Photo by James Wheeler on Unsplash


The holiday season is filled with many traditions that are globally diverse, yet overlook the importance of sustainable living. In the United States, as well as many other largely developed countries, the holidays have become heavily commercialized and encourage vast amounts of excessive buying. These purchases come on top of using high energy consuming decorative lights, serving large and wasteful meals, and packaging presents for the gift giving season. Although each of these traditions are typically unsustainable in practice, they offer smarter alternatives that don’t require major change.

Since the holidays are considered to be the season of giving, excessive shopping is considered to be the norm during this time of year. However, this negatively impacts the environment as it encourages wasteful behavior. In order to reduce one’s gift giving and shopping impact on the environment, it is encouraged to instead purchase fun activities as gifts instead. Whether it be concert tickets to see their favorite artist or tickets to see their favorite soccer team play, this zero-waste form of gift giving provides a more meaningful experience for the receiver. Other alternatives to this also include: re-gifting, if a previously received gift wasn’t suitable, or purchasing at local stores and markets which help to support the local community and prevent long distance commercial imports. Another crucial element with gift buying is that when purchasing electronics, it is crucial that they are energy efficient models. This not only reduces one’s carbon footprint, but it also ensures a longer lifespan than models that are not considered to be energy efficient.

Not only can the gifts have a major environmental impact, but also the type of wrapping on gifts negatively impacts the surrounding environment. This is because most wrappings are made out of paper products, which is extremely wasteful for only being used once just to be discarded then shortly after. In order to prevent this wasteful cycle of paper, there are many ways in which one can continue to wrap their presents without being so environmentally careless. Instead of buying new wrapping paper each year for the festive season, one can instead begin recycling their packaging; such as, ribbons, bows, boxes and gift bags. Not only will the packagings’ lifespan increase, but it will also ensure that one is saving money by not purchasing new packaging each year. Another wasteless method is to instead use old discarded paper; such as, newspapers, magazines, brown paper, or even maps. This allows for a smarter reuse of products that typically would have been scrapped and provides a more vintage look to one’s gift.

The holiday season is known for being filled with bright lights that cover city streets as well as major suburban areas, especially in the United States. It has been estimated that energy consumed in the US increases 50% more than average during the holiday season. While the European Union does not increase quite so much, only about 30%, there are still ways in which major fluctuations of energy use can be prevented. For instance, it is crucial to switch all incandescent light strands to LED lights. LEDs have a 10 times longer lifespan than regular lights and also reduces one’s energy consumption by about 70%. While switching decorative light bulbs can significantly reduce one’s energy consumption, it is also crucial to ensure that the lights aren’t kept on during odd hours of the day. It can sometimes be difficult to keep track of whether the lights are on and off. This is why it is suggested that the lights are kept on a timer system so they are not wasting energy, but still shining during the peak hours for passer byers.

It is a worldy tradition to have large dinners during the holiday season in order to feed large groups consisting of family and friends. A lot of these dishes that are served come from far distances, they are overly packaged, and eventually go to waste if overestimated. There are many different methods that can be implemented in order to ensure that food consumption is sustainable during the holidays. It is crucial that food products are purchased at food markets that are dedicated to local produce to prevent long distances traveled for their importation. It is also helpful to buy items in bulk sizes to reduce excessive packaging that comes with individual purchases. If the meal just so happens to be overestimated, it can be extremely beneficial to donate the surplus of food to a local food bank. This guarantees that the food is not put to waste, and also provides meals to those without.

Holiday traditions are globally diverse in many ways; however, they all serve a special purpose when celebrating the holiday itself. Because most of these traditions have carried on the same over the decades, it is extremely unlikely that will eventually no longer continue. However, due to the major unsustainable aspects of them, it is critical to implement changes that focus on reducing their environmental impacts. This will ensure that these holidays can continue as timeless traditions without creating devastating burdens to the surrounding environment.

Elizabeth Taylor



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