Green Holidays: Family Holiday Traditions

Is it possible to both go green and save green during the holidays?  Here are some ideas for a greener holiday based on (mostly frugal) traditions from my own childhood.

We only traveled locally.  On Christmas, we drove to my Grandma's house (about an hour away) and celebrated with other local family.  We did not fly during the holidays.  Car travel is almost always greener than air travel.

Children received a set number of gifts.  The children in my family usually received 5 gifts for Christmas: one from Santa, one from my parents, one from my maternal grandparents, one from my paternal grandparents, and one from a sibling.  Sometimes we would get a big group gift (like Intellivision) from Santa or my parents or the grandparents instead of individual gifts.  Individual gifts were usually modest.  We drew names among the siblings.  As adults, my siblings and I still draw names and only give a gift to (and receive a gift from) one of our siblings.  When I was a kid, we did not exchange gifts with extended family except grandparents.  On my side of the family, this is still the case today.  Only my siblings and I exchange gifts.  There are no gifts between cousins, or between aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews.  I recently read about the idea of having a hundred-dollar Christmas.  I like the idea of setting some kind of limit for gifts to help curb consumption.  You can take a large step in a greener direction simply by buying less.

My grandparents sent money not gifts.  My grandparents gave my mom a lump-sum of money, and my mom selected gifts for each child or a large group gift for the entire family.  This gift-giving strategy ensured that we kids received gifts that we really wanted.  It also saved my maternal grandparents the hassle of shipping gifts.  I appreciate that my parents have continued this tradition, which side-steps the whole dilemma of how to tell your relatives you don't want any more plastic toys or polyester fleece pajamas

We reused our Christmas tree and decorations.   I remember getting out and packing up the same decorations year after year.  My parents are still using the same plastic tree they bought at least 15 years ago (stay tuned for a post on the greenest Christmas tree).

We reused gift wrapBefore gift bags, my family saved wrapping paper, especially if it was a nice large gift.  Then we might get out the scissors to cut the tape.  We reused ribbons and bows too.  I remember wrapping gifts sometimes with the comics from the newspaper too.

We gave homemade gifts to neighbors, teachers and friends.  We always had to help with the ones that went to our teachers.  I remember my mom helping me to make ornaments and bookmarks, among other things.  Eventually, my mom got into the caramel making business, and then the kids helped with the cutting, wrapping, packaging, and delivering (we often walked the gifts to neighbors on our street, even in the bitter cold).

We opened gifts after our family breakfast.  I know this would be considered heretical in some families, but we were not allowed to open gifts as soon as we woke up on Christmas Day.  First, we had to wait for everyone to wake up.  The older children and my parents usually slept in.  Then we had a large and lengthy breakfast including homemade scones and hot chocolate.  And THEN we opened gifts.  If Christmas fell on a Sunday, we didn't open gifts until after church.  When we opened gifts, we each opened one gift at a time, and then we took turns showing the others our gift and telling whom the gift was from before choosing another gift to open.  The traditions I have just described are not exactly green traditions, but they are traditions that help to offset the blatant commercialism of holidays.  I see now that my parents wanted us to focus on faith and family, rather than how much loot we got, and to pay attention to and be grateful for each of the gifts we received. 

For more great ideas on being green and saving green during the holidays, 
visit my Green Holidays page (continually updated).

What are your frugal and green holiday traditions?


  1. Love this series, by the way. Funny how simple and green holiday traditions are so often synonymous!

  2. I love this post. I wish I was in your family!

    Stop on over and visit Free 2 Be Frugal sometime soon!

  3. I am excited about this holiday series. We are having Christmas at home with our own little family for the first time this year (we've always been with extended family) and I'm kind of stressed about how to make it memorable and meaningful. So thanks!


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