Friday, December 5, 2008

"Greening" The Season

By Sarah Outlaw

Growing up in New Jersey, I remember Christmas with cold, crisp air and the smell of freshly cut Evergreen trees. I am in Southern California now where memories like white Christmases and ice skating on the pond down the road from our old farmhouse are things of the past. I’m not sure why, but I always thought that Californians all had those big aluminum trees like the ones Lucy longed for in ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’. Obviously I was mistaken. My family always had a cut tree or a live tree when I was a child. Some years my dad cut cedar trees down, which smelled like dirt and truly were “Charlie Brown” trees. You know the kind where the branches droop as soon as you put the ornaments on? That always gave everyone a good laugh. Other years we picked out and cut down our own tree from a Christmas tree farm. I didn’t know much about “green” or sustainable living back then but I have learned a few things along the way about having a “green” Christmas from Eco-giving to decorating that I would like to share.

The Lights

Christmastime is by far the most taxing time of year for the power plants. All those meticulously lighted homes put a real drain on energy. You can help lessen the strain. A simple solution would be to use LED lights instead. LED lights are very environmentally friendly, don’t contain mercury like compact fluorescents and use less energy. Many Christmas light companies make LED lights now so they shouldn’t be too hard to find.

The Tree

This is one of the touchiest subjects among “greenies”. The controversy lies in whether to get a cut tree or a live tree, an artificial tree or a real tree. There are pros and cons on all sides of this heated argument.Artificial tree factories pollute the environment tremendously; not-to-mention that the PVC plastic used to make the trees is highly toxic. Most artificial trees are manufactured in China where the potential for lead poisoning from one of those trees is very high. The thought of fuel costs and carbon emissions associated with shipping these trees all over the world is enough for anyone to realize that this may not be the best choice for the Eco-conscious person.Live trees can only be indoors for about a week or they will be less likely to survive outdoors once planted On the other hand, cut trees could be considered sustainable when they come from environmentally friendly farms that replant each year. Most pesticides will have washed or blown off by the time you are ready to purchase but some may remain. You can try to find an organic Christmas tree farm (See Resources below) but if the farm is to far away it may not be economical to purchase one.If you do decide to get a cut tree, there are things for you to consider when the Holidays are over. Some options include recycling the tree or using it for the birds or firewood. You will want to avoid tinsel or snow flocking if you plan to recycle the tree as this will make it ineligible.

The Decorations

We have heard a lot about lead this year with all the toy recalls from China. Unfortunately, many imported ornaments are covered in lead paint that easily chips. It is not a good idea to have lead paint present in a home with children or pets. Homemade, wood, or stainless steel ornaments are the safest options. Popping popcorn or stringing cranberries can be family traditions that make a comeback this year. Candles are very popular this time of year but can contain some very unfriendly ingredients including lead. Look for candles that are free from petroleum-based paraffin, those that are soy-based, and that don’t contain lead.

The Gifts

Once again, with all the lead paint concerns it may be best to skip the painted toys this year. Plastic toys have their own set of dangers with phthalates and Bis phenol-A. Wooden toys offer a safer alternative but be sure to buy from manufacturers that use sustainable resources and non-toxic finishes. Go back to the basics with blocks and wooden trains. Children can use their imaginations and create whatever they want from the simplest toys. Gift baskets full of non-toxic cleaning products or organic foods make wonderful gifts. You can also make your own herbal gifts like bath salts and herbal sprays or Flower Essences. Choose lotions and personal care products wisely. Look for ones that are paraben and chemical-free and contain natural fragrances and essential oils. Organic is always the best choice, but be sure to look for the USDA or Certified Organic seal. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, chances are you don’t want to put that product on your body. Instead of standard wrapping paper, try pillow cases, cloth or recycled gift bags. You can also purchase gift wrap made from recycled paper or go treeless altogether. Check your local health food store or see Resources below.

This time of year can be stressful as it is and overhauling your entire Holiday can add to that stress. Just be aware of the changes that you can make to have a healthier, safer and “greener” Holiday and take it one step at a time.

As you celebrate this year, keep old traditions alive for your children and make new memories.

Remember the Reason for the Season.


Organic Christmas Trees:

Tree Recycling:

LED Lights:

Wrapping Paper and Bags:


Herbal Gift Recipes and Supplies:


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