Day after Christmas Donation

Word GIVE on Cardboard Letters with Twinkling Lights

Today, on the day after Christmas, making a commitment to volunteer your time or donating to a worthy cause is a fitting way to wrap up your holiday giving.

Nowadays, in the United States, the Christmas holiday season presents us with a dichotomy encompassing the spirit of giving, while promoting excessive spending and overindulging in food and drink.

We Americans fulfill the spirit of giving with gaily-wrapped packages, Christmas cookie swaps, Toys for Tots donations, family and friend get-togethers, and delicious Christmas dinners. Spending time with our family and friends is a gift regardless of whether any presents change hands or not.

On the flip side, signs of excessive spending include going into debt buying gifts, purchasing presents for people who told you they do not need or want anything (they might actually mean it), or buying everything on everyone’s wish lists.

You may have fallen victim to overindulging if you have been nibbling on Christmas candy and cookies nonstop since the beginning of December, embarrassed yourself at the office Christmas party after drinking too many glasses of wine, or ate so much at Christmas dinner you fell asleep on the couch afterward instead of helping with the dishes.

December is also the busiest time at work for many people who are racing to meet year-end sales goals, finishing client projects, or dealing with Christmas shoppers.

These days Christmas is a more low-key event at our house but as a person with a major sweet tooth, I still overindulge during the holidays. If there are sweets anywhere in the house, even secreted away, I know they are there. Yes, I can hear that box of See’s candy calling me from the laundry room where I have ineffectively hidden it.

You see, we all have our holiday season joys and challenges.

Day after Christmas Giving

Today, Monday, December 26, the day after Christmas, some people are trudging off to work, others are recovering from their Christmas festivities, and some people are kicking back and relaxing.

More than a few gift receivers are heading to stores and post offices intent on exchanging or returning gifts. Seasoned day-after-Christmas shoppers are snapping up Christmas decorations, wrapping materials, and tree trimmings at steeply discounted prices, while highly proactive people (or crazy people depending on your view) are beginning next year’s Christmas shopping.

No matter what your plans are for the day, donating or making a commitment to volunteer your time in service of others is a generous way of closing out the holiday season. It is good karma. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Community Parks, Schoolyards, and Gardens

In your neighborhood, there is likely to be at least one park, schoolyard, or community garden where you can lend a hand even if you do not have a green thumb.

Although shoveling snow off walking paths might be restricted to cold climes, tasks like picking up trash, weeding, and turning compost piles, are probably available during most of the year. If you do not want to get your hands dirty, lend your voice by telling friends and neighbors about the park, schoolyard, or garden, spreading the word on social media, or advocating at a school board or city council meeting.

Faith Congregations

Perhaps you would enjoy helping your congregation become more environmentally friendly.

Organized religion comprises the largest social networks on the planet with long traditions of conducting outreach programs, setting and achieving goals, and working in teams. These are all the necessary ingredients for successfully implementing green programs.

Interfaith Power & Light and GreenFaith are both national organizations that help people green their own congregations. To find a local group, type “faith-based environmental organizations” and the name of your city and state in your web browser search window.

Building Projects

For those of you who like building stuff with your hands, try installing solar panels for a nonprofit like GRID Alternatives or participating in building a home with Habitat for Humanity for someone who needs one.

If you are a tech savvy person, offering to build a website for a nonprofit or community group might be just the thing they need. Or, maybe the group could use some assistance setting up social media accounts, which will enable them to get the word out about their organization.

My Day after Christmas Giving

For my day after Christmas giving, I am donating money to One Cool Earth, the nonprofit that grew the two Big Sur Coast redwood tree seedlings I planted in my yard in honor of the Christmas tree in my living room.

Please share your day after Christmas volunteer or donation ideas and actions with other readers.

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Christmas – 10 Green Gifts for You and Planet Earth

Green Christmas Gift Box with Red Ribon and Bow

Living lightly on Earth and keeping it habitable is the best gift we can give the people we love. Try these green Christmas gift ideas or come up with your own.

Christmas is a season for giving, connecting with people, and having fun. These are also important aspects of environmentalism so why not combine them into a green Christmas. A gift can be an actual thing or it can be an action.

Green gifts for you and planet Earth is not an idea restricted to people who celebrate Christmas. Feel free to insert you own holiday wherever the word Christmas appears. You probably already realized this, but just in case, green gifting is perfect for any season or occasion.

Bring Your Own Bottle

If you have not kicked the bottled water habit yet, take this opportunity to do so. Buy yourself and everyone on your Christmas list a reusable water bottle or water filtering pitcher.

Chill with a Child

Select a book with an environmental or nature theme and read it with your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or kids from the neighborhood. The great thing about books is that they are reusable and can be re-gifted indefinitely. If you are not into buying a book, checking out a book at the local library is free and a librarian can help you find just the right book for your kids.

Three of my many favorites are The Lorax, So You Want to Grow a Taco, and Strange Trees: And the Stories Behind Them.

Delightful Dinners

Surely, you know at least one coworker, friend, or family member who would be delighted to receive a home cooked meal she or he can pop in the oven or microwave or just eat after coming home from a hectic day of work, shopping, or volunteering. Give yourself extra credit for providing everything in reusable containers.

Happy Holidays

Say hi, hello, or happy holidays to people hurrying by you in the store parking lot, to the harried looking clerk at the checkout counter, or to the technical service rep just before he or she transfers you to another department instead of fixing your problem.

There is no downside to showing a little kindness.

Labor of Love

Consider giving the gift or your labor. Installing a low-flow showerhead, squirting caulking around drafty window frames, or spreading wood chips in the garden are all things that someone might appreciate you doing.

If you are mechanically inclined or tech savvy, friends or family members struggling to assemble a gift for someone else or trying to set up a social media account will appreciate you coming to the rescue.

Make Mondays Meatless

You may not realize it but eating meat has a substantial negative impact on the environment and of course on the animals that are raised and killed for their meat. Give yourself, your family, and the planet a gift by eating vegetarian meals on Mondays or any other day of the week you choose.

Second Time Around

The most earth-friendly gift you can give someone is something that is not new. Making any product entails using resources, energy, and creating waste. Using things as long as possible reduces the need for making new products or at least it would if we gave more things a second life.

Granted, a computer from 1998 is probably not a good item to give. A set of vintage mixing bowls, a gently worn flannel shirt, or a slightly used board game (with all the pieces) might be just the thing for your green gift recipient.

As appealing as it might be to use this as a time to get rid of your old stuff, think twice and be mindful of why you are giving what to whom.

Smile at Someone

There is nothing more disarming than a smile and smiling lifts your own mood too. Try it on your stressed out boss who is freaking out about year-end sales, or the airline check-in attendant who just told you only center seats are available for your 4-hour flight, or the harried restaurant server who forgot part of your order.

Warm Up

During the winter, it seems like no matter how high you crank the heat the house never warms up to where you can walk around in a t-shirt. So help your loved ones warm up with gifts like scarves, sweaters, fingerless mittens, shawls, and slippers. I am a fan of throws those small blankets that are around 50” x 70” that you can wrap around your shoulders, tuck over your lap, or even cover yourself up with to take a nap.

Extra credit if the warm up item was previously worn or used or if it is made from a sustainable material like wool.

Walk on the Wild Side

Give yourself a gift by taking a break from your crazy schedule to enjoy a walk in the wilderness. If you can visit a state or national park fantastic, however, a neighborhood park, schoolyard, or your own garden will work, too.

Observe and listen. Getting to know the other living beings in nature besides people is important as we are all on this planet together.

“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.” —Dr. Seuss

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Christmas Trees – Buy One, Plant Two

Author watering a newly planted 33-inch tall Big Sur Coast Redwood Tree in her yard (center) with a 2-year-old Cypress Tree in the background (upper right)
Author watering a newly planted 33-inch tall Big Sur Coast Redwood Tree in her yard (center) with a 2-year-old Cypress Tree in the background (upper right)

How can an avowed tree hugger justify cutting down a living tree and displaying it in her living room during the Christmas season? It’s complicated.

Christmas trees pose a dilemma for me—tradition versus the environment.

I love everything about Christmas trees, searching for just the right tree, watching my sons wind colored light strings around it, reminiscing about when certain ornaments became part of our collection, decorating the tree with my family, and delighting in its beauty, scent, and serenity.

Growing, transporting, and selling Christmas trees and manufacturing artificial trees and tree trimmings uses land, water, pesticides, energy, fossil fuels, unrecyclable materials, and generates waste. Cutting down live trees so you and I can enjoy one adorning our living rooms for a few weeks strikes a discordant note with me. So, what is a good environmentalist or any person who wants to live more lightly on the Earth to do?

To buy a Christmas tree or not to buy a Christmas tree, that is the question.

Christmas Trees through the Years

Real Christmas trees have been a part of every Christmas holiday season I can remember.

When I was a kid, our family of five made an annual outing to a nearby Christmas tree farm. We tromped around the farm searching for the ideal tree, circumnavigating likely candidates looking for bald spots, and administering the springy needle test to check for freshness. When we got the tree home, we strung it with lights, put on the ornaments, and carefully placed silver tinsel strand by strand.

My spouse and I continued the Christmas tree tradition assembling our own collection of ornaments over the years. We purchased potted living trees a few times with little success. Only one made it to a new home in the Angeles National Forest where I hope it is still alive and thriving.

When we moved to the California Central Coast in 2007, where our yard is mostly wild, I began recycling our Christmas trees in our own yard. I cut the branches into small pieces before distributing them around the yard and then I drag the trunk to a spot that can use some erosion control. As you walk around the yard you can view Christmas trees past in various stages of becoming one with the Earth.

Christmas Tree Anxiety

My Christmas tree anxiety began after we moved to our current home. We live in a Monterey pine forest and our yard is mostly unfenced so deer, wild turkeys, and the occasional neighbor’s cat freely stroll through. Birds avail themselves of the birdbath outside our home office window. Living among and observing wild nature through the dry and slightly less dry seasons makes me mindful of the interconnectedness of nature including people. What we do to the planet we do to ourselves.

Now each year as the holiday season approaches I look forward to buying and trimming a Christmas tree, but I also wonder whether I should. In 2014, I contemplated buying an artificial tree so I did some research and shared my findings in the post Which is Greener a Real or Artificial Christmas Tree? I decided on a real tree and proposed a new tree planting tradition.

A Tree for A Tree

For every real or artificial tree we purchase or each time we put up an existing artificial tree, I suggested we (meaning all of us) plant a new tree in our yard, a park, or a forest.

That year, I rescued a 6-inch tall cypress tree seedling from a street median and planted it between the stumps of two Monterey pine trees we had lost during the drought. Unfortunately, I failed to account for the deer trail running between the stumps near our neighbor’s chain link fence.

The seedling and the deer coexisted peacefully until the tree grew to be several feet in diameter. Deer brushing by the expanding girth of the little tree began breaking off its branches as they passed through.

If you have ever tried to reroute a deer path, you know it is an exercise in futility. We compromised by installing a deer deterrent device, a short span of fencing that shields the branches from passing deer (the tree and fence are shown in the upper right corner of the above photo). The tree and the deer seem happy with the solution. If the deer decide they feel inconvenienced by the fence, they will inform us by enlisting one of the bucks to rip it out with his antlers (this has happened before).

Christmas Tree Tradition Versus the Planet

So now, we are back to the original question, to buy a tree or not to buy a tree.

All living things inflict some measure of harm just by living on Earth, with people being responsible for the greatest share. An environmentally sound Christmas tree would be the one that grew up naturally in a diverse forest and stayed there unbothered by people.

However, if we are to keep this amazing planet habitable for all, we need everyone to feel connected and willing to work together and I believe we need beauty and pleasure as well as hard work and sacrifice.

For me, a Christmas tree is beautiful and helps me feel connected to other people and wild things. I am embracing my Christmas tree tradition while being mindful and thankful for the tree and the people who made it possible for me to have one. I am giving myself a break and accepting that I do not always make environmentally sound choices and that is okay—sometimes.

This year I am raising the ante on tree planting to “buy one, plant two.” The above picture shows me watering one of the two Big Sur Coast redwood tree seedlings I planted in my yard, just before going inside the house and decorating a real Christmas tree with my family.

Happy Holidays!

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