Harriet Shugarman is a recognized climate influencer and connector for parents (both mamas and papas) on solutions for the climate crisis. She is an online friend and a Climate Reality colleague; we met in Chicago in 2013 when I attended The Climate Reality Leadership training with Al Gore. In this post, Harriet shares a few tips on how to make our holiday season greener. It was first published in ClimateMama. — Editor
Making your Holiday Season Greener
Christmas and Hannukah are here! I don’t know about you, but I actually feel really excited for the holidays this year. We had some early snow on the East coast, and I am in need of reasons to celebrate—to be in the moment with friends and family and to cherish the quality time that the holidays bring. As Climate Mamas and Papas, there has been too much heartbreak—both personally and collectively.
This fall I lost both my dear father-in-law Jay, and my beloved dog Ivy, who was 14 years young. Coupled with the many climate disasters that have hurt families and friends across the country and around the world, and the urgent reminders for needed action now, I have felt a heaviness this fall and I am ready for some celebrations and happy times.
That being said, holiday panic often sets in for me with my “shopping and to do list” still missing many check marks as is the case most years. I am good at compartmentalizing, and I would advise you to do the same. I know we never forget the urgency that living in a climate emergency brings each and every day. Yet we too must find time to celebrate, to recharge and to share love, kindness and thoughtfulness with one another. Without reminders of what and why we give so much of our time and energy to slow down our changing climate, it would be so much harder to carry on.
Balance is Key – Quality over Quantity
Every year during the holidays, I agonize over where to “draw the line.” As the saying goes, it’s “wonderful to give.” But how best to balance the consumer goods focus, pressure packed, “buy, buy, buy” world which commands us to “shop till we drop,” versus our growing concerns and fears for our future, our planet and ourselves (as we live with climate change) is challenging, to say the least. As my children grow older, and as my “eco-consciousness” pervades our home life, family discussions, and everyday purchases, I feel that the pressure to buy “a lot of stuff” is over, and quality over quantity is recognized as a redeeming virtue.
So, now that I have that off my chest and on the table, I offer up 7 tips to help make your holidays and give giving more sustainable.
General rules on gift giving
1. Try to shop local, support local businesses and buy locally-made products and services.
2. I personally do most of my shopping on line, from the comfort of my office or home—saving on gas and the frustration of going to the mall and all that entails.
3. Wrap thoughtfully! Most of us love things that are wrapped, but remember that the average American throws out 4.5 lbs of garbage a day, most of it in packaging. And this is on an average day, not even during the holidays. Do you need a big box to put your present in? Won’t that box just go straight into the garbage? Can you wrap the gift with something that is reusable or recyclable, a pretty scarf you never wear any more, a piece of fabric, or the Sunday comics?
4. On giving back: give a gift this year to a child impacted by climate change, extreme weather and man-made disasters. Make sure your kids know you are doing this and get them involved. Sadly this year we have had too many disasters, in our country and around the world. This is our reality and something that isn’t going away. With the recent wildfires in California and Hurricane Michael, these disasters are very fresh as we approach the holidays. Life is “not normal” for too many families impacted by these disasters and others that have happened this year, last year and years before; many, many families are still recovering. Check in with your local Community Foundation and house of worship for ways to give back.
Making holiday parties fun
5. When you invite people to your party, it’s nice to send beautiful invitations that reflect the holiday spirit and festivities. At the same time, wouldn’t it be nice if these invitations, or holiday cards could also be thoughtful and simple reminders of ways to take care of our planet by not creating unnecessary waste? At ClimateMama, and personally, I always use online invitations and cards, and our go to is Paperless Post.
6. Instead of using paper plates and plastic cups, if you don’t have enough reusable dishes and glasses for your party, suggest that everyone bring one setting or a few glasses, and mix and match your holiday table for a true family experience. Create a new family tradition this year.
Back to nature
7. For years, our family has been “giving a gift from nature”—something that each family member creates for one other person in the family, “secret Santa” style. Family member assignments are made ahead of time, but not too long ahead of time as the gift is meant to be simple and made to keep. Yet it also must be fashioned in a way that it can go “back to nature” and not into the landfill.
As an extended family we spend the holidays together in a place where the sun shines most days and it is warm outside, so nature abounds. For my friends in snow covered climes, a homemade creation from things found inside, would serve this idea just as well. This gift exchange, which takes place after the more traditional presents are given, brings laughter, tears and real joy to our celebrations as well as stories and memories shared again and again over the years!
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