Green Merry Making

Retro-Fresh Family Traditions



Throughout the year, Santa’s good girls and boys of all ages make every effort to buy only what’s needed, plus recycle, reuse and repurpose. Then the holidays hit and discipline often gives way to indulgences. The season seems consumed by uptempo decorating, feasting, shopping, gift-giving and merrymaking at any cost. Yet, creative green living experts show us how easy it is to tweak time-honored family traditions to align with the green way we wish to live and feel even more satisfied with festivities.

Decking the Halls

For Danny Seo, author of Upcycling Celebrations: A Use-What-You-Have Guide to Decorating, Gift-Giving & Entertaining, “Upcycling is basically a form of recycling that elevates something to a better level than before.” Based in New York City and Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Seo always has an eye out for green possibilities. “Opt for vintage pieces and re-imagine them in new and interesting ways,” he advises. For example, he likes to upcycle a vintage glass cake stand with a collection of bright ornaments for a unique holiday focal point.

Michele Johansen, a lifestyle writer in Bellevue, Washington, suggests bringing in the outdoors. Instead of decorating the tree with tinsel and the home with plastic faux greenery, she suggests stringing popcorn and cranberries on the tree and decking the halls with fresh wreaths and garlands accented with boughs of holly. “Local nurseries are good sources for holiday décor that you can later mulch or put in yard waste bins,” she says. “The smells are much more authentic and festive.”

Save energy by using LED lights whenever possible, suggests Sheryl Eisenberg, a writer for the National Resources Defense Council. Plug lights and electronics into a power strip, and then unplug it when not in use to save “ghost” energy pulled by electronics that are plugged in, but not activated.

Buy a live tree to later plant or recycle, Seo suggests. This supports regional Christmas tree farmers while retaining the integrity of local forests. Many communities offer recycling of holiday trees to provide mulch or habitat for aquatic life in local lakes.

Keeping the Feast

Organize a cookie exchange to get together and save time and energy on holiday baking, suggests Sara Novak, a food policy and health writer at SereneKitchen.com, from Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. Generally, a hostess asks guests to bring several dozen of their favorite cookies. Once gathered, attendees share the treats and recipes, taking home several of each variety. To “green it up”, Novak recommends emailing the recipes rather than printing them, encouraging invitees to use fresh and local ingredients and bring favorite reusable containers from home, like a colorful, time-honored cookie tin.

Eco-friendly, green holiday ChristmasFor the holiday table, mix and match settings of plates, glasses, linens and cutlery. “Use the real thing,” Eisenberg recommends, “and recruit guests to help wash up afterwards.” She recalls that while growing up, her mother supplemented her silverware with grandmother’s for large holiday dinners.

Save your own energy (and sanity) by asking family and friends to bring an appetizer, side dish or dessert. The hostess can assign a dish and corresponding recipe or use a potluck approach, says Eisenberg. Leftovers go home in non-plastic, reusable containers.

Gift Giving

Many families enjoy giving traditional gifts to children at certain ages, like dollhouses or train sets. Re-imagine these and, when possible, buy local to save energy and support area businesses, suggests Eisenberg.

Cintia Gonzalez, an Australian mom, crafted a dollhouse from an old suitcase, inventively using black chalkboard paint for the exterior, wooden shelves as floors and fast food ketchup cups as lampshades (Tinyurl.com/UpcycleDollhouse). Another mom transformed a discarded coffee table into a painted train table for her boys.

Upcycle paint chip cards into colorful gift tags, suggests Seo. Plus, use gift wraps that become part of the gift itself, such as placemats swaddling a bottle of wine, fabric to encase quilting supplies or sheet music enveloping concert tickets.

As a general rule, “Give experiences, not gifts,” counsels Eisenberg. “Giving loved ones experiences reduces wrapping paper, ribbon and packaging and is an easy way to be a bit more personal over the holidays. Your teenage niece may love a spa day, complete with hair styling, while your favorite aunt and uncle may be thrilled to attend a local wine tasting. If you think a young child can tolerate a few less presents in exchange for a pass to an ice show or dance class, go for it.”

“It’s the holiday experience that counts,” counsels Seo. “It’s what makes memories.”


Claire O’Neil is a freelance writer from Kansas City, MO.

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