The Grumpy Green Approach to Holidays

 I no longer celebrate Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, or St. Patrick’s Day. Christmas is on the wane, and Easter (except for the bag of Cadbury mini eggs given to me that I ate guiltily, thinking about child labor) is on the chopping block this year. I haven’t deliberately cut out all these major American holidays. I’ve just lost interest. Opting out of a lot of mainstream American values has meant opting out of many of the holidays they inspired. Consider that:

  • I am not Christian
  • I am not sociable
  • I don’t partake in conspicuous consumption
  • I refuse to spend time with people I don’t like
  • I don’t eat animals
  • I don’t drink
  • I don’t have or want kids
That leaves, what, Groundhog’s Day and Blind Cat Appreciation Day? Factor in my naturally unexuberant personality, and grouchpuss turns out to be an unexpectedly low impact lifestyle.

I wonder how many people celebrate holidays that they don’t really enjoy or find much meaning in simply because they’re expected to. It’s a ritual to spend two hours swearing at your tangled Christmas lights. You hate the smell of eggs, but you dye them anyway for Easter. You force yourself to spend Thanksgiving with the evangelical cousins who make no attempt to conceal their belief that you are a witch. (True story.) You eat too much, buy too much stuff, stress too much, only to find that you get absolutely zero out of these occasions.

Not only that, but holiday traditions, especially the newish ones, are extraordinarily wasteful. I’ve been reading all week on how to ‘green’ your Easter, from the basket to the grass, eggs, chocolate, and basket fillers. My conclusion: it’s a lot of work to turn a holiday centered around consumption into one that’s centered around [somewhat] sustainable consumption. Is it worth it? If your kids really love this holiday, or if you find it personally meaningful and need the fake grass to keep it that way, OK. But wasteful holiday traditions that you don’t even enjoy strike me as being completely pointless, especially from an environmental perspective.

Celebration (or commemoration) doesn’t require a lot of accoutrements. Get the people you love together and enjoy your time with them. Done. No plastic streamers necessary.

Or you could stay at home and play with the cat, if you’re not the celebratory sort. The point is this: tradition shouldn’t bully us into being wasteful. Or doing things we don’t want, or wanting things we don’t actually want. Making more conscious choices about how we consume and why is ultimately a big part of the lower impact equation.

Do you celebrate traditional holidays? Are they worth an attempt to ‘green’ them up, or would you be just as happy to opt out of some of them?

23 responses to this post.

  1. Amen to that! What especially bugs me is the holiday created by and for the Hallmark corporation. Seriously, does anybody really enjoy getting those little pieces of familial guilt in the mail anyhow?


    • Hi EcoCatLady,
      I’m still supportive of the old fashioned letter or the handmade card, but I consider Hallmark-type greeting cards to be a waste of money (and other resources). Thankfully, my family has always been too frugal to buy cards at any occasion other than birthdays!


  2. Jennifer,

    It all boils down to conscious choices, doesn’t it? I’m glad you always underline that point. I don’t celebrate most traditional holidays or, if I do, I attempt to do so in a modest way. Some holidays have important messages though and so I feel it’s important to look beyond all the necessary fluff. After all, Easter is not about eggs.


    • Hi Sandra,
      Yes, you’re absolutely right — for some people, Easter really is the most important and meaningful holiday all year because it celebrates the backbone of their whole religion. But many of the meanings behind our holidays have gotten buried, so they’ve become hollowed out and increasingly commercialized rituals. My best friend and I celebrate the winter and summer solstices; we make dinner, linger over dessert, exchange small presents, and play with cats. We rather like having an alternative to the mainstream holidays.


  3. Posted by Emily on 04/23/2011 at 15:58

    I think holidays used to be a fun event, back when folks lived on a farm in rural areas or in a small town where not much was going on. Back in a time before television, internet, and cars for driving places to do fun things, people had to invent fun things to do. Plus, folks were poor, so they used what was on hand as part of the holiday. Easter must have been fun back in the day when kids used natural dyes to color real chicken and duck eggs. Mom and dad would hide the eggs out in the yard, then the kids got to eat hard-boiled eggs as a treat. Eggs probably really were a treat because laying hens produce less in the winter when its cold and food is scarce, then get laying again in the Spring when the temps are warmer and the bugs come out.

    Same for Halloween. Now folks buy pumpkins, candy, and pre-fab costumes, but it wasn’t always like that. Country folk put their pumpkins, squashes, gourds, and cornstalks on display because they actually grew those vegetables to eat and were proud of them. Also, winter squashes need to sit outside to “cure” before putting away in storage for the winter. Apple season is in October, so apples and apple cider were seasonal treats. Kids and adults would get dressed up in old, crazy clothes and have a goofy costume party. Hell, what else are you going to do on the farm?

    Like you Jennifer, I hate the holidays. I used to hate them because of the consumerism aspect, but now I don’t usually participate because of the disconnect of what the holidays and traditions originally were. The best Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter I’ve ever had were actually as an adult, when I shared these days with by BF’s sister’s family. She lives on an organic farm in rural Maine. They have small budget and actually celebrate holidays the traditional, old-fashioned way. At her farm, celebrations are humble, low-impact, and also seem more meaningful.

    I don’t think you have to live on a farm or be poor to reconnect to the meaningful traditions behind the holidays.


    • Hi Emily,
      I remember reading about Laura Ingalls’s Christmas — a penny, a little candy, and an orange in a stocking were a wonderfully exciting treat. I’m not sure where things went wrong, or when we started buying bigger presents and getting less joy out of them. It’s almost like our modern holidays have lost their innocence, or the spirit behind them. I’m really not a fan of the way everything has become about consumption.

      I think I’d also enjoy holidays on a rural farm — even though I wouldn’t necessarily believe in the causes they were celebrating, there’s something infinitely satisfying about doing things yourself, taking pride in them, and enjoying simplicity for what it is.


  4. “Making more conscious choices about how we consume and why is ultimately a big part of the lower impact equation.”
    I’m not religious, and I don’t celebrate holidays in a traditional way; I like Christmas, but more as a celebration of the Winter Solstice – same for Easter (Spring) and Halloween. My celebrations are very simple, with just a few decorations and very few gifts. This Easter, for example, I simply bought flowers and dotted them around the house.
    I like what these holidays signify in terms of cycles of nature, so similar to the cycles of life.
    I guess it’s much easier to celebrate this way because my husband and I live abroad – and choose not to visit our families during holidays. A couple of years ago we visited for Christmas, and it was awful – all the food you had to eat, and the gifts…plus travelling was a nightmare, with airports so crowded…never again!
    Have a lovely day with your husband and kitty 🙂


    • Hi Cristina,
      I also love the holidays as a celebration of the seasons — the cozy darkness of winter’s solstice, the hopeful bulb flowers of spring, the decadent color of autumn. I think our holidays used to be much more closely aligned with nature than they are now, and that’s a shame. There’s plenty to celebrate and wonder at without having to hit a single mall.

      Not having to spend holidays with family definitely has its benefits!


  5. Posted by Helen on 04/24/2011 at 23:24

    I wish that I could convince my family and friends of this very point! I come from a Catholic family so we still do the traditional Easter and Christmas celebrations. This Easter I really did have second thoughts about all those chocolate eggs though. For one I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, two I follow a diet that’s low in refined carbs and plan to keep it that way, and three it is unneccesary over-consumption.

    I have found that family and other social occasions are the hardest times for me to stay green. I’d love to hear how green folk get around this? What’s the best way to say ‘no thanks’ to people who don’t really get why you’re being green in the first place?


    • Hi Helen,
      That’s a good question, and one that I hope other people will be able to answer better than I can. (I tend to flatly refuse to do things I don’t want to do, but I don’t recommend it as a strategy.) The things that might work will likely involve more effort on your part — you can organize and put together Easter egg baskets that don’t involve plastic, for example, or you can do more of the cooking at a holiday to ensure that there’s something healthy that you can eat. I do think it’s important to take a stand at some point and make it clear that you’ve made some changes that you would like them to respect. I’ll think a bit more on this and see if I can come up with anything more helpful.


  6. I know that I would opt out even more than I do now without kids, so it’s all about compromise for us.

    We don’t celebrate valentines day, because that’s up to me and hubby.
    We don’t celebrate halloween much to my DD’s sugar-lusting dismay except by honouring our dead relatives by candlelight.
    We celebrate yule instead of Christmas and Ostara in stead of Easter.

    That’s it for us and everything is very low key involving some kind of ‘ritual’ with thanks to Mother nature.

    I would like to do away with plastic crap presents, but with our 10 year old that’s pretty impossible at the moment. All we can do is teach by example – Hubby and I give each other gifts if there is something we really want or need but we’ve been known not to. For us it’s about creating memories, not landfill.


    • Hi Mrs. Green,
      Compromise is inevitable. It sounds like you’re doing a fine job of opting out of the waste associated with traditional holidays. I have to admit that I still enjoy Halloween. My friend and I have such a good time carving pumpkins — we’ve actually gotten pretty good over the years! We roast the seeds and sometimes make the rest of the pumpkin into soup (or, at worst, compost it). We rather like the pagan roots of the holiday, as with Yule.

      “For us it’s about creating memories, not landfill.” Well said!


  7. For years I “did” holidays because it was expected of me … and I hated it. It was stressful, expensive and wasteful. We no longer live near any of our family so … that pretty much eliminated the expectations. While I don’t particularly believe in any holidays, I do appreciate the opportunity to do something fun so … we (just the two of us) find new and unusual ways to “celebrate”. Yesterday, hubby planned an ‘egg’ hunt … riddles were left for me which guided me to small treasurers throughout our home. The “treasurers” were all things that were already here in the house but the idea that he took the time to please me with this bit of fun … well, that’s what celebrating a holiday is all about (in my opinion).


    • Hi Small Footprints,
      Your egg hunt does sound like fun. 🙂 Kevin and I went out for a long walk in the woods yesterday with my wildflower book and just enjoyed spending time outdoors away from the crush of Easter celebrations. We saw our first snake in the open space where I’ve been walking for almost ten years now, found some brilliant red columbines, and enjoyed the wide open sky and green hills. Celebrations don’t have to be big, conventional, or wasteful to be enjoyable.

      It’s sad that a lot of our lives are spent doing things that we don’t especially enjoy just because they’re expected of us. I sometimes wonder if my lack of sociability has given me more freedom to reject and question social norms instead of trying to fit into them.


  8. It really is all about choice-how you choose to celebrate whatever it is that you celebrate. I try to celebrate life and try to take a moment each day to be grateful for what I have. When it comes to the holidays it’s all about tradition in our family. The tradition is usually centered around a lot of food and family. Not a lot of plastic required. I love holidays since they give me a great excuse to visit my family (they live far away) a few times a year.


    • Hi Lori,
      Absolutely — I know some people genuinely enjoy their holiday traditions and love seeing their family; I just don’t happen to share that pleasure, and I suspect I’m not alone. I completely agree that resources are worth using when they bring you true and lasting happiness (or at least I keep telling myself this when I think about how much energy the kiln uses!).


  9. I admit there are a few posts with the “greening your events” label on my blog. It’s my compromise: I know people are going to continue celebrating things out out of habit, expectation, and sheer momentum, so on occasion I attempt to share tips on making the events less wasteful.

    I’d like to opt out of these traditions because I get a lot of enjoyment seeing a small number of family members at random times of year, when there is no pressure to conform to any particular set of behaviours. Just show up, bring something, eat food, make merry, enjoy each others’ company. It’s so much easier when it’s not a holiday.


    • Hi Andrea,
      Yeah, I’m not expecting the grouchpuss approach will appeal to everyone. 🙂 And I do think that even thinking about ‘greening’ how you celebrate is an important step to reducing and maybe even rethinking altogether, eventually. Sometime I just wish it didn’t take so long for us to realize what we’re doing and why. (I’m thinking specifically about my love affair with gift wrap and perfectly wrapped presents. Sigh.)

      I can see why not having holiday traditions could make seeing family a lot less stressful and scripted. Then again, I think my relatives would think my new cat even more evil (it’s the all-black dilated pupils) than my last and be even more convinced that I am a witch. Those people I’d really rather not see at all, under any circumstances, even if we happen to share some DNA.


  10. I greened up Easter this year – hand made chocolates from the Farmer’s market, and one used toy figurine each from Value Village. My daughter also had a 3rd birthday this weekend, and despite having over 20 people over (that is stress!) we did not use a single paper napkin, and only one gift came in wrap (my family KNOWS not to send a gift in wrap). So it was a very low garbage birthday, relatively.

    Low key, surrounded by your favourite people, that is best.


    • Hi Sherry,
      That sounds like quite an accomplishment! I’m always impressed by your gung-ho thoroughness when it comes to going green. Happy belated birthday to your daughter, too. Modified to include cats, your last sentence could describe my whole attitude towards life. 🙂


  11. Hi, I jumped over from Sandra’s blog after I saw your comment there. I can relate to this post! When my kids were growing up, I really went all out for Christmas. Our house was lit up like a fire hazard. Decorations from my own childhood graced every available surface. And it was fun. But in the last several years, as the kids have grown up and their delight has waned, all of that celebrating has become a chore rather than a pleasure.

    So last Christmas I told the kids that we would have whatever decorations they put up themselves. Guess what–we had no decorations. They were a little let down, and I guess I was, too, but not enough to do anything about it. So all was well. And I was much more relaxed and much less grumpy.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog.



    • Hi Galen,
      Welcome! I’m hopping over to check out your blog now. It’s interesting to find intersections between blogs that focus on very different things — in some ways, I’m starting to find that green, minimalism, consciousness, and even frugality all have common ground.

      I like your new approach to Christmas and your realization that celebrating that way had become a chore. It’s definitely good to be flexible and re-evaluate as things come up. Maybe someday I’ll find myself opting in to things I currently opt out of.


  12. LOL! This cracked me up. Especially, “grouchpuss turns out to be an unexpectedly low impact lifestyle.”

    I’m not one for commercial holidays. I do love Thanksgiving, because it’s an excuse to spend all day cooking delicious food (not the traditional kind usually, but still delicious), and an evening giving thanks for all the wonderful things we have in our lives.

    Christmas really sticks in my craw. It’s become this disgusting, commercialized Consumption Day. Like you can’t possibly love someone unless you buy them a new watch for Christmas. Ugh. And we teach kids from a young age that buying STUFF is fun, and a worthwhile family activity. I do participate to a limited extent for the sake of my family. One year I packaged up some dried herbs from my garden and sent them to family and friends. Most years I just send cards, with a note saying I donated money to charity on their behalf.

    Other than that, I say “no thank you” to the holiday-industrial complex.


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