1. Keep it simple.
Just pick the most important traditions that have meaning for you, leave the new fads behind. When I was pregnant I babysat for a family with three kids who had the popular “Elf on the Shelf.” The kids all loved the elf but one day when I arrived the mom explained to me her kids would be upset because she forgot to move the elf. She was frantically pouring out flour onto a cutting board and trying to set the elf up so it looked like it was making a snow angel before they woke up. The holidays already have enough traditions to keep everyone happy, do we need to buy into marketing’s attempts to make more just to increase profits?
2. Reevaluate the gift giving tradition altogether.
Gifts can be wonderful to give and receive, but often gifts may not be the right fit for the individual, or maybe they already have everything they need. The wrapping, shipping and packing materials of presents on such a large scale uses precious resources and creates a monumental amount of waste in the environment. Everyone can donate to one another’s favorite charity, volunteer together, or just spend time doing an activity like going to the movies or for a hike. Gifts can also be in the form of gift cards or certificates for experience activities such as a wildlife reserve, a playhouse or a museum. You also could simply ask your loved ones to spend time with you instead of getting gifts. You can see the letter I used this year: Dear Friends and Family.
3. Re-imagine gifts.
If you do give physical presents, select items that you know for sure the receiver will need and use. For instance if you know they drink a specific type of tea regularly, you are guaranteed to give them something they will appreciate and use. Alternatively, any gifts that are made from natural materials, or that can be used up such as homemade cookies, soap or candles are likely to be well received. Thrifting items such as vintage cookie tins or eclectic frames to use to children’s artwork can make wonderful heartfelt gifts as well.
4. Promote an existing tree to “Christmas Tree.”
By using a tree (or a bush, or a plant) that’s growing instead of going out and chopping down a Christmas tree or supporting an industry that does, we’re honoring the beauty in a living tree’s ability to absorb carbon and emit oxygen.
On first glance it would seem that buying a fake tree would be eco-friendly but the truth is that these trees often are made from synthetic materials that emit harmful gases, they tend to break or become bedraggled after a few years, and eventually find their way into the landfill. Not so cheery. Alternatively, you can string up your ornaments across a threshold, mantle or wall which actually causes you to look at them more often and more closely, enjoying them every time you walk by!
5. Use nature, or food items as decor.
It is a wonderful thing to have heirloom ornaments you use year after year, but unfortunately the vast majority of ornaments today are the exact opposite- quite disposable. What better way to bring beauty to your home than creating ornaments from the beauty of nature? String a popcorn garland, use found pine cones, create snowflakes out of sticks, or try drying orange slices to create beautiful 100% free and biodegradable ornaments.
6. Go out into nature.
Going out around the holidays often encourages needless consumption, whether it be buying a Styrofoam cup of hot cocoa or sparkly mass produced ornament that catches the eye. If you do go out, it’s best to have a plan that is sustainable- think a tree lighting, the ice rink, going caroling (do people still do that anymore?) or visit a friend. Though it is probably cold, bundling up and going out into nature fosters appreciation for the natural world, gives us a chance to exercise and breathe fresh air without creating waste. Snow can be very beautiful and playing in it with our family provides us with endless fun and precious memories.
7. Rethink the Christmas card.
Send an e-card or family video instead of greeting cards. If you must send greeting cards, select postcards which cut on paper used and require a cheaper stamp as well.
8. Cook and bake from scratch.
Cooking and baking as a family can be an enjoyable tradition unto itself while also being practical. Not only does making food from scratch taste way better, it also cuts down on packaging (especially when you buy bulk and bring your own bags and jars!) and is almost always cheaper in the long run. When we bake from scratch we know exactly what went in to the food we’re eating, and we don’t have to worry about toxic preservatives and artificial dyes.
9. Give back.
Go through the cabinets and donate any unwanted canned food. Also go through the closets and give any spare coats or other items to a homeless shelter or other charity shop. Host a soldier, pick an angel from a giving tree to prepare gifts for deserving children, volunteer at a soup kitchen or make baskets to give to families in need. There are so many ways to give back. Check your local library, community center or college to see what opportunities are available to serve your community. This simple act allows us to feel the magic of community, feel happiness in giving and lets us have gratitude for what we already have in our lives.
10. Consider staying home.
Of course, public transportation is the next best thing. Traveling cross-country? Take the bus for the smallest carbon footprint. Next best, a fuel-efficient vehicle, train and at the bottom of the list-air travel.
However you choose to spend the holiday season, I hope it is filled with peace, joy and simplicity!