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Homemade Holidays
December 2010
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HomemadeHolidaysDreaming of a Green Christmas…

A new movement is afoot to reclaim and refocus the holidays. Part of it stems from a desire to cut back on the wastefulness that comes from accumulating mountains of store-bought gifts and wrappings. Another is the growing desire to generate more meaningful memories during the holidays. One answer is to embrace a do-it-yourself, or DIY, mentality that makes everything—from decorating to tree trimming, cooking and gift giving—personal.

There is no better time to join in activities as a family than Christmastime. Subtract the frenzied consumerism and there is little for a child not to love: being with loved ones in the kitchen, measuring sugar, rolling dough and cutting cookies; happily sitting around a table, pasting, stamping and glittering; decorating a tree that magically transforms with each addition; and the pleasing scents of cookies, candles and cinnamon-dotted wreaths.

Evergreen Centerpieced

Elevating the holiday atmosphere starts with the tree—the centerpiece of holiday celebrations, which too often resembles a department store version these days. Erin Devine of Portland, Oregon, remembers how her parents’ tradition of buying a living Christmas tree from a local nursery made a vivid impression on her as a child.

“My parents would get the tree with the roots still very much alive in the burlap bag of dirt,” recalls Devine, who was raised in Connecticut. “We’d put the tree in a big galvanized tub and just wrap it with a white sheet; then, when Christmas was over, we’d plant the tree somewhere in the four-acre yard.”

That appreciation for the vibrant details of the holidays lives on. Now, this mother of three takes a homemade, family-oriented approach to her young family’s annual celebration. Last year, they all lined recycled glass jars with colored tissue paper as tea lights and pencil holders for adults and made homemade play dough for the kids’ friends. They also baked together and made decorations for the house and tree.

“It’s one thing to teach kids about being responsible adults and good stewards of this planet, but when we spend time together learning how to do it, it’s so much more meaningful,” Devine remarks. “When the kids enjoy learning about something and it involves love, it will become important to them.”

Sparking Inspiration

Those who are not naturally crafty will find lots of resources for creating beautiful and personal Christmas keepsakes online, as well as on bookstore and library shelves. Many publications offer ideas for decorating the branches of your living—or not-so-living—tree, using household objects that would otherwise be discarded.

Yoga teacher and holistic lifestyle expert Anna Getty went so far as to write I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas, a book that’s all about using less, spending less and enjoying family time more. She details a whole new perspective: how to turn recycled chandelier gems into Christmas tree icicles; eggshells and teabags into vintage-style ornaments; and old sweaters into festive wreaths.

Waste Not, Want Not

Such simple pleasures can make a major environmental impact. During the holidays, household waste generally increases by 25 percent—an extra 1 million tons of garbage across the country—according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Holiday craft projects can transform much of this “waste” by making the most of its decorative potential. Shellie Wilson, the founder of Craftbits.com, a site that provides thousands of free, do-it-yourself craft ideas, says she and her mother Rita are craft hoarders. “We never throw anything out that we think can be turned into something wonderful,” comments Wilson. Her favorites include a T-shirt pillow that maintains the shirt’s shape and a no-sew baby overalls purse, using glue in place of thread.

Instructables.com is the kind of user-submitted, DIY, bake it, fix it and tweak it website that invites hours of surfing. Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it has become a massive platform for idea sharing, including a page called “Have a DIY Christmas!” that organizes ideas by category. Options range from origami ball decorations and a homemade book clock to gift boxes and tags made from cereal boxes and junk mail. “With the state of the economy lately, people are looking for more ways to stretch their budgets and repurpose used objects,” remarks Sarah James, editor of Instructables’ Living and Food website sections.

Along with the benefits of minimizing waste, spending less money and reclaiming quality time with loved ones, making our own gifts and decorations is also fun. The process of discovering, attempting and creating can help unlock our inner artist at any age.

Brita Belli is the editor of E – The Environmental Magazine.