Live Green and Earn Points


The List

6 Classic Holiday Traditions Made Greener

By |

From holiday decorating to gift giving, a few tweaks to your favorite traditions will make them more eco-friendly.


Like most people, I try to temper enjoying the holiday season with staying stress-free and not overindulging. And sometimes it’s downright hard! The calendar quickly fills up with obligations, and before I know it, I’m eating too much, drinking too much, spending too much, and postponing the well-intentioned things that I do the other 11 months out of the year, like exercising and reducing waste.


Not this year, though. When I read that Americans throw away 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, and that the holiday lights in the United States use more electricity than some countries do in an entire year, I decided I’m not going to contribute to these excesses anymore. I’m also committed to doing this without sacrificing my family’s most beloved traditions.


If you want to minimize your carbon footprint this holiday season, without giving up the good stuff, then check out the tips below!


1. Driving around looking at holiday lights: We love to pile into the car and drive around neighborhoods admiring over-the-top light displays. While we used to head to the fancy nabes on the other side of town, this year we’ve decided to save the gas and stick close to home, by hopping on our bikes instead. We’ll get a more up-close-and-personal view, reduce pollution, and get enough exercise to earn a hot chocolate when we get back to the house!


2. Baking cookies: I have memories of spending an entire weekend baking cookies alongside my mom — the oven stayed on from early in the morning until the last batch came out that night! It was a lot of work, but it sure was nice having such a variety of goodies. This year, I’m continuing a tradition I started a few years back of hosting a cookie swap. I’ll conserve energy by only running my stand mixer and oven long enough to make one batch of cookies, but I’ll still end up with a nice variety once my friends and I trade the cookies each of us have made.


3. Seasonal cocktails: All spirits are not created equal, at least not when it comes to sustainability. After reading an article about the environmental impact of various liquors, I’ve realized there are drawbacks to all of my favorites. I’m trying to minimize my impact by stocking my bar with organic vodka, locally distilled bourbon, and other more sustainable options.


4. Trimming the Tree: Both artificial and live Christmas trees have their benefits and drawbacks, so I’ll stick to my live tree, making sure that I take it after the holiday to our neighborhood mulching drive, so that the tree can benefit our local park. And as for decorations, I’m opting for lead-free, LED light strings and ornaments upcycled from scraps like jigsaw puzzle pieces, old CDs, or burned-out light bulbs.


5. Gift Giving: To me, shopping for gifts is one of the most stressful parts of the season, until I realized that many of my friends and adult family members felt just like I did: They don’t need more stuff. Now, I try to gift meaningful experiences instead, such as a gift certificate to a spa, a lesson in something that interests the recipient, or a membership to a favorite museum. For my kids, I’ll give them tickets to an awesome performance or the promise of an afternoon pedicure date. Of course, I still do end up with a decent amount of actual gifts to put under the tree, so I’ll make sure to wrap them in an eco-friendly way, for example, with old newsprint or magazines.


6. Celebrating with Friends: As my calendar fills up with holiday drink dates with my girlfriends or with work parties, I can already feel my waistband getting tighter. I don’t want to skip out on the socializing, so when I can, I’ll suggest that our get-togethers take a different form. A lunchtime walk, a morning hike, or a yoga date in place of a meal or a night of cocktails is a refreshing — and healthier — way to celebrate the season for everyone. Who knows, it might lead to some New Year’s resolutions.


By doing what I can to conserve energy, reduce waste, and stay healthy during the holiday season, I think I’ll be able to enjoy the coming weeks even more!



How do you stay green during the holidays? Share your tips in the comments.

Share with Your Friends & Family
About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan
I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same. more
  • Audrey N. 8 days ago
    When we were younger my dad always wrapped our Xmas presents in newspaper and we’d always say he’s polish and cheap but now looking back he had the right idea.
  • Shelly E. 5 months ago
    I use gift bags for my family as we reuse them each year until they are worn out. For kids I may use the funnies, decorated paper bags or old maps.
  • David B. 1 year ago
    I love to bake and give cookies in metal reusable tins to friends and co-workers. Focusing on the amount of energy being used is not a reasonable issue. One batch of cookies is not enough for a cookie exchange. You have to make multiple batches so everyone can take a dozen or so of what you made. The total baking time is not all that much less.

    Besides, consider the alternatives -- driving to a bakery, the packaging of cookies at the bakery. Giving someone something besides home made cookies means ordering or shopping and likely ending up with something they may not want or use -- but I know they will love the cookies and I pick cute tins that they can use or just display at the holiday. I try to get wintery-themed cans so I can give Holiday cookies to those celebrating Hanukkah or the Solstice or who just deserve a nice tin of cookies. People often return the tins to me as a hint they would like them refilled the following year!
  • Clovia D. 1 year ago
    I start shopping so early that by the end of summer I am done and all that is left is wrapping and shipping since all our children and grands are all over North America. Our big decision is when to go south to celebrate Christmas with some of the children.
  • Pauline C. 1 year ago
    My children are grown now, but we still enjoy our Christmas trees of their childhood that are still alive and growing in our yard--providing pinecones for décor. and shelter for wildlife.
  • View More