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 Gift Giving – Toys for Tots

Original Toys for Tots Poster - 1948
Original Toys for Tots Poster – 1948

This year spread the Christmas spirit by donating a new toy to Toys for Tots. Make it a green gift by giving a toy dump truck made from recycled plastic, a nature-inspired book like The Lorax, or a selection of seed packets and child-size gardening tools.

My spouse and I had been donating gifts to Toys for Tots periodically through the years, but that changed when we moved to a small town on California’s central coast in 2007.

During our first holiday season here, seeing Toys for Tots donation boxes in the local stores reminded us to include less fortunate children in our Christmas shopping and inspired us to make giving to Toys for Tots an annual tradition.

A few weeks ago, after a UPS box arrived containing a GoldieBlox building set my spouse had bought for Toys for Tots, I decided to find out more about Toys for Tots and share what I learned.

What is Toys for Tots?

The Toys for Tots mission is simple, to deliver a message of hope and bring a smile to a child’s face with a new toy at Christmastime.

Each year during October, November, and December, U.S. Marine Corps reservists and local volunteers coordinate Toys for Tots programs in their communities. Toys for Tots donation boxes pop up at fire stations, churches, schools, libraries, and stores in hundreds of towns and cities across the country. People in the community donate new unwrapped toys.

Former Marine Harry Smith with Toys for Tots Collection Boxes and Toys - Photo: Pat van den Beemt
Former Marine Harry Smith began volunteering with Toys for Tots during its first year in 1947 – Photo: Pat van den Beemt

Toys for Tots coordinators working with social service agencies, schools, and other groups identify children eligible to receive toys and manage collecting, sorting, and distributing the toys to children within the community in which they were donated.

Toys for Tots History

In 1947, Mrs. Diane Hendricks asked a favor of her husband William L. Hendricks, which led to founding Toys for Tots.

As the story goes, Mrs. Hendricks requested Mr. Hendricks, a Warner Brothers Studio executive and major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, to use his contacts to coordinate collecting and distributing toys to less fortunate children in Los Angles at Christmastime. Mr. Hendricks and a group of local U.S. Marine Corps reservists collected and distributed 5,000 new and used toys that first year!

Apparently, Mr. Hendricks was a persuasive person because, in 1948, the U.S Marine Corps adopted Toys for Tots as an official activity and expanded it by having Marines at Reserve Centers across the country coordinate local toy drives. He also roped celebrities into endorsing the program and convinced Walt Disney to design a logo, the now famous red train.

Toys for Tots Train Logo

Over the next several decades, toy donations to Toys for Tots continued to grow and professional athletes, United States First Ladies, and corporate sponsors joined entertainment celebrities in promoting the program and spreading the word.

Initially, both new and used toys were accepted by Toys for Tots. For over 30 years, Marine reservists refurbished used toys during October and November drill weekends, but it was a time-consuming activity. In 1980, Toys for Tots adopted a new toy only policy.

The nonprofit Marine Toys for Tots Foundation was founded in 1991 to perform fundraising activities, supplement local toy collection efforts, and for legal and tax purposes.

In 1995, then U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry approved Toys for Tots as an official mission of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. The next year, Toys for Tots expanded to all 50 states by authorizing Marine veterans or community representatives to coordinate Toys for Tots campaigns in communities without Marine Reserve Centers.

Now in its 68th year, Toys for Tots is running strong having collected over 469 million toys and distributing them to over 216 million children!

Toys for Tots in Our Community

Each year, over 250 children in our community receive toys from Toys for Tots due to the efforts of a small group of volunteers.

Christmas Gift Wrapped in Red, Green, White Striped Paper with Red BowIn our small town, the local American Legion post sponsors Toys for Tots assisted by community volunteer organizations. A family advocate from the school system conducts the main outreach activity by contacting parents and guardians of children eligible for the free school lunch program. Interested parents provide the names, ages, and genders of their children.

In mid-December, volunteers collect the donation boxes and deliver them to our local Veterans Hall where volunteers sort the toys by age and gender. Depending on the quantity of toys donated, the volunteers select one or more toys for each child and place them in bags. Parents pick up the toys on a specific day.

Buying a toy and putting it in the Toys for Tots collection box is easy when you compare it to what the Marines and other volunteers do. Let’s fill up Toys for Tots donation boxes and spread the Christmas spirit to children all across the country.

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Chocolate Dipped Strawberries – Delicious or Destructive?

Chocolate Dipped StrawberryIf you received a beribboned box filled with chocolate dipped strawberries, would your first reaction be “delicious” or “destructive”?

Ten or maybe even five years ago, I would have said, “Wow, they look delicious”, as I grabbed one and bit into it. Now, well, it’s complicated.

The Mystery Box Arrives

Last Thursday, as my spouse slowed the car at the end of the steep L-shaped driveway we share with our neighbors, I looked out the passenger side window and spotted a box on the block wall.

“Look, the UPS guy left a package at the end of the driveway again.”

Sighing, my spouse replied, “That’s two in a row, I’m gonna have to call UPS and complain. I’ll get the box when I bring down the trash cans.”

The Mystery Box Contents are Revealed

Later, I was sitting in the living room reading Search Engine Optimization for Dummies when I heard my spouse laugh in the kitchen and then say, “You’re not going to like this.”

Curious, I asked, “I’m not going to like what?”

12 Chocolate Dipped Strawberries in Gift BoxI looked up as my spouse walked into the living room carrying a small box with a dozen large chocolate dipped strawberries in one hand and the shipping container in the other.

The first words out of my mouth were, “You’ve got to be kidding me, all that paper and plastic for 12 strawberries. Who sent them?”

The enclosed card indicated the strawberries were a thank you gift from business associates of my spouse.

Treehugger versus Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

In the old days, I would likely have thought the strawberries looked tasty and perhaps wondered how much they cost.

What a difference a few years makes. The strawberries did look delicious but conflicting thoughts and questions flew around my mind. I was fascinated and repelled at the same time. I put down my book, grabbed the proffered boxes, and went in search of my iPhone.

I examined each bit of packaging, searched the company’s website for information, and snapped photos with my phone. Below is what I observed and learned about the seemingly simple gift of chocolate dipped strawberries.

  • Packaging for 12 Chocolate Dipped StrawberriesThe cardboard shipping container was large compared to the gift box. Apparently the plastic covered foam inserts and additional cardboard inside were to keep the strawberries cool and prevent the gift box from rattling around.
  • The gift box came with a paper card, promotional flyer, and nutrition facts. I idly wondered what materials were used in the white satin ribbon wrapped around the box.
  • Inside the gift box, under another piece of plastic wrapped foam, a dozen oversized chocolate covered strawberries lay nestled in individual compartments of a non-recyclable plastic tray, each on a plastic-backed paper doily. Little plastic feet under the tray on one side tilted the strawberries at an attractive display angle, aided by more foam padding. Everything was bit sticky.
  • The nutrition insert informed me each strawberry was approximately 170 calories (about the same as a small candy bar).
  • I read the list of ingredients to my spouse, “strawberries, sugar, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils, cocoa (processed with potassium carbonate), mono and diglyceride and soya lecithin emulsifiers, salt, milk, natural and artificial flavor, pure vanilla, vanillin (an artificial flavor), semisweet chocolate (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, dextrose), almonds”.
  • By checking the company website, I learned the strawberries were shipped from San Diego, CA which is about 400 or so miles from our house. Thank goodness they weren’t shipped thousands of miles across the country.
  • Where the giant strawberries were grown or how far they had traveled before reaching the manufacturer remains a mystery.
  • By looking on the company website, I estimated my spouse’s box of 12 strawberries cost in the neighborhood of $2.50 to $4.00 each.

We decided we were honor-bound to eat the exorbitantly expensive chocolate dipped calorie laden strawberries so their sizable carbon footprint wouldn’t be completely wasted.

I selected a milk chocolate covered strawberry from the gift box and my spouse a dark chocolate version. Upon biting into the strawberry, the chocolate instantly cracked and started to fall off so I leaned over the sink to eat it. The strawberry had an unpleasant sour chemical undertone and the chocolate was so-so. It was a disappointing sticky experience certainly not worth the calories. My spouse felt the same.

After eating a few more, we consigned the remaining strawberries to the backyard composter.

Think before You Gift

When I consider the resources, energy, and water used and waste generated to grow, process, and transport 12 chocolate dipped strawberries, that didn’t even taste good, it makes me cringe.

I’m not against giving and receiving gifts, even frivolous or decadent ones. But I believe gifts like the chocolate dipped strawberries my spouse received are incongruent with the world we live in today.

Homemade Ginger Snap CookiesWe need to rethink gift giving. Homemade cookies shipped in a simple box or chocolate dipped strawberries grown and given locally are a step in the right direction.

The next time you’re considering giving a gift, pause, consider the recipient and our planet, and then decide.

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