Holiday shopping season is upon us. Perhaps it’s due to the economy, or maybe just a desire for a less-complicated December, but many of us are aiming to do less this year. We are trying to figure out what’s essential as we prepare for Christmas, Hanukah, and other winter holidays. For example, my family has decided to keep our Christmas Eve/Day menus simple. Also, we are reminding each other that we “really don’t need more stuff.” Let’s remember that the winter holidays are first and foremost about family, friends and faith.

‘Tis the season for gift giving, though, and there’s the dilemma. How do we choose thoughtful, personalized gifts that communicate the joy of the season without creating more waste? Here are a few suggestions.

A Gift To Improve One’s Carbon Footprint – Consider all the waste that goes into packaging and shipping the products we buy online or purchase at national chains. The alternative — shop locally! From jewelry to clothing to art to home furnishings, and so much more, there are lots of wonderful gifts to be found within a few miles of home. Some of my favorites include: Local Pottery in Hanover, Woodacre Farm in Pembroke, and The Focus Gallery in Cohasset.

A Gift of Education and Fun – Memberships to museums and other cultural institutions make terrific gifts. Your purchase supports the arts (which tend to get hit hard in a bad economy) and your giftee receives free admission for a year, as well as all sorts of other perks. For young families, consider local favorites like the South Shore Natural Science Center ( or The Children’s Museum in Easton ( Or head up to Boston, where there’s something for everyone — New England Aquarium, Museum of Science, Boston Children’s Museum, or any of the art museums.

A Gift to Reduce Junk Mail – A couple years ago, my sister gave my husband and me a subscription to GreenDimes (now called Precycle/Tonic). We gave the company every variation of our names and mailing address we could think of that had ever been used on a piece of mail, and they set to work reducing the amount of junk in our mailbox. It worked! We used to get a ton of glossy catalogs every day from Thanksgiving to mid-December. Now we receive only a few. Check it out at

A Gift to Protect The Environment – A great gift for any occasion is a membership to one of our local environmental organizations. Your donation helps the organization to achieve its goals – land preservation, for example, or cleaner water – while the person to whom you give it enjoys the benefits of membership in the group (discounts activities, newsletters, and so forth). Some favorites of mine: The North and South Rivers Watershed Association (, The Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts (, The Trustees of Reservations ( and Mass Audubon (

A Gift To Better One’s Community – What do you give the person who has everything? Who needs nothing? How about an investment in his or her community? Local food pantries, shelters and clothing banks always need financial support. Programs like Marshfield Community Christmas help to improve the holidays of the less fortunate. Plus there are animal shelters, hospice services, programs for senior citizens and veterans . . . the list goes on. Choose a charity your giftee would happily support and make a donation in his or her name.

A Gift For The Soul – When times are tough, what’s the first thing to be dropped from the To Do List? Special treats for oneself. Thus, gift certificates for massage, yoga, acupuncture, a facial, a pedicure — the things we are reluctant to get for ourselves – are often the most appreciated gifts of all.

Alternatives to Wrapping Paper: While you’re considering the impact your gift-giving will make on the environment this year, also be mindful of the waste generated by the use of wrapping paper. There are several alternatives. You can repurpose magazine pages as wrap for small gifts, or – with your child’s permission – children’s artwork. Paper gift bags, boxes, and ribbon can be reused numerous times before they wear out. My favorite eco-friendly wrap, however, is a drawstring cloth bag. A couple years ago, I crafted a big set of these, in varying sizes, from fabric leftover from various projects. They can be used over and over again, passed on from one person to the next. You can buy them, or if you have the resources, make your own. They’re a lot less work, too.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

by Kezia Bacon-Bernstein
November, 2009

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit To browse 13 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit