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Deck the halls with LED lights

A more environmentally friendly holiday doesn’t have to feel as if the Grinch already stole Christmas.

By Yvonne ZippCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 2, 2008

Dave McHenry of Sacramento, Calif., sets up his Christmas display with LED lights, which are more energy efficient, more brilliant, and last longer than traditional lights.

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Say the words “ecofriendly holiday,” and many Americans picture sitting down to a Tofurky dinner and exchanging homemade presents wrapped in the pages of a Greenpeace calendar. Oh, and as for the tree? Forget it – maybe you can have a centerpiece made from a pine cone and a fallen branch.

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But a more environmentally friendly holiday doesn’t have to feel as if the Grinch already stole Christmas, say environmental experts – although wrapping your gifts in pages from a calendar really isn’t a bad idea. Making a few adjustments can have a big impact on the amount of energy your family uses, they say, and help shrink those mountains of garbage that hit the curb every Dec. 26.

“I think it can look and feel and smell and sound just like every other Christmas, but in a way that has much less of an impact on the environment,” says Jodi Helmer, author of “The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference,” which is being published this month. “And it doesn’t have to be expensive.”

First off, say Ms. Helmer and others, you don’t have to get rid of the tree. But Charlie Brown was right: Natural is better than artificial. “Almost all are grown on tree farms – the stock is replenished every year,” says Ms. Helmer. “And they can be recycled after the holidays and ground into mulch. It’s actually a very natural choice.” If you already have an artificial tree, she hastens to add, it’s much greener to keep using it rather than throwing it out and buying new.

Doug Barlow, an artist in Asheville, N.C., has an artificial tree – but his wasn’t made in China. About 30 years ago, he and his wife made their own and donated the money they would have spent to The Empty Stocking Fund. “Only, how do you make a Christmas tree?” They ended up hanging long muslin strips from the ceiling and making a pyramid by attaching them to sandbags. The lights ran up the middle of each strip and homemade ornaments were hung on a long, crocheted piece that wound around the outside. The tree became a family tradition. As for what goes under it, the Barlows only get gifts for the children. (Mr. Barlow says his extended family viewed the change with “relief,” when he proposed it a decade or so ago.)

Wrapping paper is one area where Americans can really reduce waste. Helen Coronato, author of “Eco-Friendly Families,” calls the traditional wrapped package with bows “disastrous.” (Many types of paper can’t be recycled, and, in the heat of Christmas morning, most of it ends up in a garbage bag anyway, she says.)

Better alternatives include gift bags, which usually are saved and reused, tissue paper, newspaper, colorful pieces of fabric, or reusable canvas bags.

Barlow buys his holiday turkey from a local farmer. “We’ve gotten to be pretty hard core ‘locavores’ here in Asheville,” says Barlow, an avid gardener. The rest of the feast will probably feature “a lot of squash, sweet potatoes, beans, and greens.”

The food is one place people can make a lot of changes without any complaints from the family. “Going organic and local with your food – the kids don’t notice the difference,” says Rachel Sarnoff, founder of EcoStiletto, an online environmental magazine. “It’s mashed potatoes and turkey. They don’t know that it’s organic potatoes and free-range/organic turkey.”

You can also choose seasonal produce: A pumpkin pie is a better choice than, say, imported strawberries, says Ms. Coronato.

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