Keeping Things Easy And Green This Holiday Season

by Dana Kester-McCabe

It seems like every year I need to remind myself to just keep things simple and meaningful.

Did you know there are many ways you can have an environmentally friendly holiday season?

There are many schools of thought on what is better ecologically: a live tree, or an artificial tree. I know a number of people who prefer the ease of an artificial tree claiming no trees are killed or transported once you start using one. Buying a cut tree or a live ball tree that you know was grown locally is one way to use less fossil fuel, and we actually have quite a few tree farms here on the peninsula. If you get a cut tree don't forget when you are done with it to donate it to a recycling program near you. They are used to make mulch or to prevent erosion.

One way to reduce the amount of electricity used during the holidays is to get rid of old strings of lights in favor of the new LED lights. They use much less electricity, and emit much less heat which also makes them safer.

Gift wrapping is another area for that can use some greening. When I still had a newspaper delivered I used to stock pile the Sunday comics section and use that for wrapping paper. My mother taught me to very carefully fold and save wrapping and bows that were in good condition for reuse the next year. I also save those lovely gift bags to reuse.

Recently when I bought bed linens they came in a cloth bag that I may recycle as gift wrapping. And there may be some other cloth items around that can be cut up and made into gift bags like colorful old shirts that we're no longer wearing. If sewing is not your thing there are lots of other interesting papers you can use to wrap things like old road maps, glossy magazines, and paper grocery bags decorated with Christmas stickers. And, hopefully everyone knows by now that we can put all the used crumpled paper wrapping in the recycling bin.

The trick to buying more environmentally friendly gifts is to ask these questions:
Is it produced locally?
Is it made from sustainable materials?
Can it be recycled in some way once it is no longer useful?

Making gifts with recycled materials is another way to green things. I have a friend who goes to thrift shops and buys cable knit sweaters with interesting textures, trims the neck and sleeves and sews them up to cover old throw pillows. They look very chic. There are many ways to create something new from things we throw out every day. But if you are just not a craft maker there are plenty of alternatives. Give gift certificates to a class at your local arts council, yoga studio, or even fly fishing lessons. Buy tickets to movies or concerts. Some people make charitable donations in the name of loved ones who have indicated that they don't need or want any gifts.

It seems like every year I need to remind myself to just keep things simple and meaningful. As Keyanna Bowen suggested in her story a few weeks ago, trying to produce fancy family extravaganzas can be very stressful and it is an interesting idea to stop and consider how much of it we really enjoy.

For example, these days I find that the pleasure I get from trimming my Christmas tree mostly comes from the walk down memory lane that many of my ornaments inspire. That is true for all my decorations. I find that I am displaying fewer things and getting out only those things that bring to mind people and life events that are special to me. And, I think I have finally learned that not every decoration needs to be displayed every year.

Celebrating the winter solstice can be a nice antidote to the over commercialization of Christmas. This December solstice will occur the 21st at 11:48pm. It marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. We tend to call the solstice the beginning of winter. According to meteorologists winter actually begins on December 1st. The Celtic Yuletide was an ancient solstice tradition of observing what was seen as the midpoint of winter. Those folks had a "the glass is half full" attitude. They celebrated the solstice as that point when the days started getting longer again, or the "coming of the light."

The alternative to all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season that I truly enjoy is a nice brisk winter hike at a local park with the whole family on the day or evening of the solstice. What better way to really be together than to unplug all the electronica we are usually preoccupied with, and simply enjoy each other's company outdoors?

When social obligations make that hard to do, it is easy to simply take the time with someone you care about to stop and enjoy the sunset. They tend to be pretty terrific here during December when the low arc of the sun makes for really magical purples, pinks, and golds. The light show is especially spectacular along the waters of Delmarva. Sharing cocktails or glasses of wine can also be nice, but all you really need to do is step outside at dusk, turn west, and smile. No planning, no driving, no money is needed to enjoy something glorious with someone special. What could be better?