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Eco Holiday Ideas

Say goodbye to the blinking lights, plastic silver balls, and larger-than-life inflated Santas that have come to mark the holidays. Instead, go back to nature to find your home decorating inspiration and celebrate the season from its roots. 

We've come up with a dozen creative, incredibly inexpensive, and easy-to-make ornaments, gift-wraps, and decorations sparked by the scents, shapes, and ingredients of this festive time of year. You'll already have most of the items you need to create these projects on hand in your spice rack, closet, or backyard. So skip the superstore this year and save your money -- each idea costs less than $10 and most are even cheaper -- and the planet by putting a little more green into your holidays. 

Good Wish Tree
1. Collect a dozen fallen branches on winter hikes; look for ones about 3 feet long. Arrange in a vase in a hallway or foyer. 

2. Using ribbon scraps, hang small cards with holiday wishes written on one side from the branches.

Recycled Chip Bags
1. Cut open an empty potato-chip bag along its seam to reveal the shiny white or silver inside of the bag. 

2. Flatten the bag, wash it with soap and water, and air dry. 

3. Wrap a present and adorn it with ribbons and homemade cards. 

Stamping on Recycled Shopping Bags
1. Cut an open paper shopping bag along one fold and scissor out the bottom of the bag. 

2. Wrap your gift in it. 

3. Recycle a wine cork and use it as a stamping device by dipping one end of it into ink or a dark fruit or beet juice. 

4. Apply to the surface of the bag in patterns inspired by the season. 

Reused Button Sack
1. Sew first button 4 1/2 inches from the top of one side of a small paper bag. 

2. Fold top over twice (about 1-inch folds), toward the button side. 

3. Align second button with first on the second fold. 

4. Unfold to sew second button. 

5. Refold, and wrap twine in a figure 8 around both buttons. 

Spice Stars and Drops
Stars
1. Arrange 3 cinnamon sticks into a star shape. 

2. Crisscross 1-mm-thick hemp twine 3 times around the center, and tie end into a loop. 

Drops
1. Nestle 3 anise pods in a row and secure with nontoxic glue. 

2. Wrap twine around the center of each pod, weaving around each "petal," and tie the end into a loop.

 
Snowy Sugar Pinecones
1. Collect 20 to 30 pinecones from the woods. 

2. Mix the whites of two eggs in a bowl (enough for 36 pinecones). 

3. Drizzle pinecones with egg whites using a pastry brush. 

4. Sprinkle with crystal sugar. Let dry for 4 hours. 

5. Tie string around bottom, leaving a loop for hanging. 

Citrus Slices
1. Cut four unpeeled oranges into rounds about 1/4-inch thick. (Each fruit yields about 6 to 8 slices.) 

2. Bake on a greased cookie sheet at 175 degrees for 4 hours. 

3. Poke a hole near one edge with a needle and thread doubled twine through to make a loop. 

Dough Shapes
1. In bowl, mix 2 cups flour, 2 cups salt, and 1 cup water. 

2. Stir, and then knead into a ball. 

3. Roll out dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. 

4. Cut into shapes using cookie cutters, and poke a hole through the tops with a pencil. 

5. Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 20 minutes or until hard. 

6. Loop a ribbon through hole and tie a knot. 

Rosemary Trees
Use scraps of festive fabric to wrap the pots of herb plants you've grown over the year or purchased -- turning them into decorations or holiday gifts that keep giving (as cooking herbs), long after the holidays end. 

Spiced Pomanders
1. With a pencil, draw a pattern on an orange. Try family members' initials or seasonal symbols such as stars. 

2. Pierce the fruit along your lines with a needle, spacing the holes about a clove's width apart. (Erase any visible lines left on the fruit's skin.) 

3. Insert cloves into each hole. 

4. Arrange pomanders in a bowl and place on a table or your mantle. 

Recycled Paper Good Wish Cards
1. Cut recycled holiday cards or cereal boxes into small rectangles. 

2. Punch a hole in one end. 

3. If both sides are blank, stamp one side with a holiday print. 

4. For the other side, invite guests and family to write notes of thanks and hope. 

5. Hang on branches displayed in a vase. 

Winter Walk Nature Specimens
1. Gather sprigs from pine or fir trees, fallen bark from birches, or holly berries and leaves from the woods and yard. 

2. Display the native treasures in glass jars on your mantle for up close observation and appreciation. 

Tree Trimming
LED Lights
Brighten your tree -- and lighten your bills -- by stringing LED lights this year. They consume up to 90 percent less energy than incandescent models and burn up to 10 times longer. Find them online and at many retail stores for around $20 to $35. 

Ax-Free Tree
This year, purchase a live potted tree instead of a cut one, an option many tree farms offer. Some farms, such as San Diego's Adopt a Christmas Tree Foundation, take back trees for planting in pre-dug holes or for reforesting land that wildfires damaged. Inquire at your local nursery or check the National Christmas Tree Association for programs in your area.

Text by Lauren Sanders

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Comments

Comments (4)

  • gretaoh 22 Dec, 2008

    What wonderful ideas! We wrap our presents with inside-out paper bags (my daughter decorates them with red and green paint made from flour and water), and make ribbons with the scraps (you can curl thin pieces of paper with a scissors, just like with standard curling ribbon). We elliminate using tape by fastening the packages with twine. We also go out in the woods and collect pine cones and fallen pine branches to make our wreath (we attach them with twine to a re-shaped wire hanger).

  • flutti 15 Dec, 2008

    What temperature should the oven be to bake the dough shapes?

  • Candy 15 Dec, 2008

    I just bought strands of LED lights the other day for $5 a string. Not all of them are this costly!

  • katiefitz 15 Dec, 2008

    The LED lights may be more economical for your energy bill but at $30/string of 100 lights, it would cost me $300 to put lights on my tree vs. $15 (for 1000 lights) for the small lights. It would take me a long time to make back the $285 in savings on my light bill. Additionally, the old ones would just end up in the land fill.

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