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Celebrating the Holidays Sustainably: Part 3

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

Welcome back to our series on sustainable holidays. One of my favorite holiday traditions is giving gifts. I recently read an article about looking at a gift as a thought. Receiving a gift means that someone is thinking about you. So, our gifts should reflect our thoughtfulness, not the money spent.


Finding the perfect gift can be a labor of love, and can show your appreciation for the people in your life that are important to you; but that doesn’t necessarily mean buying something expensive. According to, Americans spent an average of $850 on Christmas gifts in 2020. This has a big impact on the economy, so we can use it as an opportunity to speak with our dollars to support local, sustainable businesses. It is the perfect opportunity to think out-of-the-box and get really creative with your holiday giving.

  • Give experiences, not things. Anyone living in Orange County has probably seen the backup of container ships floating in the channel south of Long Beach Harbor. This should serve as a reminder to us that we import too many goods from overseas. For those of us who already have too much “stuff” around, receiving tickets to a concert, play, or event can be a welcome alternative to a physical item. You can support local non-profits by buying a membership to a museum, cultural center, or aquarium for a friend or family member. For your altruistic friends, you can plant a tree in their name or donate a farm animal or beehive to lift a family out of poverty in a developing nation. Groups like Heifer International offer many opportunities to do good in the world. What better way to celebrate the Holidays than to bring joy to people around the world!

The gift of a goat to a family in need will help families feed themselves. Photo Courtesy by Heifer International
  • Become a maker. If you have a crafty talent like knitting, soap-making, scrapbooking, cooking, sewing, or painting, share your art with others. You don’t have to be a professional to make lovely gifts. I collect glass jars from my purchases throughout the year and make container candles as gifts. It doesn’t take much talent, just melting and pouring wax; and the only materials I need are wax, wicks, and essential oils. I color the candles with leftover crayons. Just make sure to use soy or coconut wax instead of paraffin, which is made from petroleum. The jars can also be used to hold homemade granola, trail mix, or spice blends which makes a healthier gift than cookies or candy for the holidays. The possibilities are endless.

Photo Courtesy by Perry's Plate | The Pioneer Woman
  • If you do need to buy gifts for some people on your list, reduce your impact by buying local. Holiday markets pop up everywhere around Christmas time, and they provide a wonderful opportunity to support local artisans and businesses. Big retailers often use unethical business practices, such as using child labor and providing unsafe working conditions. They also ship products massive distances across the country or across the ocean, which releases an enormous amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. Finally, handmade or locally produced gifts are more unique and personal than what you can buy in most retail stores, which shows the recipient that you really thought about their needs and preferences.

Photo Courtesy from Living Mi Vida Loca
  • Wrap it up. Imagine the typical Christmas morning scene, piles of ripped-up wrapping paper and ribbon littering the floor amidst boxes and packaging material. Yikes! When it comes to presenting your presents, there are alternatives to traditional wrapping paper. One idea to keep the beautiful patterns and prints of Christmas as the presents wait under the tree is to use printed fabric to wrap gifts instead of paper. You can usually find Christmas patterned tablecloths and napkins at thrift stores that you can cut to any size. Cute Christmas dish towels can do double duty as gifts and wrappers. Since the material will not easily rip, it can be used year after year. Likewise, fabric ribbons used in the place of plastic ribbons can last for many years. If you have children that bring home piles of artwork from school, consider wrapping gifts in their creations (this is especially good for grandparent gifts). Or, think outside the “box” and use reusable bags for your gifts.

Photo Courtesy by Jacob Fox

I hope these ideas have given you some inspiration to make your holiday a little greener this year. Remember, it is all about improvement. Choose one or all of these suggestions to try this year and see how it makes you feel to know that you are contributing to a healthier and more sustainable world.

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