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How to Have a Merry Non-Commercial Christmas
by Wendy Priesnitz

eco-friendly Christmas gifts

Christmas has traditionally been an important time in the life of many families. But for many, this time of year has become just another commercial opportunity, benefiting retailers, and manufacturers of electronics, toys, and candy. In fact, it often becomes an orgy of excess packaging and unhealthy eating, tempting some natural living families to try and ignore it altogether. However, the holiday season won't be ignored, and it doesn't have to be consumer-oriented; it can be a great opportunity for sharing the principles behind our conscious lifestyles with others, especially with the children in our lives and our extended families and friends who aren’t as environmentally or socially aware as we are. There are many ways to enjoy the holiday season with our families and friends, but not forsake our eco-ethics.

Here are some suggestions that will get you thinking about alternative gifts...some to give to the children you love and some for children to help you make for giving to others.

Handmade Gifts

Handmade gifts are often the least expensive kind. And because they involve the gift of your time and thought, they are usually the most treasured. Even the least crafty person can assemble a collection of family photos, record family interviews, or recipes.

  • Children love personalized gifts, so create a simple book about the child, written and illustrated by you.

  • Collect all the makings for hand puppets — brown lunch bags, googly eyes, scissors, markers etc.

  • Record interviews of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and share them on CD or video; you can ask them to discuss their memories of the person you plan to give the collection to, or your family’s history, especially funny or meaningful anecdotes.

  • Frame one of your best photographs. Buy a frame from a local business or artisan. Or make one yourself out of stiff paper or cardboard, decorated with colored paper, old wrapping paper, beads and/or leaves, small pinecones, or seeds.

  • Make your own calendar using cut-out pictures, photos, and/or drawings.

  • Assemble a collection of favorite recipes.

  • Get out your video camera and make a film of the kids putting on a play. Mail it to the grandparents with a holiday song as the finale.

  • Bake a basket of muffins and cookies and deliver them to neighbors.

  • Create a hand-decorated coupon for your best friend promising a weekend of babysitting while she and her spouse take a weekend away from the kids.

  • Create a coupon book of certificates for your children – ten gift coupons for them to redeem during the year. One could promise a Saturday afternoon building a playhouse. Another might be a promise of tennis lessons or an afternoon of making cookies.

  • Your teenager could make a coupon to give to Dad, promising to wash the car or to make dinner three times.

  • Promise your significant other some special activities – a candlelit dinner, a massage or an outdoor activity that you both enjoy.

  • Assemble a gift basket with compact fluorescent light bulbs, forms for getting rid of junk mail, healthy recipes, some weatherstripping and cozy slippers (so they can turn down the heat a few degrees).

Gifts of Experiences

  • Give a membership or a donation to a local cause such as a soup kitchen, a shelter for battered women, a local environment group, etc. Call local churches, synagogues and charitable organizations for ideas.

  • Give a membership to your local zoo, museum or art gallery, or "adopt" an animal at the zoo or to support an endangered species.

When you do buy things, remember principles like buying locally-produced, fairly-traded products with environmentally friendly or no packaging. Recycling or re-using is also a good principle to keep in mind when considering Christmas gifts. Any way you do it, you can challenge our over-consumptive lifestyle and how it affects global disparities and the earth.

Instead of buying wrapping paper, use younger children’s artwork as wrapping paper. Or reuse old paper, like the Sunday comics section, old maps and decorated paper grocery bags. Or wrap a gift in a colorful piece of scrap fabric or make the wrapping part of the in encasing a sushi bowl and chopsticks in a tea towel, or some bathroom soap in a plush bath towel.

Take a Break

Too much focus on gifts – even of the handmade variety – can become overwhelming. Couple that with other aspects of holiday madness like cooking, cleaning, parties, out-of-town relatives, and even the kids can feel stressed out with all the anticipation and distracted parents. However there is a great antidote when things get hectic and overwhelming: Head outdoors. Even if there is a chill in the air, time outside connecting with Nature can lower the stress level, revive the spirits, and add to the enchantment of the season.

  • Outdoor Tree-Trimming – Adopt a tree in your yard or neighborhood – find out what kind it is and decide to visit it regularly. Decorate it with things birds like to eat.

  • Scavenger Hunt – Give the kids a list of natural objects to find in the yard or neighborhood – pinecones, acorns, different shape leaves – and make it a contest to see who can find everything first.

  • Decorate with Mother Nature– Help the kids use some of the treasures they found on the scavenger hunt to create pretty centerpieces, wreaths or other holiday décor.

  • Christmas Bird Count– Get outside, learn about your feathered neighbors and help scientists monitor the health and well-being of local bird populations.

  • Make An Elf House– Santa’s elves need a place to stay while compiling Santa’s list. Create an elf house using the Nature in your neighborhood: sticks, stones, leaf piles, pinecones, moss, bark. Either fashion them free-form or glue them to an empty milk or juice carton that has been wrapped in a brown, paper grocery bag. Don't forget to create a door and windows! Secure in a nearby tree.

Have a happy, stress-free, eco-friendly Christmas this year!

Wendy Priesnitz is Natural Child Magazine's editor, has been a journalist for forty years, has written thirteen books, and has two adult daughters.


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