Slowing Down the Holidays

pine trees 3

It always happens this time of year. The season that’s supposed to be about giving, sharing and spending time with the people we care about starts to feel like something else entirely. As we chase down gifts and plan menus for parties and gatherings, it’s easy to fall into an unsustainably stressful state of mind.

Buying eco-conscious gifts, shopping locally and making holiday meals with farm-fresh foods can all be elements of a sustainable holiday. But if we spend the next few weeks rushing to “get everything done,” we can easily miss the simple joys of the season. If your holidays never quite measure up to childhood memories, perhaps it’s time to find a more sustainable holiday pace.

Here are a few ways to slow down and smell the pine needles.

1. Drive less. Are you spending every available moment traveling far and wide to find the “right” gifts? If so, you may be getting an unhealthy dose of stress along the way as you dodge increasingly aggressive and seemingly distracted drivers. There’s just something about the holiday season, right? It always brings out the worst driving behavior. Doing more of your holiday shopping close to home – and at off-peak hours if you have that luxury – could reduce your stress level while making last-minute shopping less a chore than a treat.

2. Skip (or at least simplify) the holiday cards. Who was it that decided the holidays were the time to write lengthy letters to 100s of our “closest” friends itemizing the year’s “accomplishments” and showing off our photogenic families? From a green perspective, those cards are simply contributing to the tons of paper waste we produce each holiday season. They also take up a lot of time and give us one more “to do” item that may add little to our enjoyment of the season.

3. Give the gift of time. We all love getting and giving gifts. But what if we harvested the time we saved by limiting holiday cards and material gifts and spent it on family outings, small get-togethers with a few close friends or, for those at a geographic distance, old-fashioned phone conversations?

4. Give to someone you don’t know. It’s very easy to tune out the suffering of people we don’t see every day, particularly once the holiday parties begin. But from those dealing with food insecurity right here in the mostly (but not entirely) prosperous Delaware River Valley to those whose lives have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy, there are many people who need – and will value – the generosity of strangers.

A few places to give:

5. Literally… smell those pine needles. The relatively mild December weather may be a sign of global warming. But it also means we can enjoy a walk in the winter woods without worrying about frost bite. Part of what makes childhood memories of the holidays so palpable is that, as kids, we experienced the seasons with our senses. If you want to feel that way again, consider what Mother Nature has to offer.

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A few places to roam:

How are you finding a sustainable pace this holiday season?