The Crankypants Guide to a Green Holiday

This is my idea of a Christmas tree. Photo credit: Humboldthead

Around this time of year, my Twitter feed explodes with things like, “Eco-friendly tree decorations!” and “Greenest stocking stuffers!” and “How to make eco-friendly tinsel out of Capri-Sun wrappers!” It’s all well-intentioned (or mostly; some of it is still trying to sell you stuff you don’t need and will never want), but at the same time, I have to wonder: how green can you really make the highest-impact, most wasteful holiday of the year by replacing things you don’t need with slightly lower impact versions of things you don’t need? 


Uh. Sorry. I think my Grinch is showing. But tongue firmly in cheek, I came up with a list of revised suggestions for a [more] eco-responsible[-ish] holiday. You know, for grouchpuss greenies. Extreme? Nah…

  • Be poor if you can possibly help it. (And if you can’t, I have to think that you’re not trying hard enough.) Poverty is the single best way to cut down on decorations, gift-giving, traveling, and impulsive holiday buys, like the bouncy inflatable Santa my neighbors down the street have. I’m finding that it also forces me to be more creative. Instead of buying stuff this year, I’m reusing, doing without, or coming up with creative workarounds and unusual presents (dress altering services, anyone?). Also, I hope you really, really like my pottery.
  • Stop traveling to see people you don’t like. Sharing DNA is not a good reason to spend your time or your carbon dioxide on people you can’t stand. I don’t recommend this as a networking strategy, but it works amazingly well if you want some extra time and peace for the holidays. And in the same vein:
  • Stop buying presents for people you don’t like. With regards to the people we don’t know well or like much, yet still feel obliged toward…can’t we just come to a non-gift agreement already? A plate of cookies and a card, maybe? A handshake to imply goodwill without the transfer of material goods?
  • Put off inessentials until the last minute. If you’ve waited till now to get up your Christmas lights, you might as well not do it at all because it’s so much effort for a two week show. I’ve had finals up until yesterday, so I’ve been putting off everything, with the end result that I am not likely to bake cookies, write cards, or make a mix CD this year. It’s okay. Every couple years is fine.
  • Try a non-meat-based holiday dinner. Taste-wise, Tofurky is somewhere between a rubber tire and a salt lick. But if you’re already feeling glutted (Thanksgiving was only a month ago) or guilty about the impact of your holiday ham, there are lots of tasty, meatless, or low-meat alternative holiday dinners. How about pumpkin and sage pot pies? A mushroom and tarragon pate? I have my eye on a couple of veggie holiday recipes to try this year.
  • Draw a line between doing things out of tradition and doing things that are meaningful to you. As the daughter of an angry ex-Catholic schoolgirl mother and a vaguely Confucian father, I can’t say that my family ever went all out for Christmas. But we did do the tree, the presents, the holiday ham. As a tree lover, I can’t bear the thought of cutting down a live tree just for decoration. As a tree hugger, I can’t see myself getting a fake tree. And as a vegetarian, I’m not about to go for the Christmas ham. So that leaves presents (but not many of them, because I’m poor), which I genuinely enjoy taking the time to choose or make, wrap, and give. Kevin and I also like to go for a drive in the redwoods on Christmas day, which isn’t very green, but has become a tradition that we’re willing to swap out others for.

My bottom line is the same as it usually is. Cut out the stuff that doesn’t actively, actually make you happy. Enjoy the stuff that does. And don’t let social expectations bully you into doing otherwise. Happy non-denominational winter holiday of choice!

I’m off school until the end of January, which is exciting because chemistry gobbled up all my brain bandwidth and left me gibbering about acid-base equilibria and stoichiometry and volumetric flasks. (You know this if you follow me on Twitter.) I have a few posts that I just haven’t had the brain space to write, so I’ll get those up and catch up with your blogs and resume normal functions until the next semester starts. Hope you’ve been well!


33 responses to this post.

  1. Welcome back! good to see you in fine form <> the posts.
    Seriously, I totally get with the “do things that are meaningful to you”. This year we’re trying having only presents that we can enjoy together as a family.


    • Hi CelloMom!

      By ‘fine form’ I assume you mean ‘usual state of cantankerousness.’ 🙂 I think experiences make wonderful presents. My parents are taking themselves on a bus tour of several national parks this Christmas, so we’re not really doing anything, and Kevin and I are going down to Monterey for a few days to enjoy the aquarium and the woods. I see so many people stressing because they feel *obliged* to give presents or decorate or whatever, and the added guilt of trying to do all of that as greenly as possible just seems like it could quickly become overwhelming. Who needs that? I dunno…I believe that we could do so much to reduce our individual impacts by simply only doing things that are meaningful to us.


      • oops I see I the brackets have been interpreted as code. It used to say, “Good to see you in fine form “CRANKing out” the posts. har har.


  2. Great to hear you out from under the chemistry books! Joining you in selective Scroogitude….


    • Yay! Fellow scrooges! 🙂 Reducing my impact is turning out to be an awesome excuse to not do the things I didn’t want to do anyway.


  3. What a great piece! We do way too many things during holidays out of obligation, rather than what truly makes us and our loved ones happy. Growing up, our Christmases were often very tense times due to my mother’s obsession to do “things” to meet her expection of forever maintaining exacting holiday traditions. Even little letdowns created conflict. And I completely agree about the ‘tofurkey’ remark. Dear vegans: stop trying to fashion plant foods after pieces or slices of animal flesh!

    Also, I just saw this on Twitter… what a wonderful idea! —> RT @ForksOverKnives: How to make a Xmas tree out of fruit – no joke! Check out video from @fullyraw.


    • Hi Donn!

      I can imagine how having a perfectionist parent would make holidays difficult. I am obsessive and persnickety in temperament, so it’s just as well I don’t do holidays, weddings, or offspring. We tried a Field Roast this Thanksgiving. It was better than the Tofurkey, but still looked curiously un-food-like as I plopped the flaccid loaf on an oven tray and hoped for the best. I think it’s time to stop looking for holiday meat analogues.

      Cute fruit tree! I’m just going to go out and stand under the redwoods in lieu of having a tree.


  4. Perfect timing with this post. I used to invite a relative out of pity whom I (nor anyone else) enjoyed being with, but finally had enough l last year and will no longer invite that person, it makes looking forward to the holidays much less stressful. I also eliminated gift buying for friends and only buy for my children and their families. Most gifts are things that can be enjoyed as a family or actively engage creativity (like art supplies) the few toys are wooden, not plastic. I would love a day in the redwoods, enjoy.


    • It sounds like the right choice for your peace of mind. I hope you have a wonderful holiday! I can’t imagine a better place to be on Christmas day than in the middle of a redwood forest.


  5. I love your sense of humor and savvy approach to green. It all boils down to doing what you want, not what you think you should and keep the planet in mind at the same time. Christmas has never been a big holiday for me as an adult so the thought of a tree, Christmas lights, or blow-up Santa never come near my mind. I exchange small numbers of gifts.


    • Thank you, Sandra! I often celebrate the solstice (who wouldn’t be happy about longer daylight hours?) with my friends, and we have a lovely evening with good food and a few thoughtfully chosen presents. Traditions are there to be reinterpreted. 🙂


  6. Posted by Andrea on 12/17/2012 at 09:54

    Right on, Jennifer! I think the biggest thing is to avoid seeing people you don’t like. If you don’t see them, you’re travelling less, you’re buying fewer gifts, you’re consuming less food, and you’re feeling a hell of a lot better! I overheard someone say that they “don’t really do anything for Christmas” because it’s just four of them living in one city with all other family members elsewhere, and I thought… isn’t that awesome? Isn’t that perfect? Simple, quiet, straight forward… sounds ideal to me.


    • Hi Andrea!

      Good point…seeing people I don’t like is more likely to make me indulge in chocolate or retail therapy, thereby increasing my impact. 🙂 Christmas has been more or less canceled this year because my parents are going on a trip that leaves Christmas morning and my sister couldn’t come home, so things are even quieter than usual. I think I like it this way.


  7. […] just share my strange sense of humor.   No further introduction, the title of this post is called The Crankypants Guide to a Green Holiday.  […]


  8. Oh I love this!! The funny thing is that most people will say that they’d really like their holiday to be more meaningful and fun but … they feel obligated by family/social pressure. So a whole bunch of people are out there “celebrating” in a less-than-fun way. And what’s worse is that as they get older, they will insist that their children & grandchildren continue that less-than-fun tradition (maybe it’s a “I had to do it so you’re gonna do it” kind of thing). Humans are a weird lot! I’m glad that you are creating your own special holiday traditions … things which don’t tax the environment (too much) and are authentic. Bravo! Scrooge On, My Friend! 🙂


    • Posted by Rosa on 12/28/2012 at 19:24

      our family is held hostage to one family member who “loves Christmas” and demands the whole presents-travel-and-whatever hoohah.

      We got out of it this year and it has been the best Christmas ever (not over yet because there’s no school for a few more days)


  9. LOL! This was really funny. It’s not at all what I expected when I stumbled across your blog, but the slightly sarcastic wit is fun, and reminds me of a good friend of mine who blogs. Thanks for the laughs.


  10. I’m reading this in the middle of a strangely hot Vermont summer. I feel about Christmas much the way you do (am an ex-Catholic schoolgirl myself), and I think we’d all be much happier if we toned it down somewhat. I worried for years about the Christmas tree issue, until I read somewhere that Christmas trees are a renewable resource and they help local farmers (of which there are plenty in Vermont) make some money in winter.


  11. I love the not buying presents for people you don’t like, thats going to save me a fortune on the wife’s present this year…………..


  12. that’s a funny article! thanks for sharing it.
    I appreciated the grren spirit also in the small tiny stuff we do every day. Everythoing should start from there and from inside.


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  15. Posted by Jiles on 07/14/2016 at 18:00

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