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7 Steps to Make Your Holidays Greener and Healthier

Tips for Greener Healthier Holidays The holidays are here again, and if you’re not careful you could easily get swept away by the over-consumption mindset. The National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend $465.5 billion this holiday season, which includes an average of over $700 for gifts and seasonal merchandise, and over $140 for food, candy and the like, per shopper.1

Even more revealing, many Americans are forgoing feasting on Thanksgiving in favor of shopping, as NRF reported in 2010, 22 million Americans shopped on Thanksgiving day itself rather than waiting for the more traditional start of holiday shopping on Black Friday.

If you’re of the mindset that sometimes less is more when it comes to the true spirit of the season, it’s not too late to bow out of the madness and embrace the simpler side of the holidays. Often, this translates to a greener, healthier holiday season too, and may very well make 2011 a year to remember.

Why Go Green This Holiday Season?

Creating a more sustainable world is a goal worth having, and teaching to your kids. Here are some other important reasons to go green:

  • In the past three decades, one-third of the planet’s natural resources base has been consumed
  • The average American consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago -- yet national happiness peaked in the 1950s
  • For every one garbage can of waste you put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream to make the junk in that one garbage can

Imagine, then, the impact your family could make for the future of the planet just by embracing a few green family traditions this year and in years to come.

7 Green Family Traditions That are Healthy Too!

One of the major bonuses of going green is that often the more sustainable choice or the natural choice is healthier too. So along with protecting the Earth, you’re protecting your family’s well-being to boot.

Some green family traditions to consider this season:

1. Get Your Turkey from a Small Organic Farm

Most turkeys sold in supermarkets are raised on factory farms. The birds may have been fed antibiotics (a practice that is thought to be contributing to antibiotic resistance) or growth hormones, and will not be allowed to forage for their natural diet. A small family farm, and better yet an organic farm, will raise their turkeys in accordance with the laws of nature in a much more sustainable, healthier and humane fashion.

Local Harvest is an excellent resource to find sustainable food sources in your area, and you needn’t stop with the turkey. You can also find healthy organic sources for cranberries, sweet potatoes, squash and virtually every other holiday favorite.

2. Rethink Gift Wrap

Wrapping paper is a waste of resources, both for the planet and your wallet, and there are so many other options out there. Old newspaper is one of the most common, but why stop there? Recycled aluminum foil, greeting cards, paper bags, children’s drawings, old posters, outdated road maps … all can make a beautiful statement under your tree. Also consider natural fabric wraps or even using part of the gift as the wrapping (such as a crock pot filled with cooking goodies for a foodie or using a winter scarf to wrap up another small treasure … even reusable shopping bags make great “gift wrap” that your giftee can reuse).

3. Buy Used Gifts

You’re probably familiar with Web sites like Freecycle or Craigslist where you can swap, sell and buy used items (sometimes you can even find items for free). Often you can find great treasures here that are gently used yet make thoughtful gifts. The more you can reuse instead of buying new, the more you’re helping to keep trash out of the landfills, and the less you’re contributing to the use of resources to build, ship and package new "stuff."

Aside from online, you can find unique second-hand gifts at antique stores, thrift shops, garage sales and estate sales in your area. Keep in mind that these outlets are also a great resource for getting rid of your gently used treasures without throwing them in the trash.

4. Decorate Naturally

You needn’t spend money on plastic trinkets to deck your halls … just take a walk outside to get inspired and find seasonal treasures that will make your home naturally festive. Pine cones, acorns, oranges, pomegranates and dried cranberries all make a festive mix to add to tabletop settings or bowls. Pinecones can also be used to make placecard holders at your holiday table.

Another idea is to string plain popcorn with dried cranberries on a string, and use it for garland around your house. Your kids will also enjoy baking and decorating a gingerbread house for the center of the table.

Did you know you can even buy a live Christmas tree that you can plant in your backyard -- or even have planted around a school, church or park in your area -- when the season is over? It doesn’t get much greener than that!

5. Give of Yourself … or Give an Experience

Gift giving doesn’t have to be about “stuff” … some of the best gifts (and also the “greenest”) are those that give of your time! Consider offering the following gifts:

  • Homemade meals (or offering to cook dinner once a week)
  • Babysitting
  • Monthly lunch dates
  • Weed a neighbor’s garden
  • A hand-made photo album of your family’s treasured photos
  • A car wash or other chore
  • Free lessons in a talent you possess, such as photography or singing
  • A collection of your favorite healthy recipes

Other "green" gift ideas include tickets to concerts or a museum, a gift certificate to a local used bookstore, a tree or other plant for their yard, yoga classes, natural hand-made soaps from a local craftsman, or a donation made in their honor to a charity they support.

6. Cook from Scratch (and Organic)

The extra time you spend in the kitchen will be well worth it in terms of your health and your impact on the environment (no plastic takeout containers necessary!). The rule of thumb is the fresher, and the less processed, the better.

For instance, making your own cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries is simple, and means you can avoid canned varieties that often contain high-fructose corn syrup and the chemical bisphenol-A in the can linings (which can leach into your food). Ideally, organic meats and produce will be best as they will be free from pesticides and other chemicals that both you and the environment are better off without.

7. And Most of All … Take Time to Enjoy

Your holiday season needn’t be summed up by stressful shopping trips, stretching your budget or overindulging on sweets (that you regret come January). If you make a conscious effort to remember what the season is all about -- spending time with your friends and loved ones, giving of yourself, focusing on your spiritual beliefs, and so on -- your holiday will be much more relaxing, enjoyable and green.

The trick to keep in mind is that, when all is said and done, what you will remember are the times you spent together with your family. The gifts, the food, the “stuff” will all be secondary, so make sure you devote your time to what matters most, and take the time to enjoy accordingly.

Related Blog Posts:

Should You Be Dieting During the Holidays?
Green Your Indoor Air: Freshen Your Home Without Harming Your Health

1.National Retail Federation 2011 Holiday Survival Kit