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The Virtuous Consumer Guide to a Greener Christmukkah

by Leslie Garrett

I’m a sucker for the holidays. I love the music, the excitement, the constant supply of home-baked cookies. But, like so many others, I’m increasingly dismayed at how our holidays have been hijacked by product marketers. It’s time to put the hope back in the holidays—hope for a better future and hope for a healthier planet.

The Décor

The tree: If you opt for a live tree, go local and organic. LocalHarvest (www.localharvest.org) should be able to point you in a greener direction. Local farms also often offer wreaths and other decorations. Be sure to recycle your tree. Most cities offer some service—either a drop-off or curbside pickup. There are even rent-a-tree options: check out www.livingchristmastrees.org. If you choose to go with a faux fir, rest easy. Sure they’re made of a petroleum product, probably in some far-away place like China. However, they’re also a symbol of reuse.

The decorations: If you’ve got kids, you’ve got all you need for a decorated home. Homemade paper chains, play dough stars on gold string, pine cones decorated with glitter glue—they all add up to homespun charm. Light up with eco-friendly LEDs. Made with light-emitting diodes, these tiny lights are 90 percent more efficient than traditional lights. What’s more, they release little heat and they last at least a hundred thousand hours when used indoors.

The Gifts

When buying gifts for any occasion, think outside the mall. Seems daunting at first, but you’ll quickly get into the swing of it. Fun, creative, and personal:

Build your own: My friend Judy Ann, a talented author of many craft books, likes to put together—not surprisingly—craft kits for the people on her list. She can include fabric, buttons, knitting needles, a crochet hook, whatever else is needed, along with instructions on how to proceed. Other ideas for “build your own” kits include art kits, tool kits, and gardening kits. Mix in some of your own favorites—a friend once received his father’s beloved hammer along with some new tools when he was just a young teen. He still treasures the hammer that his father’s hands held so capably.

Gift + story: Instead of new jewelry, pass along a favorite piece to your teen—along with a story of when you got it, where you wore it, even a photograph of you wearing it. Peace: How awesomely appropriate is it that you can really offer the gift of peace. Peace Bonds from Nonviolent Peaceforce, an organization endorsed by no less than the Dalai Lama himself, puts volunteers on the ground in areas of conflict to act as unofficial peacekeepers. They might monitor an election, offer rumor control, protect refugees as they attempt to rebuild their lives, or protect children in areas where they’re frequently recruited into armies. Find out more at www.buypeacebonds.org.

Entertainment: My friend Bill, a radio personality and town crier (really!) lived in a commune in his younger years and recalls how, rather than gifts, people offered their talent at celebrations: singing, dancing, playing an instrument, reciting a poem or story.

Give gifts that give back: There are the old standbys – UNICEF and World Vision, for example – that allow you to purchase gifts that also support the charities unique and important work in the world. Here are some lesser known organizations that you might want to explore:

Heifer International (www.heifer.org)

Changing the Present: (www.changingthepresent.org)

MissionFish (www.missionfish.org)

The Wrapping

You no doubt already reuse gift bags. You may even wrap the occasional gift in the Saturday cartoons or your child’s artwork. If you have many gifts to wrap, visit the local newspaper office, which will often give away or sell the “ends” of newsprint rolls (they’re also great to have on hand for kids’ coloring projects). Kids can stamp the paper and color it, or you can simply add a small branch of evergreen and a pine cone, tied together with a festive red ribbon.

Reuse scarves passed down from aunts and grannies. Or scraps of fabric left over from sewing projects. Give a second life to tourist maps from long-over trips. Die-hards can opt to buy Sellotape on eBay—it’s a European brand of tape that uses a more eco-friendly manufacturing process and is made from biodegradable plant cellulose. A novel way to wrap your gifts is to use Wrapsacks. Along with fun, whimsical designs, Wrapsacks feature a code that allows you to register your Wrapsack, then offers subsequent gift givers and receivers updates the chance to “track-a-sack” – see where it’s gone and more. Find out more at www.wrapsacks.com.

However you choose to celebrate the holidays, ensure that it’s meaningful to you. Perhaps you’d like to implement a new tradition – a Christmas hike to feed the birds, star-gazing with your eye out for the North Star; perhaps you’d like to eschew gifts altogether in favor of a big family pot-luck dinner or helping out at a shelter. Give some thought to your holidays. Prepare for resistance – old habits die hard. But you’ll ultimately create a celebration that matters.

Based on the book The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide to a Better, Kinder, Healthier World. Copyright Ó 2007 by Leslie Garrett. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com.


LESLIE GARRETT is a national award-winning journalist, author and editor. Her work has appeared in Chatelaine, Today’s Parent and many other national publications. Her syndicated column The Virtuous Consumer runs monthly in City Parent, Big Apple Parent, About Families, and a number of other publications. She also writes The Virtuous Traveler, a syndicated column that appears on petergreenberg.com, the online newsletter of NBC travel editor Peter Greenberg. It was also syndicated in The Globe & Mail and SCENE magazine. Together her columns reach close to two million readers. Leslie is author of a dozen children’s books, including a biography of renowned environmentalist David Suzuki and EarthSmart, a book for early readers on protecting the environment. She resides near Toronto, Ontario, Canada and her website is, http://www.virtuousconsumer.com.

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