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The holiday season has undergone many changes throughout the centuries. What were once a few solemn occasions of spiritual importance have gradually mushroomed into an annual burst of secular merrymaking that occupies our collective attention for nearly two months.
Along with this ever-rising tide of seasonal spirit has come a prodigious amount of consumption and waste, two dubious hallmarks of modern holiday celebrations. According to the book Use Less Stuff, Americans generate approximately 25% more trash than normal between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. That's a million extra tons of garbage created every week. No wonder more and more people are saying there has to be a better way. The good news is that there certainly is, and as our gift to you this season we'll stuff your stocking with some holly-jolly advice for a grinchlessly green holiday.
- First, make the holidays more about moments and less about stuff. Trade some of your shopping, decorating, and gifting for extra time with those you love, doing special things for friends, and sharing a sense of community with neighbors.
- Experts estimate that some $4 billion of unwanted and unused gifts are bought every year. So make a list, check it twice, and give each person on it one quality gift they really want and need instead of several items of questionable value. Shop early in the season to avoid panic buying, and don't impulse buy.
- Save time, conserve fuel, and prevent pollution by making just one or two big shopping trips instead of multiple small ones. You can also cut down on trips by shopping online.
- Don't overlook handmade and collectible treasures in thrift and antique shops, and at holiday bazaars.
- Give gifts that don't need to be wrapped, like theater or museum tickets.
- Give yourself! Make coupons for babysitting, dishwashing, lawn mowing, a massage, a special outing, and other things that involve time instead of money. If you've got a special skill, give it away or use it to make your own gifts.
- Create wrapping paper from shopping and grocery bags, newspaper, old maps, or posters. Let kids decorate blank sides. Or "wrap" items in useful things like a flowerpot or basket.
- Don't wrap oversized gifts in paper. Just trim them with a bow. Or cover them with a sheet and make a show of the unveiling.
- Save your gift boxes so you don't need any at the store next year.
- Open gifts carefully and save their wrapping paper for next year. Recycle ribbon.
- If you celebrate Christmas, do it with a real tree. Almost all Christmas trees today come from tree farms not forests, and you can compost or mulch them in January. Artificial trees require petroleum and energy to manufacture and transport, and must ultimately be landfilled.
- Make sure that any Hanukkah and other candles have lead-free wicks and are made from naturally scented soy, vegetable or beeswax, not synthetically fragranced petroleum wax.
- If you're buying decorative lights, look for sets wired in parallel. These strands will stay lit even when individual bulbs burn.
- Save energy by keeping your lighting to a minimum and using LEDs. Powering 10 typical strands of mini-lights eight hours a day costs an average of $9.25 a month. Use LED lights, and you'll save 90% of that energy and expense. Put outdoor lights on a timer to make sure they're not lighting up the night when no one's watching.
- Instead of sending holiday cards, spend a few evenings making holiday phone calls. Or create a holiday blog or online slide show for everyone on your e-mail list.
These are some of our favorite holiday tips. What are yours? Share them in the comments section and together we can all unwrap a joyously sustainable holiday season. And don't forget to check back here next week for our special look at green holiday entertaining. Until then, happy holidays from all of us at Seventh Generation!