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Reclaim your holidays -- how to have happier and greener holidays

November 23, 2010
Susan Salterberg
Cedar Rapids Gazette
November 21, 2010

Winter holidays have always been occasions for celebration. However, amid countless parties, family gatherings, shopping, baking and other tasks, it can be difficult to celebrate, let alone be calm and cheerful, during the holiday season.

The Reclaim your Holidays initiative, based at the Center for Energy & Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa, aims to help Iowans create more meaningful winter holidays and ultimately reduce environmental impact.

The initiative, funded by grants from the Iowa Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Solid Waste Alternatives Program, provides ideas for reducing stress, controlling finances, entertaining with the environment in mind and giving meaningful, greener gifts.

Let's face it: The season can be stressful, and—paradoxically—it all too often seems difficult to live according to our values. However, when we do things we love, nurture and celebrate relationships and make decisions that match our priorities, we reclaim our holidays. Here are some ideas for making holidays less stressful, more meaningful and green:

1) Gift giving 101. Prioritize your list to avoid unneeded gifts. Consider giving gifts of experience–child care services, eco-friendly outings, tickets to a show, personal services or making a meal. Second-hand is in, so shop at consignment stores. Buy green–solar-powered, local and/or organic. But most importantly, if you want to buy green, buy gifts others will appreciate and use rather than toss in the trash. 

2) Take care. Self-care may be more critical during the holiday season than any other time of the year. This may include carving out time to be alone—total togetherness isn’t always a recipe for joy. 

3) Consider giving share-checks. Write a check with everything filled in except the "pay to the order of." Intentionally leave it blank, and allow the recipient to give the money to a charitable cause he or she is passionate about. This is great for teaching kids the value of sharing. 

4) Help children prioritize wants and cherish gifts. Ask, "Which do you want?" Help children make decisions between two or more items. Encourage eco-friendly gifts such as art and crafts kits. 

5) Pay as you buy. Avoid credit cards and use cash–save on interest and large annual balances. 

6) Identify a few favorite activities. Ask yourself what you love about the holidays, and focus on making sure you do some of those things, whether it's playing games with family, baking cookies, or turning off the lights to listen to some holiday music in candlelight.

7) Invite grandparents or older neighbors to a story-telling party—featuring them! Ask them to share with your family what they remember about the holidays, what they did and what funny things happened to them when they were kids.

8) Green entertaining. Toast your friends or family with a local meal. For details on how to do this—including recipes—go to the Green entertaining link at

For more information about minimizing stress and maximizing meaning, gift giving and green entertaining, visit UNI's Reclaim Your Holidays website at Here's to a happier and greener holiday season.

 Disclaimers: Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed as part of this project are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect the views of REAP CEP, IDNR or the University of Northern Iowa.