Ten Ways to Celebrate a Green Christmas
First Published in Corporate Knights, December 2007
1. Remember Why
The tradition of celebrating a midwinter in northern cultures has been going on for at least 5,000 years – probably far longer. Solstice, Yule, Hanukkah and Christmas celebrate spiritual rebirth, the rebirth of the Sun, the birth of the Christ. Today, however, this ancient spiritual core is getting lost amid the glitter, garbage and unwanted gifts. Instead of one or two much-loved cuddly toys, many children have fifty, lying forlorn in an unloved pile. Consumerism has colonized Christmas – yet if everyone on Earth was to consume the way most Canadians do, we would need three additional planets. So let’s find a way to celebrate simply, without trashing the Earth.
2. Plan a Green Christmas
Christmas is a family affair, and since it often involves family traditions that support this trash-fest, if you want to celebrate the holiday with less collateral damage, you’ll need to engage the whole family. So sit down and have a family meeting, and maybe use this “Ten Ways” list to get everyone on the same page. Maybe plan to make it a carbon neutral Christmas?
3. Send E-cards
If each Canadian mails 10 greetings cards, that’s 300 million cards, causing 100,000 trees to be cut down. To prevent this forest-slaughter, along with the loss of habitat for owls and wolves, make sure your cards are printed on 100% recycled paper, or better, send an e-card.
4. Throw a Garbage-Free Party
The plastic cups, paper plates, wasted food – isn’t there a better way? Borrow real cups and plates from your neighbours, or ask your friends to bring their own. Help your guests to use transit by including local transit details, and to carpool by sending them each other’s emails and street addresses. If it’s a larger party, ask them to cooperate on-line, and give a special prize to the guest who uses the least carbon getting there. For the beer, do your utmost to buy locally brewed beer and local wine. Imported beer is simply flavoured water with a heavy carbon footprint.
5. Try a 100-Mile Christmas Dinner
With food imported from Mexico, Africa and Europe, the ingredients of a typical Christmas dinner may have traveled a collective 75,000 kilometres before they reach your mouth, racking up a big carbon footprint. This year, try to maximize your local ingredients by shopping at local farmers markets and stores that sell local produce, and try some recipes from The 100-Mile Diet.
6. Be Kind to a Turkey
Most turkeys are not raised on a rural farm, surrounded by free-ranging ducks and geese. They are factory-reared in sheds where they are packed so tight they can hardly stretch a wing, while standing in their own urine and waste. There are plenty of tasty vegetarian alternatives. If you must eat flesh, find an organic chicken or turkey that has been raised outdoors.
7. Give Green Gifts
Ah, the gifts. Follow this hierarchy of impacts to make your best eco-choices. First, aim for non-material gifts such as tickets to a concert or museum, a membership to a green organization, a weekend at a spa, home-made certificates that promise a day’s special outing an hour of massage, or a donation in your loved-one’s name to their favorite charity. Next, think about hand-made gifts, such as a photo-album, a hand-knitted sweater, or home-made jam. Finally, there are material gifts from second-hand and antique stores, green gifts that support a more sustainable lifestyle, and locally made gifts from craft fairs and local stores.
8. Give a Gift of Forest
Tough choices, here. One option is to eliminate the Christmas tree altogether, and make a holiday display instead from fallen branches and decorations. Another is to buy a living tree that you can use for several years, before it grows too big and you plant it. A third option is a good artificial tree that you can re-use for many years. If you must buy a cut tree, at least make sure you recycle it for composting when the holiday is over. For a gift that gives twice, you could also sponsor an acre of rainforest in someone’s name, as we begin to make our peace with the world’s forests.
9. Give Books that Inspire
Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, who died this year, once told an audience that she was giving all her friends green books and magazines to get them inspired and motivated. Maybe a subscription to YES! Magazine, The Ecologist, New Scientist, or Resurgence, a video such as The Eleventh Hour or An Inconvenient Truth, or a book in the 101 Solutions series?
10. Remember the Less Fortunate
There are single parents who can’t afford gifts for their children, homeless people who sleep rough on the streets, and lonely people in hospitals and old folks homes. Like everyone, they also yearn for love, warmth and the company of friends at this time of year. So remember to include them in your giving. At the end of the day, kindness is the gift that gives the most.
Guy Dauncey is co-author of Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic, and Executive Director of The Solutions Project. He lives in Victoria; his website is www.earthfuture.com