and Hannukah are, among other things, about deepening our connections to family, friends, and faith—but sometimes it can seem like the main focus of the season is shopping, stress, and stuff! Here we offer some ideas to cultivate appreciation this season and celebrate in ways that are more sustainable for both you and the planet.
There are a lot of ideas here, but please don't feel overwhelmed. The best approach might be to add one or two new practices each year, and grow into a more sustainable holiday season over time. We wish you much joy this season!
If you have suggestions for other ways to celebrate sustainably or resources to share, please e-mail us to let us know.
Holidays at Home
- Host a holiday meal that focuses on sustainability using locally-grown seasonal produce, organic foods, and less meat.
- Consider realistically the amount of food you will need to joyfully and simply celebrate. Reduce!
- Start a compost pile for vegetable and fruit scraps. Recycle!
- Share with others in your community who are in need by giving to a local food bank. Many people are in need right now.
- Simple, thoughtful gifts from the heart are often the most meaningful gifts we can give to friends and family. Consider giving gifts of your time or talent—babysitting or petsitting; promises of experiences together such as cooking or gardening; or gift certificates to museums, the zoo or the theater.
- When buying gifts, consider buying local or fair-trade products when possible. Also, look for products that are made from durable or recycled materials, have minimal packaging, and are energy-efficient.
- For those friends and family members who already have enough stuff, make a gift donation to a favorite charity. There are lots of great organizations and causes to support, including Texas Interfaith Power and Light!
- When wrapping gifts, remember the three R’s: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. Reduce packaging and wrapping paper when possible. Re-use gift bags and wrap gifts with newsprint, then recycle the wrapping paper from gifts you receive and save those gift bags for next year.
- Choose fresh wreaths and pesticide-free trees. Rosemary, thyme and sage are all evergreen, wonderfully fragrant and can be used to season recipes all year long. Other fragrant herbs include basil, chamomile, lavender and mint. And small, living evergreen trees can be planted in your yard later for year-round beauty. (You could also grow your own greenery!)
- Remember to recycle your Christmas tree.
- Decorate with edibles you can enjoy later. Bowls of nuts or fruits, colorful squash, pomegranates, whole pineapples and more can create a festive look that’s later useful – and healthful – as well.
- Consider cutting back on your lighting, and showing holiday spirit in other ways.
- If you do use lighting, begin the switch to energy efficient LED lights. You can save up to 90% on your energy costs that way.
- Start thinking about changes to landscaping you can make in the new year—more local, drought-resistant plants and grasses, and creating a water source for wildlife in your yard to help them get through the drought, etc.
Celebrating with Children
Include children in your simplified holiday preparations, in everything from homemade decorations to homemade foods and gifts.
Give children gifts of time instead of things: time together cooking, gardening, doing art projects, going to parks and museums.
As a family, brainstorm holiday commitments to be more sustainable in the coming year. Some ideas include: using refillable water bottles rather than plastic water bottles, using cloth napkins and kitchen towels rather than paper napkins and paper towels, and pouring extra water from cups onto indoor and outdoor plants instead of pouring it down the drain.
Holidays in the Congregation
A lot of the same ideas from home can apply in your congregation: using local, seasonal foods; being mindful of waste; re-using decorations, etc. There’s a way we like to think about sustainability work in congregations, that might be helpful—and that is to think about SWIMming. SWIM is a holistic approach that stands for Stewardship, Worship, Instruction and Mission. Let’s take those one by one:
- Anything that improves energy-efficiency falls in this category: reducing lighting or switching to LED lighting, for example.
- Consider gifts to a special congregational fund to do some kind of energy-efficiency project not funded in the operating budget. Your green team could collect donations for rainwater collection system, energy-efficiency upgrades to lighting, or weatherization of the building.
- Integrate themes of caring for creation into worship services. Themes can be included in sermons, but are not limited to that… Think about the whole worship experience, including the space and decorations, spoken readings and prayers, and themes of the holidays and how they relate to environmental stewardship.
- Gratitude is a good theme all year round, and especially during this season. Consider ways to highlight gratitude for the gifts of creation during worship.
- Explore ways to incorporate environmental themes and practices in your congregation's educational programs, for both children and adults.
- "The Story of Stuff" is a great video for use in religious education classes to focus on themes of consumerism.
- Introduce alternative gift-giving options for people in congregations.
- Some congregations do Heifer Project fundraisers around the holidays, or offer options for tree-planting as gifts, etc.
- Teach the congregation about fair-trade coffee and chocolate, and make those products available to individuals as well for purchase and use in the congregation.
- Are there ways congregation could do environmentally-themed mission work in the new year? Weatherizing low-income homes? Working with other congregations or local communities to create urban farms and community gardens?
Holidays in the Larger World:
- Think about connections you & your congregation has to the larger community in which you live.
- Can you or your congregation encourage the larger community to make eco-friendly changes in holiday celebrations?
This is the area where we think about systemic change. As important as it is to do what we can in our homes and our congregations to be energy-efficient, etc., the environmental challenges that we face require changes at the systemic, policy level also.
- Think about ways to engage people in your congregation about these issues in the larger world.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.
- Educate, educate, educate.
- Be involved.
- We can help.
Resources for Home and Congregation:
Advent & Christmas Resources
- "Advent Lightbulb Study Guide," from Texas Interfaith Power & Light
- “Ideas for Reclaiming Advent and Christmas,” from the Presbyterian Church USA
- "Prince Philip's Environmental Sermon," from Alliance of Religions and Conservation
- "One for Each Night: A Hannukah Study Guide for a Brighter Future," from Texas Interfaith Power & Light
- “,” from COEJL ( Energy Program and Gift GuideCoalition on the Environment and Jewish Life)