Last Updated on October 30, 2021 by Rebecca Huff
Here's how to have an environmentally friendly Christmas without stressing yourself and everyone else out! Because we all want a stress-less holiday with the ones we love.
Maybe you think it's impossible to have a relaxed Christmas with the goal of going green. Before you skim through this post, take a deep breath right now. Are you holding tension or are you relaxed?
Chances are you were browsing Pinterest or on the web looking for ideas for the best Christmas ever. Take a moment to stop and think about your most beautiful holiday memories. If you're like me, those involve experiences and people more often than remembering the items you received.
What if, this year, you gave yourself the gift of a less stressful holiday season? One that left you refreshed as opposed to in debt and exhausted? It's easier than you think.
Green Zone: No judgment, no guilt trips
These suggestions aren't for everyone but are a great topic of conversation to get people “thinking” greener. One of the ways I learned to stay relaxed during the holidays is to stay in the green zone. I don't want to be red (full alert, too busy, freaking out) and I don't want to be yellow (warning – danger ahead, meltdown imminent): I want to stay green (all is well, we're good to go!)
Give yourself grace and also don't guilt trip or judge friends and family members who choose not to implement eco-friendly ideas during the holidays!
A friend of mine recently told me she wasn't able to do that “unpaper towel thing” that I started doing this year. I was quick to explain to her that I am not able to implement everything either. These are my goals, but I'm not going to beat myself up for using a paper napkin! You'll find no judgment here. If doing these things stresses you out, then that is not sustainable for you!
Gardens are a great way to go green but not for me because I am not a gardener-type and I end up feeling like a failure. That is not sustainable personally so I don't grow my food, but I do buy from local farmers!
These Green Holiday suggestions are merely thought-provoking ideas to get you, your family and friends thinking about ways you *can* go green. We talked about this at the Thanksgiving Dinner table this year and two of my daughters mentioned how stressful going green can be. The reason is they start to feel personally responsible for everything.
For example, during an Environmental Science class, the professor discussed global warming, the size of our carbon footprint because of our way of life living in a first-world country. Ivy said, “You start to feel like everything you do has to be perfect or it's all your fault – like the world is falling apart and if one animal goes extinct it causes a chain reaction where other animals go extinct.”
While I want them to feel that it is their responsibility to take care of the earth I don't believe “guilt” is productive. Guilt makes you miserable and is a terrible motivator, instead give yourself a high five for every step you take in the right direction. Remove the guilt from the equation and instead focus on your success each time you make a small change.
Get your family talking about greener holidays
Why not make this a topic at the Thanksgiving table this year? Discuss ways your family can get involved in reducing stress and choosing eco-friendly ways to celebrate. Try these conversation starters and thought-provoking ideas:
- What steps can we take to reduce waste during the holidays?
- Is there a way we can focus more on experiences and enjoy spending time with one another this year?
- Can we reduce our energy usage this year? If so, in what ways?
- If we were going to start with just one way to go green this holiday, what would the first step be?
- Can we make plans to go green at least halfway next Christmas?
- If we continue to revisit our goal to be greener (I mean, it is Christmas after all!) how many years would it take to transition to a wholly green Christmas? Imagine how that would look.
Reduce Stress and Do Less!
Allow yourself to turn down some engagements if you need to slow down. It's hard to get in the holiday spirit when you are running yourself ragged. So plan some nights at home to watch Christmas movies while sipping hot tea or cocoa or if you enjoy it, have a baking night. Whatever you enjoy, allow yourself to connect with the season.
A great way to connect with the season is to have an advent tradition. Create one that is more than opening the door to a piece of candy. A read-aloud-book advent is a pleasant bonding experience; reserve a pile of books from your local library.
How about a reusable advent calendar? Here is the one we've been using for years; each drawer contains a bible verse from the story of Jesus' birth.
Tame the Stuff Monster at the holidays
Around Thanksgiving is when most of us begin preparing our holiday greeting cards. This year consider these eco-friendly Christmas Card options:
- Email a family newsletter and photos
- Schedule a Video Chat Caroling session – my brother-in-law and his wife often call to sing Happy Birthday or leave it on voicemail each year.
Keep in mind that less is more. Resist the temptation to purchase excess “stuff” that will end up in the “declutter” pile later in the year. Instead, buy gifts that have a meaning or purpose. Some families choose to gift experiences rather than things. Try to plan a low-key Christmas.
Consider drawing names in your family and sticking to one gift per person so that each person gets a gift that was well thought out and meaningful. Playing the left-right game with your friends or family is a great way to reduce the number of gifts at Christmas.
When buying vintage or second-hand gifts make sure to follow toy safety tips.
Greener gift ideas
When buying gifts consider wood, organic cotton, and other natural renewable materials. If your family members are old enough, you might think about doing a handmade gift exchange. Knitting is enjoyable and reduces stress and results in a beautiful homemade gift.
Support your local small business owners by checking off your gift list while shopping from independent artisans. Not only does this reduce your carbon footprint but you will be supporting your local community; best of all the gifts will be unique.
Do your body a favor and choose non-toxic organic beauty products and makeup. We shop locally for soaps, scrubs, lotions, and more.
How about a buy one, give one company like Toms Shoes? When you buy shoes for yourself, they also donate a pair to a child in need.
At a minimum, make an effort to buy gifts that are not made in China. Unfortunately, the reason China can make products so cheaply is that they ignore the environmental impact of their methods and materials.
If you do order items (I know I end up ordering things I can't find locally) remember you can recycle boxes by using the Give Back Box to donate items that benefit many. For packing peanuts, you can reuse them yourself, or you can drop them off at a packing store where they will happily reuse them!
Some gifts that consume little to no resources you might consider:
- gift certificate for a massage
- local food tour
- a gift certificate to a bowling night (even better if you can go to a vintage bowling alley!)
- prepared food or mixes – muffins, casseroles, bread, soup or cookie mixes in jars
- acts of service coupons – for example, a night of babysitting for the new parents
Wrap those gifts eco-friendly by using paper bags, newspaper, scarves, or beautiful cloth you find on sale. If you prefer wrapping paper over these options, look to responsibly sourced brands labeled FSC. All non-glossy paper wrapping can be recycled or shredded for the compost. Reuse bows and ribbons through the years.
Tie up packages with twine that can be composted.
Decorating a “Green” Christmas tree
People often feel confused about choosing an eco-friendly Christmas tree. Isn't it bad to cut down trees? Wouldn't it be better to use a fake tree? First, fake trees are made with cheap plastic that doesn't get recycled. Second, consider the carbon emissions created in shipping all these trees from China to America.
According to statistics, 85% of artificial trees come from factories in China where workers in less than ideal conditions make them from non-biodegradable plastics and metals. These fake trees cannot be recycled and eventually end up in the landfill causing a considerable burden to the environment. The petroleum used to make plastic for Christmas trees is also a non-renewable resource.
Real Christmas trees are 100% biodegradable, and new trees can be planted each year by tree farms to replace ones sold at Christmas. Choose your tree from a sustainable farm to take it a step further. You can google your area for small-scale growers. Here's a list of Christmas tree farms in the area where we live, in Knoxville, TN. Here's a pick-your-own Christmas tree nationwide database.
Each year more seedlings are planted than cut down.
Real trees are grown on tree farms and are very sustainable. It takes seven years to grow a six-foot-tall Christmas tree. While it is growing it also is trapping CO2 and using ten times fewer resources than artificial tree factories.
At the end of the season have your Christmas tree turned into chippings that can be composted or used as mulch. Search your community for places that have free chipping services for trees.
For those who enjoy Christmas lights, consider utilizing timers. Programming your lights to only be on during certain hours will reduce the amount of energy they use. If your lights are older than a decade, it might be time to upgrade to a more efficient strand of bulbs.
Use natural garlands made of evergreen branches, pine cones or eucalyptus. If you're the DIY type, you can always make your own!
Be thoughtful of the environment when choosing Christmas decorations. Using the same ones every year is better than replacing everything to go with a new trend. Donate unwanted decorations to a school, church, or charity.
Greener Holiday Feasting!
When planning your holiday meals, shop locally from farms, farmer's markets, Christmas markets, and other local businesses. Look for organic farms in your area. Choose caterers that offer food made with organic, locally sourced ingredients. Choose responsibly sourced meats and avoid factory farms. You can even buy your wine, beer, and liquor from local brewers and distilleries!
There's no shame in ordering some pre-made foods to save yourself the stress of cooking everything for Christmas dinner. Especially if you have family members or friends visiting with dietary restrictions or preferences.
Be thoughtful about food waste, make sure to store leftovers properly and eat them within 3-4 days. Food that isn't eaten should be properly composted. So next year, you could be eating vegetables grown with last years leftover composting nutrients!
For holiday dinners, use real plates and utensils when possible. Recently we shopped our local thrift store and found beautiful plates in shades of ecru. Even though they don't match, we feel better about not using disposable. The dishes were very affordable at the second-hand stores at less than a dollar per plate. Plus, if one gets broken I'm only out a buck. It doesn't take long to hand wash a stack of dishes, plus it's part of the holiday memory-making!
Decorate your table with potted plants, succulents, herbs, and then let your guests choose one to take home with them. Not only are you making an eco-friendly choice, but you'll also score points for the neatest party favors! For Thanksgiving this year, I decorated the table with leaves that my daughter painted with mod-podge.
A natural centerpiece made of pine wreaths, rosemary, and beeswax candles is divine! Poinsettias may represent Christmas to many of us, but they typically don't last any longer than the holidays. Flower farms in Mexico and California ship the flowers to locations across the US making their carbon footprint rather large.
Gardenias (my personal favorite), eucalyptus, hyacinth, and amaryllis are a few choices that are in season during December. If you must have Poinsettias, try to source them from local growers.
Traditions like Secret Santa
If you have a group of friends who typically do a secret Santa exchange, suggest that everyone focus on sustainability by choosing eco-friendly gifts. You can find lots of handmade items on Etsy that are crafted with natural renewable resources. Or you could suggest only gifting items made from recycled materials or wrapping with recycled paper. Each little step in the right direction helps.
Activities you can enjoy without spending money or using many resources
- Play the same board game each year as part of the tradition (Pictionary and Catan are family favorites) – make sure to have some snacks on hand.
- Have an arts and crafts night using natural materials such as wood, paper bags, etc.
- Become a storyteller for a night where everyone sits together with hot cocoa in front of the fire sharing stories from childhood.
- Play Charades as a family
- Give speeches
- Make up and tell jokes or take turns reading them from a joke book
- Go on a nature walk as a family
- As a group, volunteer to restore a natural habitat in your area or donate your time to a food bank or shelter
- Decorate a tree with edibles for wildlife – kids especially love giving “Christmas gifts” to the birds and other animals
During this festive season, you can have a sustainable Christmas celebration that isn't crazy-busy or seriously stressful. In fact, when you use some of these ideas, you'll save money. For example, use paper bags for gift wrap or choose led lights that require less energy. These techniques allow your loved ones to enjoy the season and feel good about helping the environment. Christmas is a festive period that can be fun and environmentally friendly, especially if you are on board with the zero-waste effort. You don't have to be perfect, no one is, just make baby steps towards the goal.