REdefine your holiday celebrations

It’s that time of year again. The stockings are hung with care, the menorah is lit, and there is a sense of umoja (unity) among us. The holiday season allows us to reflect on the year, spend time with loved ones, indulge in nostalgia, share in laughter and joy, and offer our thanks to those we love.

But you may have noticed, as I have, that each year Americans from all cultures, religions and walks of life are departing further from the initial intentions of the holiday season, while creating an abundance of waste. Annual trash from gift-wrap and shopping bags totals 4 million tons and during the jolliest of seasons, U.S. household waste increases by more than 25 percent (from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day). By now, I hope you’re asking yourself: what can I do to celebrate with my loved ones while giving back to the planet that gives us so much?

Start with your decorations

No matter the holiday your family celebrates, there are ways to create that holiday look without breaking the bank (or the planet)! You can have a family decorating gathering to create handmade decorations from repurposed or recycled materials. A few weeks ago the students and staff in the UH Office of Sustainability had a team building event and made snowflakes from salvaged flyers, ornaments from recycled toilet paper rolls, and more!

snowflakes2      ornament2

Many of us who celebrate Christmas have heard the debate about real versus artificial trees.

So should you go with a fake tree that only needs to be purchased once and has a longer life, or should you visit the local tree farm and pick a real Christmas tree?

According to the Nature Conservancy, real trees are the winner! Not only do you get the added benefits of picking a tree with your family and the fragrant smell that fills your home, but mother nature will thank you. Real trees sequester carbon while the production of fake trees emits CO2, and let’s be honest, the artificial tree will someday wind up in a landfill further releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

booktree      bottletree

Or you can forget the real vs. fake tree debate and really be a maverick. Start a new tree tradition by making your own from items around your house.

If a RE-tree is too far-fetched for you, consider where your tree ends up after the holiday festivities are over. Real trees can be recycled through local city programs or used to rebuild sand dunes.

Give the gift of time

Many of us take pride in selecting the perfect gift for those we cherish the most. These days it seems to be more about getting the best deals and buying the most stuff possible. However, if you’re like me, you’d rather receive a gift where the only thing that was spent was time. Consider “DIYing” your gifts this holiday season, and show your loved ones how much you really care.

Not convinced about the switch to handmade or upcycled gifts? Well, you can start small by using salvaged paper to wrap presents and recycling wrapping paper that is ripped to shreds after the opening madness settles down. Collect all of the bags, paper, bows and ribbons that are still in one piece and save them to be reused next year!salad

Watch your waist

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the food! Who doesn’t love sweet potatoes, pies, cranberries and rolls? The traditions of a holiday feast don’t have to change. You can shake it up a bit by cooking a feast centered on tasting new things rather than cooking too much, overeating, and wasting the leftovers. Every year I bring a new heathy dish for my family to try, and they welcome the change!

You can also reduce your holiday footprint by purchasing local food or growing your own. Visit community farmers markets as a family and establish a new holiday tradition.

Ring in the New Year with volunteerism

Rather than volunteering during the holiday season, challenge yourself and your family to volunteer a few times during the year as your New Year’s resolution. The holiday season is a great time to give back, but many times organizations have an influx of volunteers. Not sure where to start? Visit, enter your interests and location to start giving back to your community!

Learn more about greening your holiday celebrations on the Nature Conservancy’s blog, and REthink your holidays!

– Sarah Kelly


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