Don't know about you, but I haven't thought much about green gifts for the holidays simply because there's not much green to begin with as in cash. What I did think about was how to stretch what little money I do have, and realized this is just what being "green" is all about: reusing, recycling and going local. So this year, I'm coming up with creative, cost-effective and sustainable ways to show my holiday happiness.
1. The Card of Caring: This is a recyclable or handmade holiday card that includes either notification of a donation to the giftee's favorite community charity or a certificate to a favorite local business for classes, books or just groceries. I like the grocery card myself; everyone likes to eat.
2. Service Swap: A good idea is always worth repeating, so make another one of those handmade cards and describe inside what you'll do for your loved one. This can be anything from music lessons to snow shoveling. The card expires upon use.
3. Time Is Money, so volunteer that precious time to your local food pantry, animal shelter, soup kitchen or some other charity in your community and send along invites to family and friends when you do. Make it a party. This is a gift to yourself and them.
4. Sharing Is Nice: Buy a full harvest share from a local farm, and donate half to a family in need - or, once again, to a food pantry or soup kitchen. Fill out another of your handmade holiday cards, and spread both joy and good nutrition.
5. Grow an Idea: Get that special someone really great seeds! Everyone has a favorite flower or veggie, and that seed pack is a nice fit for the next handmade card. It's all about inciting a garden and getting folks to think about spring - which is truly a good gift in the dead of winter. It also adds new meaning to the phrase "dirt cheap."
6. Find It Here: If you really must spend some money this holiday season, look for great gifts at holiday arts and crafts shows, bazaars at nursing homes, churches and schools. Your dollars stay local, help out a variety of causes, and it's also great to get out and see the local Van Goghs.
7. Make It Do: The old standby is more appreciated these days than ever. I have a knitting pattern I'm sick of using, until I see the faces of the folks who get those mittens. Make cookies if you're not crafty. Make faces if you can't cook! Not really, but you get the idea. We got a coat hook from a friend last year; it's both beautiful and useful, made out of a tree sapling. There's always something you can make that will fit in a box with a bow.
8. Find It Here, the Sequel: Check out your local Salvation Army, Goodwill or other thrift store for all those odds and ends you need at the last holiday minute. You'll be glad you did when you pay 50 cents for that muffin tin or hand-blown wine glass. Find a set, clean them up and field questions all season about where you got them. Better yet, there's lots of new and almost new stuff that make great gifts. I found and painted a bunch of wooden cheese boxes to pack cookies in last year.
9. Dig, Light, Grow, Repeat! Make your next holiday tree a living one with a root ball. Enjoy it through December; plant it next spring in your yard, park, or local forest. You can even buy a small conifer at the nursery, use it this year, then put it in a pot outside until it's needed again next year. Trees grow slowly, so with proper care you'll never have to feel fleeced by those big-box, tree-lot felons again.
10. Make Connections: Plan a holiday potluck to which everyone in your neighborhood is invited. Sit around, eat cookies, laugh with the kids, and while you're at it, decide on a community gift for those service folks we all appreciate but often overlook, especially in hard times: the postal carrier, the garbage collector, the school custodian. It will make them feel great - especially coming from the whole community - and will save time and money when everyone contributes.
Adapt or embellish any of these ideas to meet your own personal standards and tastes. Just keep in mind what the holidays are really about, and enjoy counting those pennies. I know, for example, my editor is happy; this column - along with a handmade card - is his gift!
Karen O'Leary is a freelance writer originally from Boston, now living in Montpelier, Vt.