This article appeared in the on-line magazine for actors The Networker on December 1, 2008
I love the Holiday season, and I love the sensory overload! No matter where I am, I smell apple cider, pine, pies, cranberries, ham, nuts, fireplaces and snow. No matter where I go, I hear bells, singing, holiday music and people laughing. Wherever I look, I see color, glitter, sparkles, candles, decorations, creative inspiration, smiles, discounts, sales and special offers. No matter how old we get or where on this earth we are, we all feel the excitement of the Holiday season. It doesn’t matter how rich or how poor you are; this season grabs and affects us all.
Even though I was brought up with it, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I have chosen to celebrate the season by donating toys, food and my time to good causes. I also celebrate by spending time with my husband and creating memories that we can enjoy for the rest of our lives. I’m not into buying stuff, but both our families love the tradition of exchanging gifts. A few years ago, my husband and I started a “green” Holiday tradition. If we give a gift to each other or to others, it has to be hand-made or re-used, and the gift must be sustainable.
Here are some suggestions for creating your own green Holiday season:
1. When you go out to shop for gifts, find a local store that you can walk to and that is not a big chain store. I’ll bet you can find a bunch of little places when you walk around in your neighborhood – places that you never knew existed when you drove by. If you can’t walk to stores in your neighborhood because you live in the ‘burbs, carpool, take a bus or ride a bike to go shopping with some friends. Shopping together is more fun, and so is riding together!
My husband and I have discovered many wonderful, tiny shops over the years by walking and riding our bikes. We do this in L.A., New York and Europe. Store owners depend on foot traffic, so shop locally and you’ll not only help mother earth but your community and our economy, too.
“The Click and the Dread on Holiday Shopping”is an excellent article about how to be more sustainable this season.
2. Try to make sure that whatever you buy is made of re-used materials or from natural resources. Wooden toys are healthier for your kids and for the planet. Bamboo kitchen utensils or glass items are made out of sustainable resources. Things made out of paper instead of plastic don’t use oil. And don’t forget to bring your own shopping bags with you to the store!
3. Books have always been my favorite gift to get. I love them, and people can’t go wrong if that’s what they give me! (I always have whomever gives it to me sign the inside cover so I can remember where it came from.) If you like to give books, too, get them used on Amazon or trade with friends. This will mean you’re recycling! Just don’t have them shipped overnight, which is bad for the environment because of the oil and gas needed to rush it to you.
There are plenty of great books out there about green living, green giving and how you can change your life in simple, easy ways to live a more sustainable and earth-friendly life. “The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City” and “The Art of Urban Cycling: Lessons from the Street” are a great introduction to living a green life in the city.
4. In my experience, books are the perfect gift for your agent and manager, but if that doesn’t float your boat consider getting them something they can re-use. Portable utensils, a personalized coffee mugor personalized canvas bags are gifts that will last a long time – and your representatives will think of you every time they use them!
5. Hand-made gifts have become my specialty in the last few years, and my husband and family still use them. Knit an iPod case, crochet a handbag, make candles in tin cans, create furniture out of found wood and metal, and use recycled material in your artwork. There are millions of ways to use materials that would otherwise end up in the landfill.
Sometimes I go to ReForm School, a great store at 3902 Sunset Blvd. in Silverlake, to get gift ideas. You can also buy books on making recycled gifts. “Gorgeous Gifts: Use Recycled Materials to Make Cool Crafts” costs $0.01. “Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash” is an eye-opening book about our trash, and I highly recommend it.
6. Whatever you buy, try to make sure it’s not wrapped in plastic and double- and triple- packed. Leave your packaging in the store if you can, and recycle all other materials at home.
About ten years ago in Germany, people got so sick of packaging that they started leaving it behind in stores. Eventually, shop owners were so overwhelmed with paper and plastic wrapping that they asked manufacturers to tone it down. It worked! If you walk into a pharmacy in Germany these days, you will see toothpaste tubes on the shelves without their usual paper box.
7. Another great way to do holiday shopping is to attend fundraisers. You can bid on auction items you’d like to give as gifts, and if you win one the money is tax deductible! Not only will you be helping out a good cause, you might find some unusual gift ideas, too.
8. As for holiday parties, dinners and gatherings, provide your guests with ceramic plates, glasses and silverware. You can also bring your own utensils and mug with you wherever you go in case there isn’t sustainable tableware available. I always find it interesting when people drink out of a plastic cup, throw it away, and grab another plastic cup for their next drink. I’ve also seen people eat from a plastic plate with a plastic fork, throw it away, and grab another plastic plate and fork for more grub. Not only is this behavior environmentally damaging and therefore not sexy, the benefits of bringing your own tableware are two-fold: you won’t have to worry about confusing your cup with someone else’s, and you will be a topic of conversation at the party – in a good way!
9. Last but not least, stay away from glittery gift wrappings, bows and tinsel. They are full of toxins and they don’t decompose, which means that they are horrible for the environment! Get creative with pages from a magazine, or turn a paper grocery bag inside out and wrap your present in that. Re-use boxes, cookie tins and cans as packaging, and try not to use glue or tape. When my husband and I celebrated our first Christmas, I wrapped everything in colorful pieces of cloth and decorated the presents with twigs and pine cones. We chose not to have a Christmas tree, but we grabbed pine cuttings from the Christmas tree lot and decorated the house with those. It was one of my favorite Christmases ever!
Using recyclable wrapping paper is good for the environment and the website Fake Plastic Fish shows you how to wrap without glue or tape. Eco-Artwarealso has great ideas for wrapping presents without harming the environment.
As you absorb these new ideas for celebrating your “green” Holidays, don’t forget to enjoy yourself, create memories and drink in the sensory overload. The Holidays are designed so that we can be thankful for what we have, spend time with family and reflect on the past year. If all you give as a present is love and nothing else, the recipient will be richer than the wealthiest person in the world.
I wish you all a very happy and sustainable Holiday season filled with memories, joy, love and hope.
See you next year!