Ten ways to celebrate a green holiday season

Photo: iStockphoto.com/DGM007
Ideas and inspiration to get in the sustainable spirit

1. Remember why

The tradition of celebrating a midwinter in northern cultures has been going on for at least 5,000 years—probably far longer. Solstice, Yule, Hanukkah and Christmas celebrate spiritual rebirth, the rebirth of the Sun, the birth of the Christ. Today, however, this ancient spiritual core is getting lost amid the glitter, garbage and unwanted gifts. Instead of one or two much-loved cuddly toys, many children have fifty, lying forlorn in an unloved pile. Consumerism has colonized the holidays—yet if everyone on Earth was to consume the way most Canadians do, we would need three additional planets. So let’s find a way to celebrate simply, without trashing the Earth.  

Check out: Buy Nothing Christmas

2. Plan ahead

The holidays are a family affair. Since it often involves family traditions that support this trash-fest, if you want to celebrate the holiday with less collateral damage, you’ll need to engage the whole family. So sit down and have a family meeting, and consider using this list to get everyone on the same page. Consider implementing a theme, like a carbon neutral celebration.

Check out: Where Will Santa Live?

3. Send e-cards

If each Canadian mails 10 greetings cards, that’s over 300 million cards—causing more than 100,000 trees to be cut down. To prevent this forest-slaughter, along with the loss of habitat for owls, wolves and other species, make sure your cards are printed on 100 percent recycled paper. Better yet, send an e-card.

Check out: Care2 E-cards

4. Throw a more conscientious party

The plastic cups, paper plates, wasted food—isn’t there a better way? Borrow real cups and plates from your neighbours, or ask your friends to bring their own. Help your guests to use transit by including local transit details, and to carpool by sending them each other’s emails and street addresses. If it’s a larger party, ask them to cooperate online, and give a special prize to the guest who uses the least carbon getting there. For the beer, do your utmost to buy locally brewed beer and local wine. Imported beer is simply flavoured water with a heavy carbon footprint.

Check out: Love Food Hate Waste

5. Make dinner using local ingredients

With food imported from Mexico, Africa and Europe, the ingredients of a typical holiday dinner may have traveled a collective 75,000 kilometres before they reach your mouth, racking up a big carbon footprint. This year, try to maximize your local ingredients by shopping at local farmers markets and stores that sell local produce.

Check out: Locavore

6. Be kind to a turkey

Most turkeys are not raised on a rural farm, surrounded by free-ranging ducks and geese. They are factory-reared in sheds where they are packed so tight they can hardly stretch a wing, while standing in their own urine and waste. There are plenty of tasty vegetarian alternatives. If you must eat flesh, find an organic chicken or turkey that has been raised outdoors.

Check out: Vegetarian Starter Kit

7. Give green gifts

Ah, the gifts. Follow this hierarchy of impacts to make your best eco-choices. First, aim for non-material gifts such as tickets to a concert or museum, a membership to a green organization, a weekend at a spa, homemade certificates that promise a day’s special outing or a donation in your loved one’s name to their favorite charity. Next, think about handmade gifts, such as a photo album, a hand-knitted sweater, or homemade jam. Finally, there are material gifts from second-hand and antique stores, green gifts that support a more sustainable lifestyle and locally made gifts from craft fairs and local stores.

Check out: Green Living’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide

8. Give a gift of forest

Tough choices, here: one option is to eliminate the Christmas tree altogether, and make a holiday display instead from fallen branches and decorations. Another is to buy a living tree that you can use for several years, before it grows too big and you plant it outdoors. A third option is a good artificial tree that you can re-use for many years. If you must buy a cut tree, at least make sure you compost it when the holiday is over. For a gift that gives twice, you could also sponsor an acre of forest in someone’s name or donate to a conservation charity, as we begin to make our peace with the world’s forests.

Check out: The Nature Conservancy of Canada

9. Give books, magazines or videos that inspire

Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop, once told an audience that she was giving all her friends green books and magazines to get them inspired and motivated. Consider gifting the gift of inspiration, with a subscription to your favourite eco-magazine, or a green book or video.

Check out: Alternatives

10. Remember the Less Fortunate

There are single parents who can’t afford gifts for their children, homeless people who sleep rough on the streets and lonely people in hospitals and retirement homes. Like everyone, they also yearn for love, warmth and the company of friends at this time of year. So remember to include them in your giving. At the end of the day, kindness is the gift that gives the most.

Check out: The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation


This article was modified from its first publication in Corporate Knights, December 2007.

Guy DaunceyGuy Dauncey is a speaker, author and eco-futurist who works to develop a positive vision of a sustainable future, and to translate that vision into action. He is founder of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, and author or co-author of nine books, including the award-winning The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming. He is currently completing a new book titled Earth’s Secret: A Journey to the Future, set in Vancouver in the year 2032, when it has become the greenest city in the world. His website is www.earthfuture.com.