A more sustainable holiday

Get ideas for right-sizing Christmas ― and enjoying the real spirit of giving

Allison Arieff

Holidays make you think about community, explains Perry. “After you get past the ‘I can’t shop’ phase, you move into the ‘I don’t have to shop’ phase. So during the holidays, I actually feel a sense of relief. I don’t come out of the holidays with credit-card debt, nor do I see people at their worst because they’re scrambling for the last ‘It’ toy on the shelf. You can make the holiday what you want it to be.”

Environmentalist Sheherazade Goldsmith shares many of the concerns of Perry and his fellow Compacters, though she hasn’t sworn off consumption altogether. In her new book, A Greener Christmas, Goldsmith advocates a simpler way to celebrate. “I love Christmas,” she writes, “or at least I love the ritual of it. [But] somehow this day that should be full of creativity, goodwill, and thoughtfulness has lost its way and has ended up as a symbol of our throwaway society.”

Goldsmith’s strategy for a sustainable holiday is very much of the DIY variety. Her book features more than 300 pages of projects and recipes for everything from a dried-leaf wreath to cookie placecards.

Implicit on every page is the value of time: by making a centerpiece, gift tag, or pot of soup, you’re using that time in a far more meaningful way than you would scrambling for parking or Power Rangers.

It’s safe to say that the leaf wreath I plan to make with my 3-year-old won’t be as lovely as the one in Goldsmith’s book. And it’s not likely that the Compact will become mainstream anytime soon―it’s probably unreasonable to expect that most of us will be able to refrain from buying at least one shiny new gift for our kids, or expect not to succumb to the siren call of a new party dress. And we shouldn’t feel guilty about that.

But it seems easy enough to remember to recycle our trees; to use more efficient LED Christmas lights; to shop for decorations at a thrift store or make them with our kids; to ask adult relatives to each pick the name of another adult and give a gift to that family member only; or to implement something like the Hundred Dollar Holiday, a program initiated by environmentalist Bill McKibben and members of his Methodist church, which asks friends and family to limit holiday spending to $100.

As McKibben explains in his book Deep Economy: “When we started it, we were thinking as pious environmentalists. But the reason the campaign worked so well was because so many people were desperate for permission to celebrate Christmas in a new way that better fit what we actually need out of the holidays.”

To me, that feels very sustainable indeed.

INFO: Check out TheCompact to learn more. Visit heifer.org and

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