How to Have a Green Christmas

Christmas is a time of gifts, joy, and family togetherness. Unfortunately, it can also be a time of excess when thoughts for conserving money and resources seems to take a nosedive.

Celebrating a green Christmas isn't about going without; it's about being thoughtful and considerate of not creating waste at a time of celebration, as a show of respect for the occasion and for our environment. The benefits of cutting down on excess flow to your wallet, your bank account, your sanity, and your happiness, as well as to the environment, so there are plenty of good reasons to celebrate a green Christmas this year and ever more.

Here are just a few suggestions to help you start this pathway, and you'll be bound to come up with many of your own green solutions and traditions for Christmas as you get into the swing of it.


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    Reflect on the meaning of Christmas for you and your family. If the meaning of Christmas is lost beneath the rush to prepare for it and excessive spending, getting deeper into debt, boastful exchanges of gifts, and even feelings of anger and deprivation when gift recipients can't have "what they want", then it's hard to celebrate wholeheartedly. Whether you celebrate Christmas for religious reasons or as part of a secular tradition, Christmas as a merchandising opportunity is neither green nor fulfilling. Reining in the excesses isn't about depriving you or your family of the enjoyment and beauty of Christmas. Rather, it's about taking back the real spirit of Christmas and putting excess in its place while still appreciating the accompanying gifts, decorations, food, and other elements of Christmas in a way that is considerate of family calm, our environment, and of what Christmas is truly about.
    • As part of your reflection, consider how you can celebrate Christmas in ways that cut down on excess spending, packaging, eating, et cetera. As a reward, you'll find focusing on less will bring about a more fulfilling experience for everyone.
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    Allot time. One of the key problems at Christmas is the lack of time and the excuses we make as a result. It's easier to drop into the dollar store and to buy up excessive amounts of decorations shipped all the way from China, made from resource-intensive materials because they're cheap, plentiful, and right under our noses as we stock up at the last minute. Gone is the joy of sitting down together as a family to craft our own traditional decorations, cards, gifts, etc., from materials that are renewable or recycled, and gone is the creation of family heirlooms. While it is unrealistic for most busy families to handcraft everything for Christmas, marking a little time on your family's calendar to make a few things by hand can create a new family tradition, and gives everyone involved a sense of personal pride and achievement at having contributed something personal themselves.
    • It's recommended that as part of celebrating a green Christmas, you or your family set aside a little portion of time and choose one or two discreet projects to complete as a family or individual. This could be something like making this year's cards from last year's cards, making gift tags from old cards, sewing felt toys, making 3D snowflakes, etc. Whatever takes your fancy and is something that those participating will enjoy doing.
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    Choose the most eco-friendly Christmas tree option for you. The Christmas tree debate can be a difficult one and needs to be resolved according to your own conscience. While some people advocate artificial trees because these can be reused, their downside can be that they have a limited lifespan, need to be replaced when they wear out, and many are made from non-renewable resources. Cutting down living trees from forests is only sustainable where it involves harvesting trees that are going to be removed anyway because of forest thinning or where the forest was created just for the purpose, such as on managed Christmas tree farms. Yet, some people are concerned that even with a Christmas tree farm, the manner of growing the trees might be an issue if industrial chemicals were used rather than eco-friendly growing options or if mono-culture is replacing local biodiversity; always ask how the farm is managed to find out if eco-friendly practices are being used.
    • Consider purchasing a living Christmas tree. This option has the benefit of not removing a tree for a temporary use and allows you to plant the tree in the garden or in another suitable place after use. Read How to choose a living Christmas tree for details on how to choose a suitable tree.
    • Be sure to compost a cut tree after use. If you don't have a garden or you're not able to hire or borrow a wood-chipper machine, check with your local council to see if it has a scheme for chipping or composting trees. Many municipalities in North America have taken to collecting trees for direct chipping and composting rather than simply dumping them at the tip.
    • Avoid overdoing the plastic decorations and the cheap dollar store decorations. Affordability doesn't mean you should indulge in them – and don't forget the clutter you'll end up with in storage! Cheap decorations come at a high environmental cost, while simple and fewer decorations can be very effective and elegant.
    • Turn off the tree lights after you go to bed and while you're out. Try putting your indoor and outdoor lights on timers if you can't remember to do this manually. Doing this will also prevent fires.
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    Make your own decorations. If you've managed to allot some time, make your own Christmas decorations as much as possible. Making your own decorations is fulfilling because it's personal to you and lets you use your hands and imagination to the fullest extent. And remember that this isn't a race to compete with the commercially produced, molded mass produced decorations; it's simply about making your decorations rather than making them expertly. There is a lot that you can do at home with existing materials or using recycled materials, and many of these things don't take much time:
    • Use recycled materials (such as colored paper, old magazines, ribbons, etc.), reuse old decorations and build on them, to create decorations. Read wikiHow's Christmas decorations category for a whole range of inspiring crafty how-to ideas.
    • Make edible ornaments. Half the fun is cooking them, eating bits as you go, and decorating them. The other half is admiring your handiwork spinning on the tree. Ideas include popcorn and cranberry strings, or simply stringing these food items onto thin gauge wire and shaping it into stars, hearts, etc. And cookie ornaments are a lot of fun for kids, in all sorts of Christmas shapes such as gingerbread men, stars, Santa, reindeer, baubles, etc.
    • Use the garden or natural items from the outdoors for ornaments. Collect pine cones, twigs, berries, sprigs of evergreen plants, red apples, oranges, etc. to create wreaths, centerpieces, simple ornaments, etc. Simple clusters of pine cones, berries, and evergreen pieces can look very effective and beat their plastic counterparts hands down; after Christmas, simply toss them back outdoors, no need to clutter your house storing them.
    • Twist corn husks around and around in a circle to make a beautiful Christmas wreath. Weave in some evergreen twigs if you want to add a little green.
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    Make your own gifts. Making your own gifts at Christmas time is an excellent way of ensuring they're eco-friendly and well within budget. There are many possibilities but the important thing is to draw on your own strengths and talents, so that whatever you make is enjoyable for you and results in a gift-worthy item for the recipient. For example, if you have kids, consider making a puppet theater or toys and dolls. Read How to make your own Christmas gifts for more ideas.
    • Make food. Giving homemade food beautifully presented in eco-friendly packaging is a delightful gift, part love and part delicious! How about homemade jam or bread? Read wikiHow's Christmas cooking category for more ideas.
    • Consider putting together cherished items to make an album. Albums aren't just for photos, although a photo album that has had your personal time lavished on creating it can be a great gift in itself too. Use albums to collect family loved recipes, vacation collectibles, craft patterns, science project instructions, detailed suggestions for a future family vacation, scrapbook mementos, trading cards collected from cereal boxes, etc.
    • Give the gift of time. Could someone you know use help around the house? Would someone love to learn something you could teach? Make homemade coupons or promise certificates, and be sure to follow on what you've promised!
    • Keep in mind the interests of each recipient and the need to reduce waste by using eco-considerate products when making the gifts.
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    Buy eco-friendly gifts if you're not making them. There are plenty of choices to purchase "green" gifts. Look at the many online eco-focused stores or visit stores offering eco-friendly gift options, including such items as durable water bottles, organic clothes for babies to adults, books, recycled paper products, etc.
    • Another great gift idea is that of donating money to a charity, buying a "gift that keeps on giving" such as a cow or farm pack for people in communities that need help to access drinking water, grow crops, live sustainably, etc. – look for your favorite charities that provide this service. It can be a family choice if wished, with all of you choosing the gift online and having it sent in your family's name.
    • Buy garden products. Things to till the garden with, seeds, seedlings, plants, planter pots, soil, etc., are great eco-friendly gift choices. Be sure to choose plants wisely – opt for natives and locally grown varieties and food crops over exotics. Heirloom seeds can be an enormously successful gift for a garden-lover.
    • Reusable grocery and shopping bags are always handy.
    • Biodegradable, organic, and health conscious cosmetics, body and bath products are a burgeoning industry now, including soaps, shampoos, bath oils, bath salts, perfumes, etc., that are made from ingredients known to be safe to both humans and the environment. Making up a small basket of such products can be a great way to introduce a friend or family member to new products that have less impact on their health and the environment.
    • For a young couple with a baby, pay for a diaper service to spare them endless diaper washing and to lure them away from disposables a bit longer.
    • For kids, think science kits, solar power gadgets such as radios and flashlights, books about ecology, or tickets for a trip to a local nature reserve, museum, or zoo to see conservation in action.
    • Think about gifts that can help family and friends whose eco-consciousness is newly emerging. You can give them books on the topic, or be bolder by buying them items for the house that they can start using and noticing benefits from immediately, such as a water-saving device for the toilet, a solar light, a thermostat for their heating, insulation, hose nozzles that shut off water automatically, etc. These are the sorts of things people love to consider but don't necessarily make the next step to purchase for themselves. This is a great way to enable them practically. Be sure to explain energy savings they'll experience, if relevant!
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    Be considerate of paper. When it comes to cards, gift tags, and wrapping, there is a lot of waste involved; in the UK alone, it is estimated that 1 billion cards end up in the bin, with an average of 17 cards per person. And any eco-conscious gift recipient will know the unpleasant feeling of awkwardness at seeing virgin paper ripped off gifts and unceremoniously tossed aside, never to be thought of again while still wanting to appreciate the joy experienced by the gift recipient! Sidestep this dilemma by making eco-friendly wrapping choices from the outset.
    • Recycle cards. Read How to out old greeting cards to use for more ideas, such as making new cards from old, and making gift tags from old tags. And don't forget to use your origami skills to turn old cards and paper into new tags!
    • Use recycled wrapping paper. If you have last year's paper still, give it a quick iron under a towel to remove the worst of the creases (do this at the same time as your regular ironing of clothes, to lessen energy waste). Look for paper products that state that they're recycled, or use simple recycled brown packaging paper and make it more interesting by adding decorative elements of your own, such as stamping with cut vegetables, sticking on old cards, or drawing on it. Old magazines, newspapers, old posters, or brown paper bags can make stylish wrapping too.
    • Make tags from recycled items.
    • Lessen the amount of cards sent by using electronic cards over the internet. This can also save you time as you don't need to buy or make cards, address the envelopes, add the stamp, etc. Be aware that some people won't like this though, especially older people who continue the tradition of card sending, so be sure to send them a real card still.
    • Instead of using tape, use string, ribbon, and leftover tying material to keep presents wrapped. For a pet, wrap with a leash or collar.
    • Use an item of clothing, fabric, a bandanna, a handkerchief, a scarf, or a tea-towel to wrap gifts in. This saves on paper completely and looks really pretty and novel sitting under the tree. The wrapping is a gift and won't be tossed away. Other ideas include placing the gift inside a cookie jar, mug, pillowcase, lunchbox, tote bag, bucket (great for garden gifts), flower pot, etc. And quilters love receiving gifts wrapped in quilting fabric!
    • Make fabric gift bags and reuse them year after year within your family. Make it a family tradition to gather up the cloth bags after gifts are opened and to return them to their storage basket; this habit won't take long to be reinforced and expected by everyone.
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    Buy locally grown food. Christmas is the ideal time to buy locally. Visit your local farmers' market is with a list of the food needs you have for Christmas. The food will be fresher and the shorter transportation distance from field to fork will significantly cut down on carbon emissions.
    • Avoid buying food that is overly packaged. Items bought loose or in bulk will taste just as good as their cellophane-wrapped competitors.
    • Minimize your food waste by not buying excessive amounts. Simply confirming how many people are eating will prevent you from preparing too much. Avoid throwing out any leftovers, the majority of foods can be kept for several days if refrigerated.
    • Consider having more vegetarian food at Christmas. Eating more grains, vegetables, and fruit is not only healthy but will help to reduce your energy consumption, for meat takes a lot more water and energy to produce than plant foods.[1]
    • Be sure to use up the leftovers completely. You'll save money doing so, and cut down on waste.
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    Create a recycling point in your house for collecting bottles, cans, paper, packaging and cards. The main source of extra rubbish post Christmas are all things that can be recycled. Check with your council to find your nearest recycling center, or to see which days they collect - don't forget this may differ from usual over the festive period.
    • If you have any unwanted presents, don't bin them, donate them to your local charity shop instead.
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    You can give plants in pots as a present. It would really cheer up the receiver.


  • Lights always bring a tree to life but remember to turn them off at night and when you are not in the room.
  • If you're throwing a party don't use disposable plates and cups. Instead, borrow the real thing from a good friend or relative.
  • Once the holiday season is over, don't bin your received cards, recycle them or keep them to make gift tags and decorations next year.
  • Look into purchasing LED lights for your Christmas tree. They will last many more years than standard lights. Also, if one light goes out, the rest of the string will stay lit. They are a bit more expensive to purchase up front, but are well worth the cost.
  • The benefit of purchasing online is that you don't need to join the Christmas crowds.
  • Try to select presents made from sustainable or recycled materials, avoid anything which is over packaged or liable to break easily.
  • If you buy decorations, choose sturdy ones that can be used year after year, not the flimsy sort that will need to be thrown out in the new year.
  • Consider telling your friends and family that you want to go with Green Gifting.


  • Bear in mind not to fall into the trap of consuming too much, just because objects have "green credentials". Too much of anything is still too much, no matter how eco-friendly it is!
  • If using berries as decorations, take care. Keep poisonous berries such as holly berries away from food and out of reach of children, animals, and adults who aren't thinking. If in doubt, only use safe berries such as raspberries, blackberries, etc. or don't use berries at all if you're worried someone will try to eat them.

Things You'll Need

  • Recycled products
  • Eco-friendly gifts
  • Craft items
  • Living tree

Sources and Citations

  1. Cornell University, U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists,

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