Christmas tips from readers
Thanks to readers of our book, Celebrate Green!, for some nifty suggestions on greening the upcoming holiday.
Make Santa Sacks Karen Renzi
One of the changes I decided to make in “celebrating green” was to never buy gift wrap again. Now this works fine for regular gifting, because there are always bags or paper to reuse or make, but Santa wrapping has to be special, doesn’t it?
So after talking with Santa about trying not to use wrapping paper anymore, we came up with the idea of packing the gifts in his sacks for us. He even used a local printing company to personalize the sacks with a design and the names of my girls.
They were tickled pink to see the giant sacks on Christmas morning, and even saw that an elf had personally inspected the gifts and signed the back of the bag with their name and the year. Of course the bags instructed them that we needed to return the bags to the North Pole after Christmas – we figured that meant leaving them outside for pickup. (Though in our case the girls held on to the bags long enough to fold them up and ask the Easter Bunny to bring them to Santa the next time they got together!) Santa spent less than $25 a bag and will never have to buy gift wrap again!
Long Beach, CA
- artificial tree, garlands and no real plants– so we use the same things over and over for at least 10 years
- we recycle gift wrap, ribbons, tissue and bows. sounds odd but I actually don’t have to buy a lot of bags or boxes and keep using the same ones over again
- buy recycled wrapping paper
- gift cards speak louder and move faster, require less wrapping and get used a lot faster than anything I could buy
- I have limited my holiday card list to 20 people– most people at a great distance
- I give food or wine as gifts for those who are on the gift list as an alternative to gift cards
- before the holidays get into full gear, I start going through closets, cupboards of everyone and pull out older, unused or gently used items — both personal and household — and donate them to cancer society and local charities for their thrift stores.
- we recycle our newspapers all the time and in a pinch use it as gift wrap.
Takoma Park, MD
Last year for Christmas, I made donations in people’s honor instead of giving them one more “thing” they didn’t need in their house. I made all of the donations through a local alternative gift fair, which made the process really easy and kind of fun: http://www.aggw.org/TakomaPark.html
People seemed really touched by the gifts made in their honor. A friend and an aunt, in particular, mentioned how much they appreciated the gesture….and how they liked how I made different contributions for each person based on their areas of interest. I donated to a literacry program on behalf of a friend who’s a teacher; I donated to the local meals on wheels on behalf of the friends who hosted a holiday potluck dinner. I definitely plan on doing this again this year.
Interestingly, I went to the alternative gift fair a couple of years back, but didn’t make any donations. I didn’t quite “get it” yet. I was expecting to still buy stuff (physical things) with a portion of the proceeds going to charity. Now, a little older, a little more green, and with a houseful of stuff myself, I can appreciate the value of a charitable contribution over another gadget or gizmo.
For a number of years I’ve purchased a live tree for Christmas and then planted it afterward. I’m sure I’m not unique in that regard, but I am opposed to buying a “dead tree” for the holiday that represents life.
- For many years I have subscribed to greener practices by cutting down on packaging and gift wrap and reusing last years cards for gift tags. I would try to creativity wrap gifts in reusable receptacles such as paint cans, decorative tins, etc. and only use fabric ribbon. Going forward, for several holiday seasons before I acted on it I had been wanting to scale down gift giving. I hesitated because I was worried that friends and family might be disappointed. This past Christmas I decided that it really mattered more to me to make greener choices and feel good about it rather than worrying what others would think.
- Instead of buying gifts I had trees planted in honor of some friends and family.You can do this through the Arbor Day Foundation.
- I also gave to charitable organizations that were meaningful to my gift recipients instead of buying gifts.
- I went out with girlfriends to celebrate the holiday instead of exchanging gifts. I think my girlfriends were relieved that finally someone suggested that we just get together and enjoy each other rather than stressing about buying the perfect gift. Because isn’t that what the holidays are for, spending time with people we love and enjoy??? We decided that buying something special for one another would be reserved for birthdays and everyone seemed really happy with that.
- I also did not make it a point of being self righteous with my choices. If I felt a friend or family would not enjoy having a tree planted I purchased a gift from a local vendor or eco-friendly company instead.
I no longer wrap my son Jack’s presents (he’s 4). Instead, I send him on a scavenger hunt around the house using pictures and funny clues to find his gifts. He has a great time hunting around, there’s no clean-up, and it gives him a good 1-2 hours experience, rather than 20 minutes of furiously ripping paper.
For family and close friends, I give them experiences they can enjoy, rather than stuff – zoo or aquarium memberships, gift cards for restaurants, movie theater tickets, etc. It’s always great to hear about the fun they have.
For Christmas dinner, we purchase seasonal food from the local farmers market and dairy, and have a big dinner with close friends, who also make similar food purchases. It’s nice to enjoy more time with them than spending all day in the kitchen, and also to experience new dishes and other cuisines.
At work, we’ve decided to forego Secret Santa or other gift practices. Instead we take 2 hours of our own time and volunteer as a group at the local Food Bank, sorting and packaging food. It’s very rewarding, and a good morale/teambuilding experience.
- We are slowly replacing our incandescent tree and house lights with led type. Right now I am up to four strings.
- All my cards are done on my own printer using 100% content paper using a “cardmaker” software program.
- Every other year one of my gifts to my extended family, which lives in about eight different parts of the country, is a personalized calendar with photos and reminders of everyone’s birthday. This saves a lot on shipping both cost wise and environmentally.
- At least for my wife, I have been giving more “gifts of an experience” versus a physical gift. Since I dread trying to buy her clothes and she has almost every figurine and piece of artwork that can fit in our home, I have given her:
- A year of massages, one per month
- A weekend getaway
- A picnic lunch
This past year was our first year of using a live Christmas tree (in a pot) as opposed to a cut-down Christmas tree. We plan to use this same tree for several years before we have to remove it from the pot and plant it, then we’ll buy a new “potted” plant.
We decided cutting the trees and throwing them away after Christmas was wasteful both in financial and natural resources, besides making a mess! So, it wasn’t only because we were trying to be more eco-friendly, though that definitely played a large part.
The tree is not as big as we had formerly. We always bought eight to nine-foot trees before and the one we bought in the pot is just over five feet. We put it on a low table (about 2 feet tall) at a window and covered the table with Christmas material.
It worked well, and from the outside of the house, you couldn’t tell the difference between it and a cut tree.
We changed from using gobs of gift-wrap to making our own. Me and several of my family members make our own holiday bags as an alternative to gift wrap. It is an expensive and time intensive endeavor, but it is fun. We recently had a bag making party called, “Santa’s Little Sweatshop,” where we made dozens of bags and spent the majority of the day sewing. The bags are made out of fabric (bought on sale), and are closed with an decorative ribbon and they become part of the present. We’ve been doing it for several years with the hope that someday our circle of friends/family will just keep re-ciruclating our beautiful bags, rather than wasting all of the gift wrap. It’s not earth shattering, but it is fun and a lot less wasteful.
Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, and founders of Green Halloween®.