Holidays Without Plastic
By Lisa Catterall
If the year 2020 has taught me one thing, it’s to be less judgmental. We’ve all been through loss and fear and seen our friends and family handle it in so many different ways. It’s a year to grow and a year to try new things. My family is enjoying using the extra time at home to start our preparations for the holidays early.
I love the traditions of the season. I am from Minnesota and we always hunkered down in the freezing weather and made a very busy Christmas. My grandmother had lived through the Great Depression and it meant so much to her to put up a new theme tree every year and wrap new gifts for everyone in perfectly matched paper and bows. Her home was stunning. She also taught me to throw lush parties and bake for the entire neighborhood.
I still do those things here in Watsonville. This year, I’ve noticed that our fear of catching the coronavirus has certainly outweighed our environmental principles in some areas. For me, the holiday season itself sometimes has the same effect. I would never buy plastic containers or yards and yards of gift wrap in a normal month, but it always seems like my environmentalism doesn’t count at Christmas. Last year, I decided to change that. I wrote an article asking for ideas to have a beautiful, waste-free holiday. And people gave me some. This year, I am sharing them.
Otherwise known as reusable gift wrap. Look it up! Furoshiki is a Japanese art form that involves wrapping gifts in fabric, and when I found out about it I was amazed at the beauty that emerged around my presents. Head on down to our wonderful Harts Fabric store in midtown Santa Cruz and find some prints to use. The internet is full of instructions and videos on this topic. We also save those reusable fabric bags people give us through Amazon; they go in with our decorations and come back out every year.
There are so many ways to use beautiful and recyclable glass in giving to replace plastic. Last year, I gave baked treats in Mason jars rather than in cheap plastic holiday containers. Glass is recycled here in America, and almost everyone on my list said they would reuse a Mason jar in their home. Flats of Mason jars are available at our local hardware stores.
Experiences and Local Food
For adult gift giving, we lean towards giving certificates for local experiences or giving baskets of sustainably packaged local food items. This year, it’s still possible under our shelter-in-place restrictions. On my giving list are virtual wine tastings hosted by local wineries, with wine, and painting workshops from Palace Arts on Zoom for my creative friends. We also like to give out bottles of local olive oil and Mason jars of locally roasted coffee, or a crate of treats from Freedom Meat Lockers. One favorite “experience” gift we give is a gift certificate for parking by the beach to our surfer friends.
Reuse, Reuse, Reuse
We are lucky enough to have families in our network whose children are growing out of toys and clothes as our kids are growing into them. We have no shame about cleaning things up and putting them under the Christmas tree. We also love to shop at our local thrift stores. Would someone you know love a wild, antique, ugly Christmas sweater? The downtown Goodwill is almost always full of them. How about giving cookies out on plates from the local thrift store?
A dollar spent at a local business travels around the community 17en times, whereas a dollar spent at a box store leaves our county with one transaction. To be sure a gift will be cherished and reused rather than ending up in the landfill, we like to give people we don’t know as well gift certificates to our local stores like Bookshop Santa Cruz, Sockshop, or Kelly’s Books in Watsonville.
The Big Party
We will not be throwing one this year, of course, but we started borrowing real glasses or using thrift store items instead of plastic and disposables. This year we will have a virtual party. I’m excited about watch parties of the classic Christmas movies with my family, and virtual tours of everyone’s decor.
The Big Wow
One way we kept a big “wow” factor in the holiday for our kids without calling more manufactured plastic into existence was to hire a local company that brings well-cared for snow bunnies to your home for the day. I hear they also have reindeer! Also, there are so many types of pets out there! The SPCA in our county has worked overtime for the animals left homeless by the fires. Perhaps this year, with everyone staying home, is the time to have a kitten, not a Barbie Dream House, under that tree.
I love to see my friends’ and families’ faces pinned up around my home on their annual holiday cards. Sometimes we forego the cards, though, and send a brief slideshow over the web. Another way we have reduced waste is to print our annual cards on business card size paper. Any extras make nice gift tags, and the paper use is cut back significantly.
This is a year when we are all more worried about the world than usual, and when we all need to get creative about our holiday traditions anyways. Why not include the Earth on our giving list?
Lisa Catterall teaches STEAM, math, science, and art at Mount Madonna School and is a senior associate of the Centers for Research on Creativity. She lectures and trains teachers and administrators on innovation in education in Beijing, China. Lisa has five children and lives in Santa Cruz County.