This week on the Earthkeepers podcast (Circlewood’s other media project), Abby Fehrsen from South Africa talked about what she does to make the holiday celebrations more sustainable. You can listen to the episode here. I wanted to share what I do here in the Pacific Northwest and back home in New Jersey! The Christmas season is my favorite time of year, but many of the traditions can be wasteful or harmful to the environment.
I love giving gifts. I'm famous for getting so excited about gifts that I give them early or spoil the surprise as soon as I know what I'm getting someone! Part of the excitement of gifts can be making sure that whatever I'm giving is good for the environment. Thrifted, vintage, or even regifted items are a great choice. I also love giving donations in families' names, making homemade items like jewelry, food, or embroidery, or giving someone the gift of an experience. For example, for Christmas last year, my husband and I got each other tickets to see a Broadway show that was on tour in Seattle. When I'm looking for something more tangible, but thrift or homemade isn't working out, I try shopping first at local farmer's markets, craft fairs, and mom and pop shops. It can be more expensive, but I like supporting a local business and finding something made locally to avoid shipping if possible.
As delightful as a new roll of Christmas wrapping paper can be, I try not to purchase any wrapping paper unless I absolutely need to. Instead, I like using brown paper bags, newspaper, or even paper national park maps that I've collected over the years! That way, the paper is recyclable (sometimes gift wrap isn't) and has already been used at least once before the gift wrap. I also learned from my dad to wrap gifts in towels - it's an additional gift for the recipient that can be seasonal and useful! I've also use scrap fabric, old shoe boxes, old gift bags and wrapping paper, and even things like mason jars as more sustainable gift wrap options. All of these options can still be cute and seasonal.
Using what you have is always the most sustainable option. If you already own a plastic Christmas tree, keep using it! If you don't, real trees are more sustainable and can be composted after the holidays. I love getting a permit and heading out to a national forest in WA to cut down our own tree with our friends; it's one of the traditions I look forward to each year! Some folks can't deal with a real tree for various reasons, and I recommend considering a secondhand fake tree, or making sure that if you buy new this year, you continue using it for years to come.
As always, reusing what you already have for decor is the most eco-friendly option; I store all of my decorations in a box and use them year after year. Additionally, as I wrote about in my sustainable autumn column, I love decorating with dehydrated orange slices, evergreen branches, and other homemade decor to minimize new purchases and plastic. If you decorate indoors or outdoors with lights, solar-powered, LED, or thrifted lights can be the best option. I also recommend getting and using a timer so that the lights aren't using energy during the day!
If, like me, you love sending mail and holiday cards, I recommend making your own cards if you can! Otherwise, recycled paper cards are a great option. I haven't tried it myself yet, but using seed paper for Christmas cards is something I hope to try eventually.
There are many different ways to make your holiday traditions and celebrations more sustainable. Don’t forget to check out the Earthkeepers podcast I mentioned at the beginning of this article to learn how some friends in other countries make their holiday celebrations more green.
If you try any of these suggestions, or know about others, please share them in the comments section below!
I want to hear from you! We all have different ways to care for creation in our own lives: what do you do to practice earthkeeping? I'd love to hear from you and feature your ideas. Feel free to email me at email@example.com.
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