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Greener, More Joyful Holidays for All

With green holidays, it’s time to take the gloves off—the winter gloves. And the Santa wrapping paper too!

“Green holidays” programs and campaigns are all about buying less stuff and spending more time and energy on family, friends and ourselves. Many folks—from consumer-culture skeptics to holiday-harried parents and grandparents—have been talking about wanting greener holidays (maybe not using those exact words) for years.

So, let’s open up the green holidays concept, and expand it.

I’ve been doing public education about greener holidays for a while now, as part of my enviro outreach job. In green holidays programs, such as King County’s, the emphasis on Christmas has often been justified because “That’s where the waste is.”

Christmas is certainly the most wasteful, resource-intensive holiday, in America at least. But since greener holidays aren’t just about waste anymore, why don’t we try to learn from and include other holidays and traditions as well?

Other winter holidays that involve a fair amount of entertaining, eating, decorating and gift giving include Hanukkah, which is December 12–20 this year; Kwanzaa—a reflective seven day African American cultural festival, from December 26-January 1; and Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year, on February 16, 2018.

And although it moves all over the calendar, another major global observance to consider is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which in 2018 is May 15–June 14.

While giving just due to Christmas—the elephant, or the reindeer, in the holiday room—let’s spread the fun around a little. Check out these five tips for greening the heck out of ALL your holidays:

1. Eat, drink and help people. While reducing waste, conserving resources and having fun with your holiday celebrations, you can also create and preserve jobs, right here. Locally based food and beverage makers are among the largest under-the-radar job creators in our region.

In the Seattle Made listings of local producers, the food and beverage section goes on and on, and that’s just scratching the surface. Go to a farmers market or almost any grocery or beverage store, and you’ll find something local for your holiday festivities, no matter what those involve. And with every purchase, you help support a local or regional worker or grower.

2. Serve it simple. From Ramadan, with its sumptuous Iftar meal breaking the fast every night, to Christmas, with its multiple parties and big meals, opportunities abound to save resources and money with the way you cook and serve your food.

You can do this without making your work as host a lot harder, or without imposing on other people, thanks to all the choices now available at stores, online and elsewhere. Find used dishware and cookware, other entertainment-related supplies, and all kinds of decorations with a few clicks on your computer or phone, or at thrift stores, or through a local Buy Nothing Group.

3. Go big. Be expansive in the way you look at simplifying your holidays. Use it as a way of improving your whole life. Counterintuitively, you can make big changes by picking and choosing relatively little things that work for you. Check out the Simplify the Holidays program, from the non-profit Center for a New American Dream. My favorite current resource from them is their 6-week, 30-day Simplify the Holidays Calendar, with creative tips, examples and inspiration for each day.

4. Give it up. If gifts are a huge part of your holiday (we’re looking at you, Santa!), take a hard look at whether that really works for you and the others involved. Is there a way you can change up your gift-giving tradition with friends and family, to reduce waste and save money, without hurting anyone’s feelings?

Maybe not. But someone getting slightly upset, temporarily, might be worth it if a lot of others are thrilled. Strategies range from not giving gifts (mutually agreed), to giving practical gifts, to drawing names for big-family gift-giving (one gift per adult). Seniors are in an especially good position to propose changes like this.

5. Expand your horizons. Despite efforts nationally by some to divide us, most of us are realizing that the vibrant cultural diversity we enjoy in King County can make our lives better. All that most people really want, whether their family has lived here for four generations or they are newly arrived refugees, is to be treated with respect. That means respecting their holidays.

Once you open yourself up to different ways of celebrating your culture’s own traditional holidays, and respecting and sometimes even participating in other folks’ holidays, then suddenly it’s all joyful again. For example, next fall if someone invites you to attend a local activity for Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights, just say yes. If you like food and festive fun, you’ll be glad you did.

What does this have to do with greening your holidays? Maybe nothing directly, but also everything. Loving and respecting each other means loving and respecting the planet too. Thanks, and happy green holidays!

King County’s Green Holidays program offers more holiday tips.

Tom Watson, a regular AgeWise contributor, manages King County’s EcoConsumer public outreach program. Have Green Holidays ideas to share, questions, or suggestions for future articles? Contact Tom at or 206-477-4481.