The Common Good

A Green Christmas: 5 Realistic Ideas for Celebrating the Season

Well, here we go. Like it or not, tis the season. For me the holidays are a mixed blur of emotions, hopes, and unfulfilled, unrealistic dreams and desires. The holidays are a red and green blend of my own foggy memories and my desires for my children mixed in with the pressure of our culture and the sometimes stark realities of life. I think this is true for most of us. On the one hand, we can read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and bring our children visions of sugarplums and stockings hung by the chimney with care. And on the other hand, we find overly joyful music wooing us to spend money and energy at a time of year when perhaps we find ourselves living out painful memories or sad moments. The last thing we feel is cheery.

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The other day I was in my local coffee shop while "Let it Snow" boomed through the speakers. As I stood watching sleepy baristas whip up all sorts of sugary, sparkly drinks, I found my heart torn. That simple chorus pulled my mind to childhood Christmas mornings when Santa was still a factor. Yet at the same time a tear slipped from my eye over friends and loved ones who would not be here this year to celebrate the season. My heartbeat ticked up a few beats as I thought of my own little tots with wide eyes at the Christmas tree, yet, I found myself without an inch of desire to feel jolly as this season is often a reminder of what has been lost.

And, hahahaha, in the mix of all these emotions and pressures, someone like me has the audacity to suggest we go a little greener for Christmas. To which many a reader will likely post their best Ebenezer Scrooge impersonation. But are there realistic ways to keep it a simple season, to celebrate well, to note the joy and the sorrow we find this time of year, and to look toward a future of health and well-being for our kids, families, and their planet? I happen to think so and wanted to offer what I call "Five Realistic Ways to Go Green" this Christmas.

And, do you have one to add? I would love to know your ideas. I'll pick the best five ideas and repost them next week. So please also toss out your thoughts and add to the conversation!

1. Celebrate slowly: In a season of hurry and rush consider intentionally slowing yourself down. Drive slower, walk slower, talk slower, do whatever it takes to avoid the adrenaline rush of December. Do you really need to line up at 3 a.m. for that gift? Would a little bit of uninterrupted sleep be a better present to your family? Can you consolidate a few errands, shop online, or even cross a party off your list if that is what it takes to catch your breath? Pad your schedule by building in extra time between parties, appointments, and errands. Consider how much time it truly takes to transition well from one event to another so that you can linger over coffee or cocktails, so that you can arrive fully present to your friends and family and not feel rushed. Dallas Willard once noted that we should "ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives." To live well means to take your time. I applaud this idea!

2: Decorate green: The ultimate eco-question I get this time of year is "what about Christmas trees? Real or artificial?" If you decorate for Christmas, do all you can to bring the natural world indoors. Consider clipping a few evergreen branches from your yard or a neighbor and place them on mantles or tables rather than dashing off to purchase fake greens. And for trees, research suggests two earth friendly options at the top of the list. The first can be a challenge, but it is to purchase a potted pine tree that you can plant after Christmas, when weather is right in your region. Many local nurseries or arboretums have information on how to do this well in your area. The second option that tops the green list is to cut down your family tree from a local tree farm. This is a greener option than buying a fresh cut tree from a lot or an artificial version from the store. Artificial trees create quite a waste stream when you consider manufacturing as well as shipping them across the ocean to arrive at our stores (many are made in China).

Trees from your local tree lot are also trucked in, sometimes from across the country, and can create a waste stream of shipping as well. When you go to a local tree farm, you are cutting a tree that has been planted for this express purpose, as well as giving your local economy and the family that owns the farm a financial boost. Tree lots are not a bad option, especially since many offer their proceeds to charity. But, if you have the luxury of choosing, chopping your own is one of the greenest options.

3. Wrap wisely: A cost savings opportunity at this time of year is to reconsider what you use to wrap your Christmas presents. Some options include using discarded easel paper from your child's art easel as wrapping paper. Reusing paper from gifts you have received or making part of the gift something you can wrap with work too. For example, you can include pillow cases or beach towels, or cloth napkins as part of a gift and use the bedding or towels as creative wrapping. Hair ribbons for girls make wonderful ways to top off a present with a twist that can be reused. Or, consider giving gifts that come in reusable canvas tote bags, baskets, lunch boxes, picnic baskets, wine totes, or any other item that can later be used to store or tote goodies around.

4. Be mindful of your Christmas cards: Consider sending out your holiday greetings in one of these earth-friendly ways. Use greeting cards that are printed on recycled paper and/or cards where the proceeds benefit a charity. Hundreds of charities print greeting cards each year that benefit their causes. Another option is to send plant-based cards. The Greenfield Paper Company and other organizations offer cards made from seed paper that the recipient can plant after the holidays. Electronic versions of Christmas greetings are always a wonderful way to send that family newsletter or yearly update to a wide range of people.

5. Remember the reason for it all: Remember the reason we celebrate at all, to cherish our families and communities, to pray for peace, to bring warmth and grace to this cold world, and to honor the God that made this world. As hectic and crazy, emotional and confusing, as celebratory or downright pain-filled as the month of December can be, let us remember why we dash through the snow, dash off to the mall, or spend any time spreading some sort of cheer. It is because we believe that there is peace to be found in this world, that in all the chaos that is our lives, there is a moment that shines in the darkness. There are the arms of friends and the embrace of community and the love of God whose very son was born on Christmas Day to keep us going. When we focus on that we are instantly "green." We spend less time in stress and the mall and more time on the couch with that cup of coffee and warm conversation. Keep focused.

What are your ideas? Share them here and, shamelessly, consider sending my book along to a friend. It is filled with these ideas and more. Thanks all!

portrait-tracey-bianchiTracey Bianchi blogs about finding a saner, greener life from the heart of the Chicago suburbs. She wrote Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan 2009) and blogs at traceybianchi.com.

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