The Virtuous Consumer Guide to A Greener Christmukkah
Based on the book The Virtuous Consumer:
Your Essential Shopping Guide to a Better, Kinder, Healthier World
By Leslie Garrett



I’m a sucker for the holidays. I love the music, the excitement, a constant supply of home-baked cookies. I love how my social life gets a jump-start and how pretty my normally shabby living room furniture looks in the twinkly glow of our LED-lit tree. But, like so many others, I’m increasingly dismayed at how our holidays have been hijacked by product marketers. It’s time to put the hope back in the holidays — hope for a better future and hope for a healthier planet. Herewith, the Virtuous Consumer guide to a more meaningful celebration…

The Décor
The tree: If you opt for a live tree, go local and organic. LocalHarvest ( should be able to point you in a greener direction. Local farms also often offer wreaths and other decorations. Be sure to recycle your tree. Most cities offer some service — either a drop-off or curbside pickup. There are even rent-a-tree options: check out If you choose to go with a faux fir, rest easy. Sure they’re made of a petroleum product, probably in some far-away place like China. However, they are also a symbol of reuse. My excuse, a valid one at that, is that I have a dog who relieves himself on any live tree — favoring evergreens.

The decorations: If you’ve got kids, you’ve got all you need for a decorated home. Homemade paper chains, play dough stars on gold string, pine cones decorated with glitter glue — they all add up to homespun charm. Light up with eco-friendly LEDs. Made with light-emitting diodes, these tiny lights are 90 percent more efficient than traditional lights. What’s more, they release little heat and they last at least a hundred thousand hours when used indoors.

The Gifts
When buying gifts for any occasion, think outside the mall. Seems daunting at first, but you’ll quickly get into the swing of it. Fun, creative, and personal:
Build your own: My friend Judy Ann, a talented author of many craft books, likes to put together — not surprisingly — craft kits for the people on her list. She can include fabric, buttons, knitting needles, a crochet hook, whatever else is needed, along with instructions on how to proceed. Other ideas for “build-your-own” kits include art kits, tool kits, and gardening kits. Mix in some of your own favorites — a friend once received his father’s beloved hammer along with some new tools when he was just a young teen. He still treasures the hammer his father’s hands held so capably.

Gift + story: Instead of new jewelry, pass along a favorite piece to your teen — along with a story of when you got it, where you wore it, even a photograph of you wearing it. Following the death of my mother, I sorted through her jewelry box and designated certain pieces to those who loved her. I presented the gifts, along with information I had about the piece — who gave it to her, why it was special to her and how she would love to know it was still being cherished.

Peace: How awesomely appropriate it is that you can really offer the gift of peace. Peace Bonds from Nonviolent Peaceforce, an organization endorsed by the Dalai Lama himself, puts volunteers on the ground in areas of conflict to act as unofficial peacekeepers. They might monitor an election, offer rumor control, protect refugees as they attempt to rebuild their lives, or protect children in areas where they’re frequently recruited into armies. Find out more at

Entertainment: My friend Bill, a radio personality and town crier (really!) lived in a commune in his younger years and recalls how, rather than gifts, people offered their talent at celebrations: singing, dancing, playing an instrument, reciting a poem or story.

Shop online: Not only are you more likely to find options for eco-friendly or purpose-driven gifts online, but the practice of shopping online is eco-friendly, according to the non-profit Center for Energy and Climate Solutions. On their site ( they point out, “Shipping 10 pounds of packages by overnight air — the most energy-intensive delivery mode — used 40 percent less fuel than driving roundtrip to the mall. Ground shipping by truck uses just one-tenth the energy of driving yourself.” And that doesn’t include your own emotional and mental energy required to tackle the mall when it seems like the entire free world is circling the parking lot looking for a good spot.

Consider these online green e-tailers:

EcoMall (
Green Shopping
Gaiam (
Global Exchange
Online Fair-Trade Store

Give gifts that give back: There are the old standbys — UNICEF and World Vision, for example — that allow you to purchase gifts supporting the charities’ unique and important work in the world.

Here are some lesser-known organizations that you might want to explore:

Heifer International
Changing the Present

The Wrapping
You no doubt already reuse gift bags. You may even wrap the occasional gift in the Saturday cartoons or your child’s artwork. But if you have many gifts to wrap, you might want to visit the local newspaper office. The staff will often give away or sell for a nominal fee the “ends” of newsprint rolls (they’re also great to have on hand for kids’ coloring projects). Kids can stamp the paper and color it, or you can simply add a small branch of evergreen and a pine cone, tied together with a festive red ribbon.

Or reuse scarves passed down from aunts and grannies. What about those scraps of fabric left over from sewing projects (or, if you’re like me, left over from sewing projects that never really got sewn)? Give a second life to tourist maps from long-over trips.

Diehards can opt to buy Sellotape on eBay — it is a European brand of tape that uses a more eco-friendly manufacturing process and is made from biodegradable plant cellulose.
A novel way to wrap gifts —and give an additional gift of entertainment — is to use Wrapsacks. Along with fun, whimsical designs, Wrapsacks feature a code that allows you to register your Wrapsack, then offers subsequent gift givers and receivers to file updates of where the Wrapsack has gone, what gifts has been given in it, and more. Find out more at

However you choose to celebrate the holidays, ensure that it is meaningful to you — perhaps you would like to implement a new tradition — a Christmas hike to feed the birds, stargazing with your eye out for the North Star; perhaps you’d like to eschew gifts altogether in favor of a big family potluck dinner or helping out at a shelter. Give some thought to your holidays. Prepare for resistance — old habits die hard. But you’ll ultimately create a celebration that matters.

Leslie Garrett is an award-winning journalist and author of “The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World” (and one our kids will thank us for!) – New World Library, 2007. Visit

Copyright. Reprinted with permission of New World Library,


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