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3 Simple Ideas For Greening Family Holiday Traditions

Written by editor Nicole Bennett.

I know many of us are baby-stepping our way to a different lifestyle than one we grew up with, and one of the challenges we face is adapting our family traditions to our current philosophies. Sometimes it’s as simple as substituting a homemade addition to a familiar recipe, but other areas can be hard to adapt.

This time of year, it’s important to remember that every bit helps, and also to not be too hard on yourself. I like to think of being in a constant state of transition. Life on earth is never going to be perfect and there will always be more we can do to lessen our impact on the world. So even if we start small, we’ll be making a difference.

We’ve talked about handmade gift ideas and Christmas tree options this year so far. Now let’s look at a few more ways we can work to green our holiday traditions, a little bit at a time.

1. Consume less.

A few years ago, I read a great book called Hundred Dollar Holiday, by Bill McKibben. It’s basically about rediscovering the joy of Christmas. Less presents, less wrapping waste and less money spent are all ways to consume less and instead, focus more on the true meaning of the holiday.

With less time spent shopping and stressing out on gifts, more time will be left to spending with people. Time is essentially one of our culture’s most valuable commodities these days; it seems we never have enough of it. So why not make that more of a focus during the most special time of year?

Photo by eren/thisvintagechica

2. Update old traditions.

Sometimes we don’t have to eliminate traditions, but simply update them. For example, we can gradually trade out our old Christmas lights for more energy-efficient LED lights. Or instead of fancy paper napkins, we can make or invest in holiday-themed cloth napkins.

I like how McKibben, in Hundred Dollar Holiday, points out that this change can be gradual. It does not have to happen overnight, especially if your kids are older and accustomed to a very commercial holiday. Making small changes each year will allow older kids to get used to new twists on family traditions.

3. Start New Traditions.

As wonderful as they are, traditions can eventually become more of a burden than a joy if we’re not careful. Recently on her blog, Amanda Soule said, “A little thing I’m learning about traditions is that – just as important as instilling and nurturing them – is recongizing when it’s time to let them go, or at least for them to change.”

One of the exciting things about being a family is being able to pick and choose which traditions get carried on from the previous generation. Even within our own generation, we can try things out and then later decide to move on if we want. Traditions should bring joy, not feel constraining or sway us from our philosophies and goals.

Think about the values that are most important to your family and then brainstorm together ways to incorporate those into new traditions, whether it’s celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree, giving to others with an Operation Christmas Child box, getting creative with all recycled wrapping materials, or taking a healthy holiday meal to a family in need.

This post is brought to you by Hazelnut Kids, a wonderful online spot to discover natural toys for your children’s natural curiosity. Hazelnut Kids carries natural, earth-friendly, wooden, and organic cotton toys for babies, toddlers, and big kids, and is a perfect place to begin for new gift-giving traditions.

What are some ways you’ve “greened” your family holiday traditions? Where have you updated, and where have you started new ones?

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Jennifer

    This year, my husband and I decided to seriously pare down on the gifts for our son – just one quality gift and a stocking – and it’s made this season much less stressful. Not having to worry about filling up the bottom of the Christmas tree has made the holiday less about the stuff, and more about the opportunity to spend time together with family, enjoying each other!

  2. Sofia's Ideas

    What a fantastic reminder that it doesn’t have to happen all at once. I think some people become so overwhelmed by the task at hand – there are so many changes too be made!

    This is our first truly intentional holiday season. This isnt the first year that we thought about it beforehand and asked ourselves the above questions. BUT it is the first year that we are actually acting on what we come up with. It has been met with some resistance from our circle, but what matters most is that we do things in a way that are in alignment with our family’s values.

    And it is making all the difference! 🙂

  3. Simple Homeschool ~ Jamie

    I love so many of Bill McKibben’s books and the Christmas one was filled with great reminders.

  4. Alicia

    I love the focus on less *stuff* for Christmas.

    Last year we were snowed in and didn’t make it to Grandma and Grandpa’s, where the holiday feast and the presents were. I knew on Christmas Eve that we weren’t going to get out, so overnight I gathered up little treasures I had socked away, printed out whimsical cardstock toys from some neat sites and stuffed stockings even with oranges like the old days. The kids were so thrilled to find any presents at all in their stockings in the morning and we had a quiet, snow-filled Christmas at home playing games and making treats. My kids all said it was their favorite Christmas yet. 🙂

    • Nicole

      Love it! It’s so cool that your kids loved it so much, too. We always have oranges in the bottom of our stockings. 🙂

  5. Kathleen

    We are wrapping all our presents in fabric bags this year. I found some very nice Christmas-themed linens at our thrift store, on sale due to the proximity to Christmas, which I’m sewing into the bags. I am looking forward to using these bags in the future and having them become part of our holiday traditions.

    I’ve also minimized the number of outside presents (outside of our nuclear family) that we give by only buying gifts for my boys’ cousins and the grandparents. When I made the request that the adults stop giving each other gifts, I found the response to be a sense of relief.

    Finally, I started thinking about and getting ready for Christmas in November. At least for me and my personality, this has been the biggest stress reliever. While I’ve still had some items on my to-do list the last couple weeks, it has been so much less overwhelming and I’ve found so much more joy in the holiday season by spreading things out over more time.

    • Nicole

      Great ideas, Kathleen! I want to make some fabric bags for next year.

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