Greening the Holidays

Lynn Colwell & Corey Colwell-Lipson
December 10, 2008

Close your eyes (okay, just enough to read this sentence), and envision your fondest holiday memories. Chances are they're about the experiences you've had with the people you love.

Now, holding those same memories in mind, can you remember what gifts you received that year? How they were wrapped? What centerpiece was used? What lights you had on outside? Probably not.

Although it's easy to get caught up all the "stuff" surrounding the holidays, the fact is that stuff doesn't necessarily equal happy memories. To the contrary, happy memories are the stuff of great holidays.

In our book, Celebrate Green!, we suggest that the key to going green during the holiday season is to prioritize meaning over things. Doing so not only means you'll use less energy and create less waste, you can save money too!

Here are a few simple, do-able, affordable tips to get you started making your green holiday meaningfully green.


The two billion holiday cards (and envelopes) mailed each year are taxing on our environment -- to trees, specifically, of course, and create endless waste.

While e-cards are great (and green), how about doing as our future Presidential Family did and create a video-card for your family and friends? If your children are old enough, have them help you with the "script" by contributing their ideas for what they're grateful for, what accomplishments from the year they're proud of, or what wishes they have for the people they love.

Bonus: If you have the hardware and an internet connection, video cards are tree-free and cost-free.


The internet is a great resource for finding eco-friendly and Fair Trade gifts. And while we give two thumbs up to sustainable and ethically sourced items, how about giving gifts of yourself -- your time and talent -- instead? Can you build a doll house, write a book of poems, create an indoor garden, cook a monthly meal, clean the nooks and crannies or do something that friends and loved ones on your list will appreciate? What would be fun for you and meaningful for them?

Bonus: No wrapping paper necessary.


If every American wrapped three gifts in something alternative to paper, we'd collectively save 47,000 football fields worth of wrapping paper.

What alternatives are there? Wrapping in reusable cloth is the eco-savviest trend, but make it meaningful too. Give your daughter a gift wrapped in a scarf that belonged to her grandmother, or wrap your nephew's toy in a cotton receiving blanket that belonged to your son. Old shirts, scarves, tablecloths, thin towels and more can be easily turned into no-sew wrapping with a pair of pinking sheers or some iron-on seam tape. Embellishing with paints and beads optional.

Bonus: No tape or ribbon required.


According to a new poll by BIG research (released by the National Retail Federation), about 73 percent of Americans planned on buying new holiday decor this season. While 100% beeswax candles, LED lights and local/ organic Christmas trees are on our green holiday short-list, you'd be amazed at how easy it is to infuse meaning into holiday decorating. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Hosting 30 people for your holiday meal and only have enough place settings for twelve? Ask your dinner guests to bring their own place settings in addition to a story that goes along with it. Was it handed down from great-grandma? Was it a wedding gift? Was it a thrift-store find? Kick off the meal by sharing the stories.
  • What to do with all those buttons you've collected over the years? Make a festive, colorful "button garland" by threading them on thin wire. When Lynn came up with this idea, we sat together weaving wire with forty years worth of buttons, and realized quickly that we were also threading 40 years of memories.
  • Turn empty toilet paper rolls into "party crackers" filled with green goodies like organic chocolate bites. Wrap with recycled aluminum foil and saved ribbon and you've got yourself a fun-to-make family tradition. How to make it more meaningful? Make extras and deliver them to people who could use some holiday cheer. Try children's homes, retirement communities or hospitals.

Bonus: Your children practice the arts of generosity and compassion while having fun, being creative and taking part in a family tradition.

For more simple, family friendly, affordable ideas on celebrating a meaningful and eco-savvy holiday season, go to

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