May All Your Christmases be Green!

It’s almost that time of year again and this year is going to be hard. With the economy on a downward spiral, many of us out of work and the cost of goods rising daily, it does not seem to be a joyful time of year. But there are good ideas on how to get useful stuff for friends and family, keeping it green and save money at the same time. In fact, going green saves money no matter how you look at it. It’s our overly commercial, plasticized and technology driven lifestyle that costs a lot to maintain and robs the planet at the same time.

So let’s see if going green is feasible and affordable. I have done a previous post on how to give green gifts that will help you with the gifting choices. But a lot more goes into Christmas than just the presents. There is, of course, the tree and the decorations that go on it. There is the packaging for all those gifts; a pile of plastic store packages wrapped in gift wrap, all of which gets torn to shreds and tossed in the trash. Ouch. According to an article I saw on Associated Content, over 4.4 million tons of holiday gift wrap, shopping bags, and holiday catalogs are sent straight to the landfills each year. And then to all of this you have to add the gas you spend scooting through bumper to bumper traffic from store to store and mall to mall, searching for the right item at the right price. And don’t forget the extraneous stuff like the extra electricity it takes to power all those decorations, especially Rudolph and the Elves on the front lawn surrounded by 400 feet of flashing colored lights. So how do you stop spending and wasting? How do you do the planet the favor and go green? Here are some ideas.

I want to start with the Christmas tree because this is an item about which I have conflicting opinions. On the one hand, I hate the idea of farming pine trees by the thousands just to chop them down at a young age and turn them into short lived decorating pieces. But, on the other hand, plastic trees are a nightmare for the landfill. And I have also heard from people in the industry that cutting back trees every so often is good for the forest. So I am just not sure what is good. I am inclined to come to the conclusion that real trees aren’t so bad after all. As long as you recycle them with the your local city recycler so that it can be turned into free mulch for the gardeners in the spring. You can recycle Christmas Trees in almost any city in the country. Call them to find out when to leave it at the curb. Nothing else is acceptable. Plastic trees last a few years but then they get ratty, with lost limbs and broken branches and they end up in the landfill, sometimes for decades. And buying a real tree and tossing it in the trash, not to be recycled is not acceptable either. So get the nice smelling fresh young tree and enjoy it. Just remember to recycle.

Now, this is a bone I love to pick. There are so many creative solutions to the use of wasteful paper wrap that I just can’t see buying the junk. They are now selling cotton bag wrapping solutions that leave you with a reusable bag that can be used year after year or taken by the giftee and used as a shopping bag. This would, in turn, cut back on the number of paper and plastic bags used at the checkout. So these cotton gift bags are great. They are a super green idea.

But if you don’t want to put your gifts in a bag like this or it’s unsuitable for the type of gift, there are other alternatives. If you are making the gift yourself, such as a gift basket or art piece, then consider not wrapping it all. Just present it in person and everyone will be happy. I have given many handmade gifts in past years and have just presented them, as I suggested. However, not everybody was happy with homemade gifts so remember the personality of the giftee before making stuff. Some people just aren’t happy with anything but a retail item. For those people, get a gift card, lotto tickets or movie passes.

But if you have bought toys, jewelry, electronics or other small items that would get lost in a cotton bag, then consider making your own boxes and decorating them. I love this idea; it is my personal favorite and I have done it and still love it. Save the boxes from your food purchases in various sizes. From Uncle Bens Wild Rice to Cheerios, there are great boxes in every size and shape. Pick out fabrics in red and green colors, the most thrifty being old clothes and Christmas linens from previous years. Cut the fabrics and iron them onto the boxes using fusible webbing. Use left over fabric to make the bows. Cut a small square from another box as the gift card. Simply fuse and iron some fabric to the outer, printed side of the cardboard and then write the name of the giftee on the inner, clean side. This makes it all matching and expensive looking. After the boxes have been opened, you can put them away for next year or allow the giftee to take them along and reuse them for their own purposes. These boxes turn out lovely. They are Christmasy and original. People love them.

Ok, I now you hate doing it, but doesn’t everybody expect you to at least send a card? Most young people you can please by sending an ecard; kids today are on the internet day and night and are used to communicating with everyone over the web. But there are older people, grand parents, and people who don’t even have a computer and I am sure they are on your list. First and foremost, if you are set on getting them retail cards, then buy recycled. There are entire lines of recycled cards available for purchase and they are no more expensive than any other. So no excuses! However, if you are artsy or creative, you have the alternative choice: make your own cards.

If you can’t draw or use a computer and color printer, then consider doing what I suggested for the packaging cards. Cut out a card from an old retail package and iron on fusible fabric. If you fold over the edges and glue them down carefully, this card can be very nice and not at all tacky or raggedy. Just write your note and address on the other side. Another nifty idea I’ve seen done and it looks cool, is a sort of decoupage for gift cards. Cut out Christmasy pictures from magazines and newspapers and fuse or glue them onto a card. Again, this can be a used card, a card cut from paper products or a blank recycled card you purchase at retail. Buy a sheet of recycled cardboard ( or 2 or 3 or more!) and make up cards this way. You can even have a different design for everyone on your list.

But if you are artistic and creative with your hands or skilled with a draw program on your computer, you can make your own gift cards from scratch. Just remember to use recycled paper or reuse cardboard or paper products already in your home that would otherwise be discarded.

I have already done one post on foraging for Christmas ornaments which gives a lot of ideas for scrounging free stuff and making ornaments out of it. In fact, I plan a follow up post with even more projects. But if you’re not so good at scrounging and foraging, then perhaps you need other ideas. The very best solution as far as ornaments go is, of course, saving them from year to year and simply using them until they are crushed or fall apart. This is sensible, frugal and green. An inexpensive but great idea I have seen done time and again is to bake Christmas goodies and make them ornaments. Store bought candy canes and fresh fruits are always fine because they get gobbled up. Try baking huge snowman and Santa cookies and dangling them from small strings. If you are good at making candy, consider making a candy angel and allowing the kids to wolf it down after the tree has been sent off to recycling. In fact, anything made from candy can be dangled from the tree with beautiful and popular results.

And, finally, if you don’t have ornaments, don’t want to make them yourself and have some money to spend on this, then get well made, sturdy ornaments from natural resources like wood and glass. Glass can be ground down or recycled; the only problem is the metal hanger. But plan to keep the ornaments you do buy for years and years to come. In fact, if you buy Heirloom ornaments from a mint or other manufacturer, the these are valuable assets that will pass from generation to generation and be loved by many. The thing you do not want to do is buy new crumby ornaments year after year and end up tossing them out in a short while. Plastic, prefab and metal ornaments are unacceptable. Only buy metal ornaments if they are gold or silver and have lasting value. Ceramic and porcelain ornaments are keepers. Buy the kind you can have engraved. I know this is an expense so if you are not able to do it this Christmas, for obvious financial reasons, then limit your purchase to a few really good ones you plan to keep or make a few for this year and plan to start purchasing other ones when financial conditions improve. Another frugal solution to this dilemma is to buy used ornaments at thrift shops and charities. Just be sure, once again, to buy ornaments you will keep and reuse; just buying cheap junk that you plan to trash is a bad idea.

And then there are the decorations. Wreaths, table settings, napkins, garland, tinsel, spray on snow and plastic window stickers. Oh, boy, some of these are a flat out no no. Forget the plastic window stickers altogether. They get destroyed by the elements, fade in the sun, end up wrinkled or cracked. So where do they go? To the landfill. Where they spend another 30 or more years trying to disappear. This is no good and you know it! If you want something to hang in the window, buy stained glass hangers (preferably from a hand artisan), Christmas candles or have the kids make up Christmas drawings on recycled cardboard and tape those on. Then save all of this for next year.

Wreaths and table settings are fine if you buy good enough to keep for a few years at least. Keep them clean and store them in a safe place so they will be in fine shape for the holidays in years to come. Of course, you always have the alternative of making these yourself and saving a lot of money. I have made wreaths myself and they are all still right here, years later, either hanging on the wall or in safe boxes ready for the holidays. They are a fun thing to make and the results are gorgeous; it makes you proud. I will have a post very soon on homemade wreaths. I have some gorgeous project recipes. I also have projects for homemade table settings that create designs that look like you bought them in Nieman Marcus. I kid you not.

As far as napkins go, please use cotton linens! Don’t buy a ton of paper ones and toss them out. We, as a fast paced society, already toss out so much paper it’s unimaginable. Save a few trees, give the landfill and break and save a bunch of money in the long run. Fabric napkins. Nothing else is acceptable. And as far as spray on snow goes, just don’t use it. It’s in an aerosol which is mostly CO2; carbon dioxide, as you must know. It has the same carbon footprint as hairspray in a can. You don’t even see hairspray in a can anymore; it’s all in a pump. If you don’t live in a snowy region that has real snow you can use, just skip this altogether. When they have it in a pump or better yet as a paint on, then go for it. But for now, as long as it is a CO2 spewer, it is definitely not green.

Tinsel and garland are questionable purchases. Metal tinsel ends up in the landfill for your lifetime or longer and is dangerous to children and pets. You should skip it all together. Make your own confetti tinsel out of vines, shredded paper, frail hemp roping or other natural materials. Discarded vine materials from your garden make the best tinsel. Clean out some length from any herb or flowering vine and pull out the longest lengths you can obtain. Dry them to a weak flimsy stage, almost dry but not quite. When they are willy nilly and flexible, hand paint with bright oil paints in any color you like. If you must, spray paint them gold or silver. If you cut the lengths right they will drape over the tree beautifully. They won’t last past Christmas but at least when you toss them you know they are biodegradable and will be gone in less than a year.

As far as garland is concerned, try to buy natural materials. A real herb garland is magnificent and green. This can be pricey and after the garland has completely dried it may only be a few years before it is unusable and must be replaced. But remember that natural materials are biodegradable and therefor green. If you learn to make your own garland, you can make one to last several years and then make another at that time. Once you get the hang of it, making garlands is easy and the result can be stunning. So buy a natural garland and pay the price to save the planet. Making one is somewhat cheaper and is more adaptable to your own personal tastes. I will have a project or two coming up for making garland and there is a project for one in my previous post, foraging for Christmas ornaments. And, remember, for this one item, plastic may be acceptable. Just buy one you will want to use for a number of years to come and instead of tossing it in the trash when you are over it, give it to charity to brighten the home of those wonderful people who just happen to be less fortunate than you.

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