Monday, December 17, 2007

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas

It’s exactly one week until Christmas, and I am not ready. My heart is prepared. Hands are not. There are still gifts to purchase, wrap and ship. Pies to bake and deliver. Cookies to package for the neighbors.

My kitchen table is serving triple duty as a storage facility, wrapping island and veritable nerve center for the preparations still un-done. Tissue paper and ribbons and tape and scissors and markers and boxes stand ready to be put into service. But long days at the office and after-work board meetings and parenting responsibilities keep me from moving at the pace to which I had, for years, become accustomed.

These last three years have practically forced me to adopt a simpler approach to the Holidays. I have weeded out the frivolous from the essentials; trimmed my gift list; abandoned some earlier-treasured rituals; and adopted a “green” approach to help me accomplish all of the above while simultaneously helping preserve our planet.

That said: this week’s Newsletter is short, sweet and “green.” But first, if you are not keeping long lists each Christmas of what you purchased and for whom, and what you received and from whom, start doing this now. My own lists go back almost twenty years and have “green-ed” me up by saving our family’s three most precious resources: time, energy and money. Not having to re-invent the wheel every year saves one tons of pre-Christmas anxiety, too. I group families together as I do friends and business colleagues. If you are visually sensitive as I am, you will start “seeing” your Christmas list in your head, and every time you are out and about, you can start thinking of what you should buy for those you most love all year long. That said:

• Hand craft, bake or cook as many gifts as possible. They’ll be more appreciated by the recipient, save you money and prevent yet more stuff from accumulating in areas where that’s the last thing needed. Stick to your favorites and make them again and again. I make my favorite Kentucky pecan pie every Christmas for a half-dozen folks on my list and pick up stoneware pie plates whenever and wherever I can find them throughout the year.

• Buy antiques and gently-used stuff. It moves recycling one step further, the gifts will inevitably be more unique than those bought from department stores or catalogs, and the recipient will value the time you spent shopping for something extra-special for him or her. I picked up some gorgeous antique jewelry on my last trip into New York for a few people on my list; I know I’ll never see such wonderful stuff again. One of my best friends got something from a local antique store when I found them early this year. Know what your friends collect and keep your eyes open for it throughout the year. (Roosters anyone?)

• Make your lists concise and build around themes. You’ll be able to conserve shopping trips, visiting only a few stores rather then a dozen or more. We all need to do our part in conserving gas, and this one will add a few good measures to that end. I stock up at Trader Joe’s on all sorts of organic soups, chocolates, teas and coffees and give out healthier goodie bags than what I could purchase elsewhere, all at decent prices.

• Don’t go nuts on wrapping. Use brown paper bags and boxes wherever possible. If you get a box filled with Styrofoam peanuts, re-use it on another gift rather than dumping it; this stuff will last for years. Consider plain newspaper or popcorn for fillers instead. Go simple on gift tags and ribbons, too. Recycle old favorites and come up with your own style that is timeless yet festive. For years, I used manila hang tags tied to old-fashioned twine; now I use white round metal-lined mailing tags which already come with a ring, easily slipped through a silk ribbon and large enough to write a tiny inscription.

• Consider re-stringing your tree with LED lights. More expensive in the short run, they’ll outlast the old ones in the long run. And of course, they’re better for Mother Earth.

• The true “greenies” will tell you to buy a real tree, or better yet, to dig one up and re-plant it after Christmas has passed. We have allergies to the real thing, so we have an artificial tree. Nothing wrong with that either as it’s used again and again and again.

• Go through all of those paper shopping bags you have laying around (I did that this weekend and was aghast at how many we’d collected; I spent a good half-hour sorting and re-folding). I was also pleasantly surprised at how many of them could be used a second or even third time as most bags these days are quite beautiful. If you keep this kind of stuff, make sure they’re handy and in good shape so that you can do your part in recycling them for further good.

• Use recycled paper for your annual Christmas letter, if you still send one. Recycled cards, too. Our family’s list gets longer each year, and we’re happy about having an ever-expanding circle. I shop for cards the day after Christmas in order to buy them at half-price for the next year. Again, it’s all about planning.

• Lastly, consider throwing one big party where you allow Holiday cheer to pervade your home, family and friends. Spreading joy to those in your circles in this way allows you to touch dozens of folks at one time and keeps efficiencies of time, energy and money at bay. Splurge for one morning or one night knowing that you’ve filled lots of people with the Christmas spirit.