Creating a Green Christmas:
30+ Ideas to Keep It Eco-Friendly
According to Andy Williams, it's "the most wonderful time of the year". But unless it's a Green Christmas you're planning, it's also the most wasteful, consumer-driven and stressful time.
But it doesn't have to be! With a little knowledge, some family discussion and a change of focus, it's easy to turn a few Christmas ideas into a holiday with more meaning than "stuff". Whether it's a religious holiday for you or not, Christmas celebrations should have meaning. Celebrate that and the holiday will remain eco-friendly.
What's the eco-footprint of Christmas?
With approximately $75 billion spent on Christmas gifts, 1.9 billion cards sent, and 20.8 million Christmas trees cut in the U.S. alone, the impact of this one holiday is immense. While worldwide information is hard to come by, the Australian Conservation Foundation reports a minimum of 2,285,000 tonnes of greenhouse pollution contributed to Christmas in Australia alone!1
Green Christmas Ideas to Remember
The most important thing we can do to create a Green Christmas is to make it one we can enjoy. This means connecting to the meaning of Christmas, whether religious or personal, and creating edifying traditions. Christmas should speak to you in the way it did as a child; full of magic, wonder and connection.
Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind. - Mary Ellen Chase
- Slow Down: Stop running in circles, give yourself permission to say "No" to too many commitments, and focus your attention on the details that we so often miss. Revel in the smells of baking or the sounds of bells. Allow the Spirit of the holiday to envelop you in the warmth and joy it has to offer.
- Connect with the Season: Light candles, decorate a Winter Table, create Advent traditions and reflect on the year or Christmas' past. Surround yourself with the beauty of the holiday and the seasonal changes and savor what you begin to notice in the details.
- Connect With Others: Make time for family traditions or create new ones. Bake with your children, send handwritten cards with gratitude for each recipient, organize holiday wrapping parties with friends and keep your focus on those you love.
Green Christmas ideas abound. But from gift giving to decorating and more, the first thing to keep in mind is the same as always: Simplify. Making things simple reduces cost, stress and waste.
Below are just a few things to get you started, but the more you experiment and reevaluate your choices this holiday season, the more Green Christmas ideas will come to you.
Green Christmas Gift Ideas:
Gift giving and Christmas are nearly synonymous. It's perhaps the biggest part of Christmas' impact and the first place to start.
- Less Really Is More:
Forego an excess of "stuff" that will end up in the yard sale come July and make every gift count by purchasing things with value, purpose and meaning.
- Choose Sustainable Materials:
Organic cotton, hemp, silk, wood...all are natural, renewable materials. They add texture and character to gifts. And they support sustainable farmers.
- Shop Locally-Owned:
Support your community and local economy by shopping small mom-and-pop stores, especially if those stores also sell locally made items.
- Sustainable Wrapping Paper:
Ditch the rolls of wrapping paper and avoid glossy or metallic gift wrap. Instead, check out fabric gift wrap or these creative gift wrap ideas. Use the greeting cards received last year or any other recycled material to make gift tags. For gift bags that come with tags attached, write "Reuse this bag!" on it instead of the recipient's name. (Just don't forget who it goes to.)
- The Gift of Charity:
Give money to a local charity, sponsor a child overseas or help impoverished women start a small business all in the name of your loved ones.
- Make It Fun and Easy:
Decrease spending, stress and waste by having family members draw names and sticking to a 'one gift' rule. This allows each person to get one especially thoughtful and unique gift from someone who had the time to dedicate their effort.
- You can also do a White Elephant gift exchange: everyone only gives gifts they find around their home with no money spent.
- A Handmade Gift Exchange: Only handmade gifts (from hand-knit scarves to cookies) may be given.
- And a Yankee Swap is also lots of fun. Here are the rules to a Yankee Swap:
- Each person who wishes to participate contributes a wrapped gift, with a predetermined price tag.
- With everyone in a circle, randomly choose who will go first. That person then chooses ONE gift from the pile and opens it.
- The next person then has the option of choosing an unopened gift or "stealing" the gift from the first person. If the gift is stolen, the first person then chooses again.
- This continues through participants until the last gift is opened.
- But the kicker: A gift cannot be stolen more than three times; the third person to steal keeps the gift!
Read about more ways to keep your Green Christmas gifts sustainable and meaningful with these Green Gift Giving tips.
Green Christmas Decorating Ideas:
Part of the fun is in creating a winter wonderland both inside and outside our home using simple, affordable and beautiful decorations.
Christmas pine, spruce, and fir trees are edible! The needles are a good source of vitamin C and pine nuts, within pinecones, make an excellent snack. You can also boil the needles to fill your home with their aroma.
- Less Is Still More:
Again, don't overdue it. Cluttered decorations are neither inspiring, nor beautiful. Keep it simple and clean to enjoy it more.
- Decorate With Nature:
Avoid plastic doodads and opt for wood, burlap, or organic cotton. Bring in elements from the outdoors to incorporate into your home, such as a wreath of pine boughs or an abandoned nest to place a candle within.
- Research Green Christmas Tree Options:
From my own research I feel artificial trees used for a few years are less sustainable than a live tree that can be mulched and supports a small business. However, artificial trees used for 10-15+ years may use less energy in the long-run. Because they are rarely made to last this long, we personally choose a real tree from a small business that is as local as possible and organically grown when available. A potted tree is another green choice that can be used for multiple years before planting outdoors. For a slightly biased opinion on the real tree vs. fake tree debate, check out the National Christmas Tree Association.
- Choose Handmade and Homemade:
Whether made by yourself or a local artisan, handmade items will bring a simple, beautiful energy into your home. Create your own ornaments or help your kids cut and hang snowflakes from scrap paper saved throughout the year.
- Energy-efficient LED Lighting:
If your strands of lights are older than 10 years it will be more efficient to replace them with newer, LED bulbs. They can also save you up to 90% or more on power costs and will last longer than traditional bulbs.
- Replace Burnt Out Bulbs:
Too many perfectly good lights are thrown away when a single bulb bursts. Spend the time to find and replace the culprit or invest in a bulb tester (that can be shared between multiple families).
- Utilize Timers:
All your Christmas lights should be on timers, from the strands adorning your trees to the lights outside. Don't count on remembering to turn them off after a long day and plug the lights into a timer that remembers for you. Light timers can be found at any hardware store.
Choose durable and meaningful ornaments. Wood, metal, or cloth will all last longer than plastic or thin glass. And an ornament that symbolizes an important event from the year will mean it is kept and treasured for a lifetime.
Green Christmas Dinner Ideas
The family meal is a time to relax, connect and celebrate. With these sustainable Christmas ideas, you can focus on the experience with comfort:
- Organic, Local and Free-Range:
Choose a heritage turkey or grass-fed, organically raised roast. Organic winter squash from your backyard, locally grown vegetables from the farmer's market and homemade rolls all create a sustainable, delicious and healthy meal. Click here to learn how to make all this more affordable.
- Natural Centerpiece:
Create your centerpiece from natural elements, such as pine wreaths, an arrangement of Poinsettias and beeswax candles.
- Skip Disposables:
Bring out the fine china, utensils and cloth napkins. Or pool resources from several houses for large gatherings.
- Avoid Individual Beverages:
Make homemade eggnog, hot chocolate or iced tea in large quantities and prepare pitchers of ice water in advance to set on each table to reduce waste from water and soda bottles or cans.
Any food scraps that can't be used for leftovers (or broths) can be composted or given to animals to reduce any potential waste.
- Clean Green:
Clean up after guests have left with all-natural household cleaners. Run only full loads of dishes in the dishwasher and throw cloth napkins and tablecloths in with other laundry.
Other Green Christmas Ideas:
After the shopping, decorating and food there is still much left to consider. Most of them are small details that will add up to a big impact.
Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. - Norman Vincent Peale
The average America household will send and receive 28 Christmas cards each year. That's approx. 3.2 BILLION cards!
- Celebrate Together:
Conserve resources and connect with others by celebrating your green Christmas at the home of friends or family. Or invite them to your home as your gift to them.
- Make Your Own Greeting Cards:
Use the cards you received last year, a child's artwork or your own craftiness to create new Green Christmas cards. Use recycled paper for holiday letters. Or send a family photo with your greeting handwritten on the back.
- Combine Shopping Trips:
Make your own list and check it twice to reduce trips for forgetton items. Find stores that sell the majority of items on that list and do as much of your shopping on one day as possible.
- Carpool Or Take Public Transit:
Both for shopping trips and on Christmas day, utilize carpooling to decrease fuel consumption and traffic. Organize bus routes for urban commuters travelling to your home for the holiday.
- Shop Online:
Find small businesses to give your money to and try to shop as close to home as possible.
- Ship With USPS Ground:
When possible choose to have them delivered by the postal service, who will already be in your area delivering mail. Or you could have them shipped to your work if deliveries are regularly made there by another shipping company.
Any non-glossy paper wrapping can be shredded for the compost or added to the recycling bins. Be sure to keep the bows and ribbons for multiple uses, as well as tissue paper, gift bags and boxes. Also, packaging from beverages or food containers should be rinsed and recycled as well.
Let me quote Thoreau by stating again the first rule of a Green Christmas: Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Everything else is easy.
Books for a Green Christmas
There are so many more ideas that you can implement for our holidays and celebrations. Here are just a few books to get you started (try to find them at your local library):