Ah, those warm, joyful — and expensive — December holidays! It’s a time when many people wonder, “Must we empty our pockets to fill our hearts with joy?” Green Action Centre doesn’t think so. Here are ten ways to reduce the ecological footprint of the year-end holiday season while keeping everything merry and bright.

1. Sustainable Gifts.  Why not try a new craft and create hand-made gifts for your family? Or buy gifts that are recycled or reduce waste from packaging? Think about previously enjoyed gifts, ethical gifts, non-material gifts (donations to a charity perhaps?). This year, think about giving something that doesn’t cost the earth. For more ideas, look at out our list of sustainable gift ideas for your family and friends.  We have also thought about earth-friendly festivities and gifts for children.

2. Local Meals. How local is your holiday meal? According to the World Resources Institute, the average meal in North America travels an estimated 2400 km to reach your dinner plate. Why not create a holiday meal with foods that are produced closer to home! Check out local and organic suppliers, or for more ideas, the David Suzuki Foundation has some great ideas for greening your holiday dinner.

3. Stay-cation anyone? If travel is part of your holiday plans, consider vacationing within Manitoba and save both the environmental and financial costs of travelling those extra kilometres. Manitoba is home to amazing cultural and natural resources, including a site nominated for UNESCO World Heritage designation on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. For activity ideas, festival locations or to find the perfect bed and breakfast, check out Travel Manitoba.

4. D-I-Y Gift Wrapping. Did you know that most wrapping paper can’t be recycled in many communities? According to the City of Brandon recycling department, if your wrapping paper is shiny like the front of a telephone book, it contains dyes and glues that will clog up the recycling machinery and can reduce the value of the whole batch of paper. That’s because it is often blended with other materials such as wax, plastic and foil. Consider alternatives for wrapping gifts. Draw on plain paper. Decorate paper bags with seasonal themes and cut up old holiday cards for gift tags! You can also re-use last year’s gift bags. Or use scarves, tea towels or cloth napkins for gift wrap that can be re-used.

Many families send out holiday photos at this time of year.  Consider sending out e-mail versions (Jib-Jab anyone?) to save paper and reduce the amount of toxic chemicals from the photo printing process.

5. Eat your decorations. Yes, you can decorate with natural and edible items. Try pine cones, berries, or branches, and fruit, candy or decorated cookies. Children always love fruit loops — so colourful. If you are purchasing decorations, be sure to buy items that can be used year after year rather than disposable ones.

6. Holiday Lighting. Lights are bright and beautiful, but they also use a lot of energy. If you do decide to have lights, make sure you choose LED lights. They are by far the most efficient type, and will last much longer than the old incandescent ones. They are bright and festive — and there are no bulbs to break or burn out. No need to overdo it — just a string or two will send warm wishes of good cheer into the chill night of a Manitoba winter.

7. Greener Christmas Trees. Is it possible to have a greener tree? Consider decorating a living plant or tree, or creating and decorating a “tree” using recycled and salvaged materials. If you prefer a traditional Christmas tree, buy a local Manitoba farmed tree, have it chipped after you are finished with it, and use the chips as mulch in your yard or garden. Some municipalities will accept trees for chipping. In Winnipeg, check the City’s Let’s Chip In depots for opening dates in January 2014.

For information on local tree farms, see Manitoba Christmas Tree Growers Association.

8. Entertaining. Make people the focus of your holidays. Invite friends and family over for an evening of games, songs and seasonal stories. Purchase or make invitations on recycled paper or, better yet, just e-mail your invitations to save on paper. Choose local food for meals and snacks. For outdoor fun, get your friends together to go walking, skating, skiing or tobogganing.

9. Transportation. A great way to avoid the hassle of traffic and parking while on holiday errands is to walk or take the bus. Walking to school concerts and community events allows you to fit physical activity into your day. It’s also a good opportunity to greet people in the neighbourhood and admire holiday decorations on your street. And since the best way to get to and from a holiday party safely is to have a designated driver, why not carpool to your destination or take transit!

10. S.N.U.B! Disposable shopping bags use up natural resources and energy, and contribute to needless waste. So why not ‘Say No to Unwanted Bags‘ (S.N.U.B.) and bring your own re-usable shopping bags from home!

Warm holiday wishes from Green Action Centre!