Special occasions from birthday celebrations to weddings to a holiday season that lasts weeks can be festive without being wasteful. Celebrations that are planned and carried out with people and planet in mind have a special relevance and beauty that will touch all who celebrate with you.
Save and reuse decorations from previous years over and over. If you’re short on decorations, improvise. There are probably things around the house that can be creatively used.
- Gather up all your candles. Candles used in numbers definitely say “SPECIAL OCCASION!”
- Go through your christmas wrapping bin and pull out all those pretty ribbons you’ve saved. Use those ribbons to tie around regular water glasses filled with some fresh-cut flowers or herbs–whatever you’ve got.
- Take baskets, wooden bowls or ceramic bowls and fill them with found objects–natural or manmade. Acorns, pine cones, glass balls, skeins of yarn, rocks, fresh fruit, etc.
- Fill a large vase with some pruned branches and decorate them with a simple string of white lights.
- Bring outdoor potted plants inside, or round up potted plants from around the house to create a garden-type setting for an indoor party.
- Skip the party favors if possible. If you’re hosting a party (i.e. providing the place, food, drink and entertainment), party favors are over the top.
- If you are set on party favors, make it something small, edible and generally universally liked. Dont take a chance on whimsical or bland favors that could just end up in the garbage. It’s a sad fact that most favors just aren’t that useful or appreciated.
Twinkling lights make for great decoration, but here’s what you should know about your different options:
- A string of 100 incandescent C9 lights (the ones that are around 2 inches long) uses 700 watts of energy per hour. A string of 100 small incandescent lights (the tubular one inch kind) will use about 50 watts per hour. And a string of 100 energy efficient LED (light emitting diode) lights uses only 4 to 5 watts per hour. LEDs are the clear winner! LED lights also last 50 to 100 times longer than incandscent lights, so you’ll probably never have to replace a bulb.
LED lights are 3 to 10 times more expensive than traditional incandescent types, but you will save money in energy costs and on replacement bulbs, so they will pay for themselves after just a few seasons, depending on how many lgihts you typically decorate with.
- The very popular icicle lights may be the worst energy users because they use so many more lights per linear foot that standard strings.
- Candelabra-style lights that go on your interior window sills are very tasteful and energy efficient because a typical house will use only 6-10 of these lights to fill all the windows on the front of their house. Each C7-type bulb (typically used in these lights) uses 5 watts. So if you have six windows on the front of your house and use one candelabra per window that’s a total of 30 watts per hour.
- Besides using the right products, try to hold off putting your lights up until ten days before Christmas and take them down within 10 days after. And make sure they are shut off by 11 pm or so each night.
- A real tree from a local tree farm is a good choice if that tree was grown sustainably. To find a tree that was raised near you, see Christams Trees resources in the right margin. Once you’ve identified tree farms near you, use the growers website, or call them, to find out more about how their trees are raised, and where you can buy one.
- Artificial trees are made from plastic making them a bad choice–unless you can find a used one. When purchasing a used artificial tree, you are keeping a whole lot of plastic out of the landfill.
- Live trees are not practical for most parts of the country, because transplanting a tree outside in January is risky in cold climates. For those that want a tree on their property, and can transplant it safely, it’s an excellent choice. However the tree can only remain indoors for a short period (5 ot 7 days) so those wanting to enjoy a decorated tree for a week or more will not be happy with the restrictions.
- A slow growing tree that can survive in a container for up to 4 years could be an option. These trees will need to be planted in very large containers, however, making them difficult to move around.
- The best wrapping is no wrapping at all. This works especially well with gifts in unmarked boxes and for odd-shaped or large gifts that are better hidden under a scarf or behind a piece of furniture.
- Dig into your stash of saved paper shopping bags. Many of them will be pretty enough to reuse as gift bags. If it’s a plain brown bag, dress it up with a reclaimed bow, card or bold lettering.
- Any flat piece of paper can be reused for wrapping a gift if it is the correct size. This inlcudes magazine pages, newspaper, butcher paper and wall paper samples. Layer different papers to add interest. For example, wrap an entire gift with reclaimed butcher paper, then cut a wide strip from a magazine that will reach around the center and add a band of interest to the wrapping. Finish the whole thing with a piece of natural rafia tied around the center.
- Have a white elephant gift exchange where everyone brings just one or two second hand gifts to a gift exchange. The exchange is carried out in a way that prolongs the experience and creates lots of fun, so you can really get quite a lot out of it.
- Draw names within your family, so everyone is buying just one gift, and require that everyone make a Christmas list. If you don’t, chances are you’re going to buy something for someone else, or receive a gift, that is neither needed or wanted. Most people will exchange a gift they receive and don’t like, but this requires driving around, and lots of people won’t exchange a gift they don’t like or need for fear of insulting the giver, so the purchase was just a waste. If you’re going to partake in consumerism, make it useful by finding out what people need ahead of time.
- Edible gifts are very practical because everyone needs to eat, right? Consumable gifts–and by this I mean edible or drinkable–don’t have the same stigma as material, non-consumable gifts that often just take up space. If you don’t know what someone likes, purchase a gift card from a local organic market so the recipient can pick out just what they want.
- Presents don’t have to come from a store per say. If you really want to go all out for somebody special, you can make a big gesture without consuming lots of resources to do it. Presents that don’t come with lots of direct and indirect environmental consequences include theatre tickets, music lessons, a dinner certificate, an I.O.U for a class to learn something the recipient has always been interested in, etc. Think outside the box. What gifts don’t require manufacturing, packaging and shipping?
- Instead of buying things that are brand new from conventional retailers, shop at a reuse store. From antiques shops to pawn shops to consignment stores, reuse stores can offer great discounts on gently-used merchandise. You can also search for things at craigslist.org if it’s available in your area.
- Choose permanent serving ware when entertaining less than 20 people. If you need to, borrow a second place setting of dishes and flatware from a friend. Mixing two, complementary colors of tableware is not only okay it can dramatically improve the look of your table when you alternate colors within a place setting or from one place setting to the next.
- If the majority of your get-togethers are casual and need to be family-friendly, invest in a set of nonbreakable dishes. The most economical would be a set purchased from a reuse store. The set you’re able to put together may be mismatched, but I wouldn’t suggest anything else! Mixing bold colors and different patterns will make for unique and fun place settings. If a set of matching dishes is more your speed, consider buying reusable Preserve brand plates, cups and cutlery made from recycled plastic. (See Resources in right margin.)
- For those times when there doesn’t seem to be any way around using disposables, choose better disposables: tree-free, renewable and biodegradable serving ware made from natural and plant-based materials are better for the earth.
- If opting for paper, choose a brand that is chlorine-free and is made from a high percentage of recycled content.