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How to Have a Green Christmas

Eco-friendly strategies for making the holidays healthier for you -- and the planet.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Instead of tidings of comfort and joy, Christmas often brings mostly stress and excess -- too much food, too much drink, too much spending, and too much waste.

Environmentalists advocate an "eco-friendly" holiday season that will result in a "green Christmas" that will put less strain on Mother Earth, but some of the same choices they suggest can produce a more people-friendly holiday as well, leading to better health for all. While a truly organic Christmas in this day and age may be hard to imagine, it may be possible to take some steps in that direction.

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(What do you do for a more environmentally-friendly holiday?  Share your stories and ideas on WebMD's Health Café board.)

Green Christmas Gifts: Healthier for You and the Environment

Consider gift giving, a major feature of the modern-day Christmas celebration. Manufacturing gifts requires consuming resources in the form of raw materials and energy. Shopping for them uses gasoline, and once given, the gifts generate mountains of wrapping paper, ribbons, and cards. Then there are all those trips back to the store to exchange unwanted items, which require more gasoline. All this generates plenty of emotional and financial stress for humans, as well.

The solution?

"I counsel people that there are two types of gifts -- material gifts and experiential gifts," Robert Lilienfeld, author of Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are, tells WebMD. "The kinds of gifts that have the most positive emotional value -- the healthiest gifts -- are those that provide us with experiences. You can help people travel, you can give them tickets to concerts, museums, sporting events. For teenagers, an iTunes card is always welcome. From a use-less-stuff standpoint, this is very positive because you're giving an experience, not a thing, and those kinds of experiences stay with us longer anyway."

This type of gift giving also would help reduce the amount of holiday wrapping paper and packaging destined for our landfills. But even traditional gifts can be given in a way that minimizes waste.

"You probably have a lot of things you can use to wrap gifts that are recyclable, such as old subway maps, magazines, and so on," says Lilienfeld, who also publishes the ULS (Use Less Stuff) Report. "If you give a CD, the odds are good that a newspaper or magazine will have an ad for that group. That way the wrapping is related to the gift you're giving, and it's something you're going to recycle anyway."

Fresh vs. Artificial Christmas Trees

Christmas trees pose a dilemma because fresh trees as well as artificial trees have their advantages and drawbacks.

An artificial tree will last for years, thereby avoiding annual trips to buy a fresh tree. Fresh trees may also carry mold and spores that can aggravate allergies. Connecticut researchers recently found that the mold count from a live Christmas tree rose to more than six times the original level after two weeks indoors. According to the authors, the study "demonstrates that mold-sensitive patients may experience allergic symptoms due to an increasing mold spore exposure from having a live Christmas tree in the home."

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