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The List: 6 Classic Holiday Traditions Made Greener

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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.

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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.

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  • Kelly and Linda C. 3 months ago
    This year I did most of my shopping online. Saves time and gas from driving all over town shopping with the crowds. I also do baking and give them away as presents to everyone. I only have one goodie bar that I use the oven, all other balls and bars are not using the oven, but the burner for a very short time to melt choc.
  • Linda W. 4 months ago
    I make fabric bags for gifts. Reuse them each year. Easier to ship, no mess and reuse fabric. Many love the bags as much as gift
  • chelly c. 4 months ago
    "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. "

    It's been in the 30s and 20s with a wind chill even lower, but you are more than welcome to drive to my house, park your car, and ride your bikes 5 miles into town. Sure you would need to ride even further just to get to a decent neighborhood, but I'm sure you'll have fun.
  • Lee M. 4 months ago
    We are old hands at planning homemade projects for Christmas. The time together is the most important part of the holiday.
  • Roy B. 4 months ago
    Our old light strings and even broken decorations all became steampunk projects rather than piling up the land fill. We're also using our eco-friendly wrapping paper for garden compost.
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