new traditions

Christmas is a big business. Advertisers want to draw you in and promote it as a gift-giving bonanza. Let’s create new traditions instead based on reducing our waste and carbon footprint while spending quality time with family and friends. 

Replace the ritual

Despite the waste and inefficiency of traditional holiday gifts, it's also about the ritual. Replace gift-giving with some of the new traditions below. 

However if you must give something, make it $0 gifts. Ask friends and family to do something good for the planet and their community. If your parents still insist on gift-giving, ask for the gift of their participation in Veganuary or Meatless Mondays. Instead of physical gifts for Secret Santa at work, make a donation to a non-profit fighting climate change in the person's name. Ask folks to give blood or donate non-perishable items to their local food bank instead of buying you stuff you don't need.  

You can use Wish-list websites that are normally for physical gifts. Add your $0 items and share with your friends and family. Here's mine:

white elephant gift giving

This is a fun game that involves gift giving without any purchases. Everyone brings a wrapped, unmarked gift, but it has to be something from your home that you already own. It can be just about anything you can package  – old books, DVDs, clothes, cat toys, tools, pictures – anything! You take turns either picking a gift from the table, or stealing someone else’s opened gift, and then they pick again. My grandfather loved tricking us with big, fancy boxes, just to find an old spatula or galoshes inside. My mom got something I was trying to regift that she had given to me. My brother got someone’s old wig. I once re-gifted a watch I got from a bank promotion which was a big hit and stolen numerous times!

It’s not really about the gifts, it’s about the fun and memories made. For more information on how to set up the game see


Food waste is a big problem both at Christmas and year-round. Help lighten the load of responsibility for food and leftovers by turning your celebration into a potluck in which each person or family brings something homemade to share in reusable containers.

Donate to a nonprofit fighting climate change

Billions of dollars are wasted during the holidays on gifts people don’t want. Imagine if that money was given to nonprofits working to save the planet instead? Make a donation on behalf of a loved one with organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, Project Drawdown,, Sunrise Movement – just to name a few. Do your own research and make a donation to an organization that is making a difference in the fight against climate change. 

write a group play, song, or story

Assign younger kids the task of performing a play, musical, or song! It’s fun and adorable. It’s not just for kids though. Have your musically-inclined family members bring instruments and song books for a sing-a-long.

In college my broke roommates and I wrote a holiday story. We each wrote 4 lines at a time, but passed along the sheet with only the last line showing. The next person picked up the story from there. I don’t remember the other gifts I got from them over the years, but I remember the hilarity and good times of writing that story.

movie marathon

Each year pick a different theme and each person contributes their choice for the movie playlist. Or it could be a TV show like The Simpsons, Friends, or 30 Rock. You can turn it into a game where you get points (or you have to drink, for the adults) when your favorite characters utter a certain word or phrase. D’oh! 

give your time as a gift

Many exhausted parents would much rather get an offer for a free night of babysitting than just about anything you could buy them. Do your grandparents really need a new book or movie, or would help planting their spring garden be more appreciated? Offer to give your time and talent rather than giving them something they could easily buy for themselves. 

Decorate a potted plant or ladder

While there are debates about the pros and cons of real vs fake trees, both have large carbon footprints. If you already have ornaments and lights, decorate something you already have, or buy a plant that will live on after the holidays.  

be creative

You do you! Come up with traditions that work for your family.

Our family likes the British TV show 'Taskmaster', where comedians do silly tasks and basically play parlor games for points. Last year for Thanksgiving we played our own home version of some of those games and tasks, such as "Come up with the best idea. You have 3 minutes. Your time starts now".