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How to Have an Earth-Friendly Holiday Season

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Hunger Program is offering advice for people who want to engage in more Earth-friendly holiday celebrations this year. Jessica Maudlin Phelps, Associate for Sustainable Living and Earth Care Concerns for PHP, offered several practical tips during a recent episode of “Join the Movement,” an online program focused on the work of the various Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries. Maudlin Phelps was asked about how to put sustainable holiday practices in place during a time of year when there’s a lot of pressure to spend money on gifts and gadgets that aren’t always needed and to use a lot of disposable products, such as wrapping paper.

Here are some alternatives:


Use decorations that are locally sourced, perhaps something made by a local artisan, or that has come from nature. For example, you could hang strings of popcorn and berries instead of tinsel from a big-box store. Locally sourced pumpkins and corn stalks can be used to create a fall harvest vibe. The same goes for gifts. PHP “has a large list of vendors that offer fair trade gifts,” such as jewelry, bags and wooden craft items. “Seek out Fair Trade stores or vendors so that you know as much of that profit from that item is going back to the producer to help support their families,” Maudlin Phelps said.

Two men wearing masks are passing a moving box from one to the other.
Consider volunteering with friends and family!
Festive Gatherings:

Looking for an alternative to a traditional holiday party? Consider participating in a local volunteer activity, such as a neighborhood cleanup.


When it’s time for cooking and baking, think about where your ingredients come from. Consider turning to local farmers for things like eggs. Also, vanilla, sugar and cocoa powder all can be sourced from Fair Trade outlets or from stores that sell local products.


Ask yourself, “are there gifts that we can give that might be family heirlooms or things that are already in existence that can be repurposed as a gift for someone else?” Maudlin Phelps said.


Consider giving the gift of time. Are there ways you could spend time together instead of buying the shiniest and newest items?

A family is decorating a Christmas Tree. The mother is on the floor putting ornaments on while the father is helping their daughter put the star at the top.
Consider spending time with loved ones instead of a shiny new gift!

Wrapping Paper:

“You can make your own out of spare material that you have lying around,” she said. Try recycling newspapers or covering the present with pieces of wrapping paper left over from last year. “You get a thing that looks like a patchwork quilt a little bit,” Maudlin Phelps said. She also suggested using one of her mom’s techniques: filling very large reusable, cloth stockings. “All of our presents went into those.”

Christmas Trees:

If you decide to go with an artificial one, “just make sure that you are purchasing the best quality item that you can,” with the goal of not having to repurchase one for a few years, Maudlin Phelps said. “If you’re in an area where you can get a real tree and if your allergies or your children or your pet situations allow for that, that’s obviously a little better for the environment, particularly if you are getting your tree from an organization or a farm that is local and then also doing tree replanting so that we’re reforesting what we’re cutting down and using.”

More tips:

The Environmental Protection Agency is another place to get tips. Its list includes setting your table with cloth napkins and reusable plates, glassware and silverware.

This article previously appeared in Presbyterian News Service on November 23, 2021 (

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