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The Costs of Holiday Cheer

Just as the clock hits midnight on Thanksgiving, families begin scrabbling for Christmas decorations. Thoughts of turkeys are abandoned and ones of colorful lights and pines trees are born.

If you’re a parent, you’re roped into decorating as soon as you’ve swallowed your last forkful of turkey and mashed potatoes. That night, and the days that follow, are a whirlwind of pine needles, plastic ornaments, children squabbling, dogs barking, and lights so bright you can barely see a foot in front of you.g In a matter of days your home is transformed into a blinding spectacle of green, red, and white.

Although that may be a slight exaggeration, many families in the US take Christmas incredibly seriously, and for good reason. The holiday season is a time of joy and celebration when families come together to celebrate. Unfortunately, the environmental issues that arise during the holiday season are often overlooked.


Christmas Trees

Whether you’re the classic mom who decorates her Christmas tree with every ornament her kids have ever made her or the perfectionist with bins of color coded ornaments, all Americans enjoy the art of Christmas tree decorating.

But, do you ever consider where your Christmas tree and its decorations come from? Most don’t. With so many different types of trees available, most people opt for the one that looks and fits their home best, raising the concerns of environmentalists worldwide.


The mindset of most Americans is usually something along the lines of, “It’s just one little tree, what harm could it cause?” When millions of Americans think this way, the impact accumulates. 25–30 million live Christmas trees are sold annually.

Well, why not just plant more trees? It’s nearly impossible to replant trees at the rate we are cutting them down, especially if you consider the thousands of acres of trees cut down for agricultural purposes. Without trees to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere will continue to soar and contribute to climate change. On top of this, Christmas tree transport companies have their own emissions to account for.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, I own an artificial tree! It’s much safer for the environment.” When compared to live trees, they are, but artificial trees are typically made from non-biodegradable materials like PVC. Even if you use the same tree every year, someday it will end up in a landfill. The non-biodegradable materials they’re made out of can take centuries to decompose, further contributing to our worsening pollution problem.

However, there are a couple of eco-friendly alternatives to consider. If you’re a fan of live Christmas trees, you can plant a tree in your yard to compensate for the tree chopped down. You can consider purchasing a live, potted tree that can be planted after the holidays. If you’re unsure about which ones can be planted, look for ones with root balls intact.

Choosing a locally-sourced, sustainably-grown tree from businesses that support responsible forestry practices can also mitigate the harm caused by cutting down trees for Christmas. Locally-sourced trees often don’t need to be transported over long distances which greatly reduces the carbon footprint of the average holiday shopper.


You can’t have a Christmas tree without decorations! Almost everyone who celebrates Christmas decorates their Christmas tree with ornaments, usually made of non-biodegradable materials such as plastics and metals that take a long time to decompose. Most inexpensive ornaments tend to be cheaply made and break easily, especially in the sticky grasp of an overexcited toddler. These ornaments are then thrown out and either end up sitting in landfills or in the belly of an animal.

Additionally, many families choose to purchase new ornaments for Christmas each year. In order to meet demand, manufacturing companies step up production during the holidays. The vast majority of these companies use nonrenewable resources to produce holiday decorations, further depleting our dwindling supply of these resources. Instead of purchasing new ornaments each year, pick one kind that you really love and reuse them each year.

Unique ornaments made of wood, dried fruits, pinecones, and natural fibers have grown in popularity over the past few years due to their natural, woodsy qualities. Try purchasing some of these ornaments made from biodegradable materials to add a touch of warmth to your home and make your Christmas tree stand out, all while helping the environment. Also, there are plenty of DIY Christmas ornaments you can make by reusing household items. This is both eco-friendly and a fun family bonding activity!

The Dangers of Gift-Giving

“Christmas is the spirit of giving.”

We’re all familiar with this phrase and have probably heard it from a friend of family member at some point in our life. When people think of Christmas, most envision sitting in front of the fireplace opening gifts with family. It’s the spirit of Christmas — a tradition that everyone’s familiar with.

Wrapping Paper

As fun as gift exchanges are, the thin sheets of decorated paper wrapped around your beloved gifts are more of a danger than you may think. Everyone uses wrapping paper, just as everyone throws out wrapping paper immediately after unwrapping their gifts.

Wrapping paper, just like regular paper, is produced from trees. Over 30 million trees are cut down to be shaped into wrapping paper each year. Our environment suffers an awful lot from deforestation as it is. The fact that so many trees are wasted on producing wrapping paper, which is immediately discarded after using, is frightening.

Yes, wrapping paper has become a vital part of Christmas traditions worldwide, but you can make the choice to look for alternative, eco-friendly ways to wrap your gifts this holiday season.

Using gift bags instead of wrapping paper is a great way to start because they can easily be reused for another gift if they’re kept in good condition. If you can’t bear to part with the Christmas morning sounds of wrapping paper ripping, consider purchasing recyclable wrapping paper instead from Amazon or your local Walmart.

Children’s Toys

This may be shocking to hear, but the most popular Christmas gifts, plastic toys and electronics among them, have the worst effects on our environment. Mass-produced plastic toys typically come with excessive amounts of packaging which contributes to plastic pollution. Although electronics seem like good gifts, when disposed, they release harmful chemicals into the environment which can impair plant growth and therefore ecosystem health.

A great way to prevent this is to consider gifting experiences over physical objects. The recipient of the gift will almost always appreciate it more if it’s personal and something close to their heart. Thus, this practice helps you connect more with loved ones all while limiting the build-up of excessive amounts of waste.

Food Waste

Most major holidays involve some sort of large meal shared with family. Personally, this is my favorite part of the holiday season. Sometimes, 2–3 days are needed to prepare for the big meal. The vast majority of Americans end up preparing too much food for their holiday meals and much of it is left untouched.

Planning meals wisely can help minimize food waste. Take into account how many people will be eating before purchasing ingredients and produce for your meal. Donate leftover food from holiday meals to homeless shelters or people in need. Compost organic waste in order to reuse nutrients from the food to grow more food!


Everyone has that one house on their street that looks like Clark Griswold’s home from Christmas Vacation, a home wrapped in so many lights you can barely see the color of the walls. Although holiday lights are a huge part of decorating, they consume a substantial amount of energy. Fossil fuels are the main source of energy used when producing electricity. Large amounts of carbon dioxide are emitted when these fossil fuels are burned, contributing to global warming.

Here are a few ideas to consider when setting up your Christmas lights:

  • Purchase energy-efficient lights or solar-powered lights

  • Use automatic timers to turn your outdoor lights off during the day

  • Use projector lights instead of traditional string lights since they typically use less energy

Don’t forget — you can always go for a more natural look and use garlands and wreaths to decorate your home instead of lights. Pinecones and spruce needles always make a good centerpiece for a table!



In the frenzy of holiday festivities, it’s easy to overlook the impacts our decisions have on the environment. From Christmas trees to gift-giving to decorative lights, our holiday traditions leave their mark on Earth. But, there’s still hope for us if we make small changes in our normal holiday routine. Embracing eco-friendly alternatives for trees and decorations, opting for sustainable gifts, minimizing food waste, and choosing energy-efficient lighting are among many choices we can make to help our environment thrive in the long run.

If you liked this blog, check out our Medium profile for more. Stay updated and active by following the Environmental Defense Initiative on Medium and all of our social media platforms!

Author: Maggie Yang

Editor: Emma Mazzotta


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