As the days get darker, winter festivals and holidays from around the world are celebrated by the many diverse peoples who live in British Columbia. In addition to Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years, families from around the world will gather to mark the winter solstice with time-honoured cultural traditions and customs. Many East Asian communities celebrate the solstice’s arrival with Dongzhi and Iranian communities with Yaldā Night. In Punjabi culture, Lohri marks the end of the winter solstice and the start of a new harvest. And early in 2023, the Lunar New Year arrives.
Whatever you and yours celebrate this winter, it is a wonderful time to take care of the ones we love, as well as the planet.
Here are eco-friendly tips to help you reduce your environmental footprint this holiday season:
When you feast, consider ways to reduce food waste and, if possible, buy from local farms.
During the winter months, you can find lots of local produce such as apples, beets, garlic, onions, shallots, potatoes, rutabagas, winter squash and turnips. Plan out your meals so that you buy only what you need and store food wisely. Serve smaller portions so that guests can enjoy a second helping that suits them and find creative ways to use leftovers as an ingredient in another meal.
Donate your time or money to an environmental cause.
Get into the holiday spirit by volunteering! Organizations and charities all over the country need your time and/or money to make a difference.
Consider making your own wrapping paper, or go without!
Most mass-produced wrapping paper you find in stores is not recyclable because of the shiny coatings, foils and colours, and therefore ends up in landfill. Instead, here’s a great chance to get creative! Wrap presents with old maps, the comics section of a newspaper or children’s artwork. Or use a scarf, attractive dish towel, bandana or some other useful cloth item that is a gift in and of itself.
Repurpose your holiday decorations.
After the holidays, be sure to pack up your decorations and save them for next year. If you can’t repurpose, ensure that you are recycling what you can.
Use environmentally sustainable candles.
Traditional paraffin candles come from petroleum, which is not sustainable and can contain a lot of chemicals. Beeswax, soy, and coconut wax provide more natural and clean burning alternatives.
Consider alternatives to bonfires or fireworks.
Whether gathering around a bonfire for Lohri or lighting fireworks for New Years Eve, as lovely as they are, they do create a lot of toxins in our air. In B.C., fireworks at home are actually illegal outside of Oct 24 – Nov 1. To continue the fun, consider twirling glow sticks or blowing bubbles instead. For bonfires, local air-quality bylaws will guide whether you can have one at home. If you do have your own, make sure you are not burning something that contains toxic chemicals. For a more sustainable holiday, consider attending public celebrations.
Give green gifts.
Shop local and consider giving eco-friendly or, better yet, homemade or experience gifts. Here are some ideas:
- Gift certificates to health food stores or organic restaurants
- Books on green living
- Transit passes
- Reusable coffee container or water bottle
- Energy saving items for the home
- Baked goods and other yummy food items
- Paintings or photographs
- Pottery and ceramics
- Handmade ornaments
- Homemade essential oils or beauty products
Buy energy-saving LED holiday lights and consider limiting lighting.
These small light-emitting diodes use 80 per cent less energy and last ten times longer than incandescent bulbs, plus they’re cool to the touch. Look for the Energy Star seal for ones with the highest energy efficiency rating. Turn indoor lights on only when you’re around to enjoy them. Turn outside decorations off before you go to bed at night, or put them on a timer that will do it for you.
Spread joy while sharing why you care
When you give your green gifts or send those e-cards, tell your loved ones why. If you are active on social media, share when you’ve wrapped those gifts in your own wrapping paper, to raise awareness of how easy and fun it is to have a green celebration.
Thank you to Amy Lubik, policy analyst, Population and Public Health Program, Fraser Health for her support in writing this article.