With all the shiny wrapping paper, presents, lights, and huge quantities of "stuff" in general, it’s easy to forget that celebrating the holidays doesn’t have to equal big-time spending and consuming. And despite the religious beginnings of some of our favorite winter holidays, there is a natural connection for several with the world around us, particularly the winter solstice. For centuries, countries around the world have incorporated the natural world into their holiday festivities as a way to celebrate their surroundings and the spirit of the season. Read on for eco-friendly and natural holiday traditions from around the world and be inspired to incorporate them into your own family's traditions.
Warm countries like Brazil have it easy: decorations often include flowers picked from the garden. Likewise, Australians decorate with Christmas Bushes, which are native plants with little red-flowered leaves. For the rest of us, we can find locally or sustainably sourced holly bushes or make displays from twigs. After opening presents, get the kids outside for a nature walk to pick up fallen local foliage to turn into a centerpiece. Other ideas: paint with leaves on butcher paper for an easy holiday tablecloth or decorate pinecones with some eco-friendly paint and a dash of glitter!
Christmas trees themselves may have had their origins in ancient or pagan rituals, but the modern tradition can be traced to Germany several hundreds of years ago. Choosing a tree from a local, sustainable tree farm is a great option, and you can even decorate it with apples, nuts, and dates as people once did, instead of ornaments!
The craziness of the holidays and the endless parade of parties and school concerts can make everyone feel a little out of sorts. Make sure to set aside holiday time at home to unplug. Set the mood one evening by using candles instead of electricity. In Sweden, the lead up to the Christmas holiday includes St.Lucia Day, which is celebrated with a young girl wearing a crown of candles. We can’t vouch for the safety of that age-old tradition, but your family can turn off the tv and holiday specials in favor of some good old-fashioned games or even a holiday-themed version of charades or Pictionary (or simply relax in front of the fire).
No need to be a Scrooge over the holidays and ban presents completely. Choosing thoughtful, eco-friendly toys is a great way to show your kids how to consume wisely and responsibly. Older kids especially can begin to understand how supporting eco-conscious companies can have a ripple effect. Another tradition that allows presents yet cuts down on consumption is having each family member pick the name of one other person to buy a special present for.
Gifts are a part of Kwanzaa but the holiday stresses educational, practical, or handmade presents which are thoughtful and which support a number of the ideals of the holiday including learning and respect for heritage. Books are a typical example, and one present that can be enjoyed over and over again and passed to future generations. Another idea for gifts? Skip out on the “things” and gift an experience, such as a cultural event, or cultivate your kids’ love of science and nature with a membership to a science museum or farm sanctuary, for example.
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