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Celebrating the Holidays Sustainably: Part 2

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

Welcome back to our guide to celebrating the holidays in a more sustainable way. This time we are looking at how we can keep the magical spirit of the holidays in our decorating without taking a huge toll on the environment. Nobody wants to be a Grinch without lights, trees, wrapping paper, and bows, but those things can be wasteful and eco-unfriendly. Read on to see how you can clean up your holiday decorating footprint without sacrificing the joy.


The holidays are beautiful! Lights, greenery, ornaments, bows, and wrapped packages create a familiar and celebratory atmosphere. In the cold, dark winter nights, it is comforting to see houses and trees lit up around town. However, lights require electricity, which we don’t want to waste. Below are some tips for minimizing the toll that our decorations take on the planet.

Martha May Whovier’s house in the light competition in How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). Photo Courtesy from
  • We are not in the Who-ville holiday lights competition, so there is no need to light up the whole neighborhood. This is an area where we could definitely improve as a country. In fact, a 2008 study from the US Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that US holiday lights use 6.6 billion kilowatt-hours per year, more energy than the country of El Salvador does in one year. (Center for Global Development, 2015). But a simple, tastefully lit house doesn’t need to suck up electricity. The EIA suggests switching to LED lights, which, if all holiday lights were replaced, could save the amount of energy produced by 30 large coal-fired power plants (EIA, 2008). So, make sure all of your holiday lights use LED bulbs.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2018). Photo Courtesy from Reelgood
  • The Christmas tree debate: natural or artificial? While cutting down and killing a tree may seem very wasteful, the alternative is worse. A real Christmas tree, once it has reached your home, has already removed 3 kg of CO2 from the atmosphere just by growing. After the tree is cut, the tree farmer will replace that tree with another one, so real trees actually promote the use of land for planting trees (You Matter). Fake trees, on the other hand, are made mostly of non-recyclable plastic, and are primarily made in China and shipped thousands of miles to the US. For those who have allergies or don’t like the smell of a live tree, there are many options. A second-hand artificial tree is much better for the environment since it has already been purchased and shipped. So, you are not adding to the demand. There are tons of them available at thrift stores in many sizes and materials. Or, you can get really creative and make your own tree. A quick internet search reveals trees made from books, wrapping paper, toilet paper, and green masks, glass beakers, Lego, succulents, and even...air.

If you do go with the real thing and want to make it as “green” as possible, buy from a local business and look for or ask about a sustainable certification. Also, make sure to dispose of it properly. In Orange County, you can put it into the green waste bin, or just leave it beside your trash and the truck will take the tree to the municipal compost facility where it will be turned into a healthy soil amendment. Another option is to rent a live tree. The Living Christmas Company ( offers live tree rentals including drop off and pick up here in Orange County.

Christmas tree farm. Photo Courtesy by Anthony Goto | Flickr
  • For all of the other fun decorations, keep in mind that you don’t have to follow new fads every year. Having a few favorite, high-quality items that you can use year after year will help create holiday traditions. If you feel like you need to add to your stash of holiday items, don’t buy retail, and avoid plastics. Most big retail stores are full of mass-produced junk that has likely been shipped to the US from far away. If you want to buy new things, look for locally handcrafted items at holiday bazaars or markets. Or, get crafty and make your own decorations. This can be especially fun if you have young children. When my children were young, we took our old collection of CDs and DVDs that were too scratched to watch, and we made them into ornaments with paint, stickers, and ribbon. If you want something more elegant, try painting your own Nativity set or other ceramic art pieces. Or, ask tree lots for their leftover cuttings to make wreaths or garlands. Not feeling crafty? Pick up some gently used treasures from consignment, thrift, or vintage stores. Here is a list of some holiday craft fairs around OC.

Sawdust Winter Fantasy Festival. Photo Courtesy by

Now that November is over, it is time to get out there and show your holiday spirit! Using these tips will help you decorate more responsibly so you can enjoy the holiday season without worrying about your carbon footprint. Making your list and checking it twice? We’ve got you covered. Make sure to check out our next article to learn how you can green up your gifting.

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