Remember when Christmas was a simple thing? The extended family all gathered at Mom and Dad's white Colonial farmhouse, snow falling lightly amid the warm glow of incandescent lighting, a fat and perfectly browned roast the centerpiece of dinner, absolutely no arguments, and perfect presents given all around. Remember?

No, I don't, either. I suspect that only Norman Rockwell remembered that particular scene, and he's no longer with us. Still, most of us who celebrate Christmas carry around a certain glowy vision of how it should be done, steeped in childhood memories and rich with the timeless glories of old family traditions.

Most of which do not involve receiving fluorescent light bulbs for Christmas. Or a lecture on global warming.

It's not easy being green
Yep, this year's holiday trend is environmental awareness, and judging from the attention it's getting from the major media, it seems to be hitting in a big way. No surprise there; green consciousness is hitting everywhere else, so why not the Western world's leading religious feast/disposable-income-disposition festival?

I admit that my first reaction to all of this is to cry "Humbug!" and say that anyone who goes around with "green Christmas" on his or her lips should be boiled in his own organic-agave-nectar-sweetened pudding and buried with a stake of sustainably harvested holly through his heart. And in a time and place where Toyota (NYSE:TM), the holier-than-thou purveyors of the Birkenstock-shaped greenie-status-symbol Prius, spends every December suggesting via TV ads that a $60,000 Lexus is a perfectly reasonable thing for ordinary folks to give as a gift, I think I'm permitted some cynicism.

At the same time, I'm definitely not insensitive to the environmental cause. I hike and sail, so I'm all for a pristine outdoors. And despite my love of sports cars, I'm a pretty green kind of guy -- at least by mainstream standards.

I just wish this green-Christmas thing weren't so obnoxious.

The good, the bad, and the oh-give-me-a-break
Of course, lots of us want to give more consideration to green options these days. And it's only reasonable that we fold that consideration into our approach to seasonal social rituals like decorating and gift-giving. And I think it can be done in a positive way, without starting big fights at the dinner table. Here are some dos and don'ts to get you started.


  • Upgrade your Christmas lights to LEDs. They cost more than the old incandescents, but they use only about 20% as much power, and they last a lot longer. Home Depot (NYSE:HD) has several nice varieties, including an old-fashioned big-bulb style that looks a lot like the ones my parents used to use. Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) and Target (NYSE:TGT) stock festive LED lights as well, and with General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Koninklijke Philips' (NYSE:PHG) Philips brand both offering LED light strings, they're becoming more widely available.
  • Get a real tree. Yeah, you'll have to sweep up needles and deal with those infernal tree stands, but isn't it worth it to get that great smell? Real trees rock -- whereas artificial trees are mostly made of plastic, real trees are made of tree. They're recyclable and renewable, and you can support local farmers by getting them fresh-cut in many parts of the country. If you want to go full-greenie, some nurseries and conservation organizations are now offering live trees -- you rent it for the holiday season, set it up with its roots in a bag, and then send it back to be planted. That seems to me like a great idea -- no disposal problems, and no cut-down tree.
  • Avoid giving "stuff." Memberships, experiences, and services make wonderful gifts that don't add to clutter or fill landfills, yet still make for great memories. Click here for some good non-stuff gift ideas.


  • Give to your pet charity on someone else's behalf. I know I'm going to get hate mail for this one, but I'm really wary of giving donations as a gift. (See above about "obnoxious.") Sometimes, it works -- Aunt Millie the avid birdwatcher might really appreciate an Audubon donation in lieu of a trinket. But more often, it seems that the gift is about the giver's tastes and agenda rather than the receiver's. "Giving" nasty Uncle Louie the coal-company executive a donation to the Sierra Club might make you feel like you scored a point, but it seems pretty tacky to me. If you must, make the donation in your own name and send Louie a calendar or something instead -- or leave him off your list entirely.
  • Give a car. Really, just don't. Not even with one of those huge red bows on top.

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Fool contributor John Rosevear can't imagine getting a car for Christmas. Nonetheless, he would be thrilled to find a 1996 or '97 Dodge Viper GTS (in blue!) under the tree if anyone out there is so inclined -- but feel free to skip the big red bow. He does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article. Home Depot is an Inside Value recommendation. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.