Arriving at Pat Smith’s home for her holiday party, one might think her little tree, perched on a table and adorned with a delicate strand of lights, is an homage to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” But actually, the little tree makes a big statement about Smith’s commitment to the environment. Buying and disposing of both real and artificial Christmas trees is wasteful, she says.
Her eco-friendly substitute is a potted Norfolk Island pine that thrives year-round in a sunny room until Christmastime, when Smith moves it to a place of honor and drapes it with energy-efficient LED lights and hand-tied straw ornaments made of renewable materials.
Smith is a firm believer that holiday entertaining need not be wasteful or expensive. She and other eco-conscious hosts share tips on how to throw a stylish, spirited party while saving money and protecting the environment.
Keep it simple
“Not having a big fancy dinner and lots of preparation minimizes driving all over for food and party supplies,” says Smith, principal of OnTarget Public Relations, Denver. For a gathering of close friends and family she suggests potluck or a big pot of hearty soup, salad and a simple, light dessert. The lack of excess “is a relief from an already indulgent, calorie-intensive holiday,” Smith says. “People are generally grateful not to be pressed with food.”
Paper or pixels
Some folks feel that sending e-mail invitations via www.evite.com is impersonal, but Andrea Woroch champions online invitation platforms because they’re fast, free and paperless. “Attendees can even arrange to carpool together through the invitation site,” saving on gas and emissions, says Woroch, a consumer finance expert by day and a party planner by night.
Lose the envelope
If you prefer to send invitations the old-fashioned way, print them on recycled paper with soy-based inks. Send a postcard invitation instead of a card to save on paper and postage.
Forego the flowers
“Cut flowers are grown with pesticides under less-than-sustainable circumstances” and their importation raises ecological issues, says writer Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, who publishes an online magazine, EcoStiletto.com, about eco-friendly living. She likes to decorate with groupings of living plants that her guests can take home as party favors.
’Tis the season
Deck the halls with seasonal, plentiful items like evergreen boughs and holly. “Red apples, winter squashes, even pinecones look beautiful as centerpieces when placed in large glass bowls or vases,” Andalman says. For the ultimate eco-friendly feast, seasonality should extend to the menu. “Support local businesses and reduce your carbon footprint by planning a menu around locally grown, in-season foods,” she adds.
Dust off the china
Using glassware and cloth napkins means more cleanup, but think of it in terms of cleaning a small space now as opposed to an overburdened planet later. “If you have to go disposable, use biodegradable veggie plastic from GreenWare or EarthShell,” Sarnoff suggests. If using plastic cups, have guests write their name on theirs with permanent marker so they don’t keep “losing” their drink and using new glasses. Make sure recycle bins for bottles and cans are located beside each trash can and are clearly marked so your guests will know to sort.
Adopt a year-round Christmas tree
Rather than buying a live tree every year or a fake one that will eventually end up in a landfill, consider raising an indoor potted evergreen that thrives year-round and does double-duty as a Christmas tree. Plus, it will grow right alongside you and your loved ones. “Mine has grown a foot-and-a-half since I got it,” says Smith, who shares the following tips for adopting a tree of your own:
• Consult a local nursery for suitable species. Conifers look the most like miniature Christmas trees. Smith’s is a
Norfolk Island pine.
• Choose a pot that is not so heavy you can’t move it at Christmastime and that also allows the tree and its root system room to grow. It’s possible to choose a color, such as a muted metallic or white, that enhances both everyday and Christmas décor, but that’s not necessary, since you’ll probably drape the base with a tree skirt just like a regular Christmas tree.
• When not decorated and displayed for Christmas, a Norfolk Island pine like Smith’s prefers a sunny room that’s free of drafts. In certain regions, these trees will thrive outside in the summertime. Read up on how to care for roots and whether periodic re-potting is needed, because the roots need to grow and spread out in order for your tree to gain height.
• When it’s just a shorty, your tree will need to be elevated on a table if it’s intended to be a focal point. Conceal the table with fabric that drapes nicely.
• Ornaments must be lightweight, such as strung popcorn. And of course your tree topper can’t be too heavy or your tree will break or be forced into a backbend.
• Tell kids that while there’s not a lot of room for presents directly underneath the tree, they will get two stories, or levels, of gifts come Christmas day. Place small gifts on the tabletop and larger ones at the base of the table. You can even place one or two surprise gifts underneath the table drape and see how long it takes before they’re discovered.