds. This invaluable service gets rid of most of your junk mail and donates more than half of their profits to conservation, education, and reforestation efforts.
For some specific green gift ideas, click on over to our Green Gift Giving article for ideas about food gifts, gift baskets, charitable gifts, homemade gifts, and gifts of thought and time, as well as sustainable packaging ideas. There is no end to the possibilities of gifts that come from the heart. Something you have made with a special person in mind will be a special gift, whether it is a small work of art, a photograph, a delicious meal, a bar of homemade soap, or a sincere compliment.
You can give someone a memory by doing something special such as volunteering together, seeing a theatrical or musical performance, or taking a long walk in some part of town where you’ve never adventured. Get your friends together for a potluck-style dinner made with local, seasonal food. Purchase your holiday meats directly from cooperatives, such as Patchwork Family Farms of Missouri, that support independent family farmers who are dedicated to sustainable methods of farming. Find small, sustainable farms in your area at Local Harvest or Sustainable Table, hosted by the Eat Well Guide.
If you find yourself with a surplus of leftover food after Thanksgiving, you can donate it to your local shelter or food bank, which can also benefit from the donation of your leftover decorations.
The simplest decorations can have the most elegant effect:
- Fashion a centerpiece for your table made from leaves you have gathered and seasonal fruits.
- Have an ornament-making party using materials found in nature and pretty scraps you have around the house: pine cones, flowers, cranberries, and popcorn all make festive decorations that cost little or nothing.
- You can have a gift exchange party with several friends, drawing names out of a hat and buying one present for the person whose name you have drawn.
Giving gifts that encourage others to live healthier and be more environmentally conscious—such as a subscription to a green living magazine or weekly deliveries of organic produce from a local CSA—keeps giving on multiple levels throughout the year without leaving a lot of barely used rubbish for the garbageman. Have a glass of organic champagne on New Years’ Eve and toast to a new year of health and abundance, in which less truly is more.
Article Contributors: Julie Reid