Green Christmas

Custodian With a dry mop in a hallway

Holiday decorations with Mother Earth in mind

By Jeanne Blackburn, Photography by Turner Photography Studio

Climate change is about more things than just the weather. We’re all thinking about how to conserve nature, reuse and recycle, even how to change some cherished holiday traditions in an effort to leave a smaller carbon footprint and celebrating in more sustainable ways.

That’s all possible with careful thought and planning. Consider these suggestions to facilitate a green Christmas—not only for this year, but to continue for years and generations to come.


Christmas decorations have traditionally been centered on live greenery: evergreens, holly, mistletoe and magnolia leaves. If diminishing the carbon footprint created by less-than-thoughtful choices during the holidays is the goal, starting with fresh greens sets the tone.

According to the American Christmas Tree Institute, it is more ecologically sound to buy a real tree than to buy and re-use a plastic one. Yes, plastic trees may cost less to use for several years, but eventually they end up in the landfill and plastic is not biodegradable. It will remain there for decades, and it is not recyclable. Also, most artificial trees are made overseas, so buying locally eliminates the environmental impact of international manufacturing and transportation.

Growers of real trees plant four to five trees for every one they harvest annually, so it is a sustaining resource. And when you purchase from a nearby tree farm, you are supporting
a local business.

Best of all, there are style options—in variety, like the popular Fraser or Douglas fir, and size, including smaller, table-top heights. A living tree with the balled roots intact for planting after the holidays is fast becoming another popular option.

Those real trees not planted can be recycled into mulch. In Frederick, the city’s Christmas tree drop off and recycling program will begin on Dec. 26 and continue through Jan. 31. Check the program’s website ( for locations and other information. Frederick County recycling information can be found at


Bring the real greenery indoors! A variety of wreaths and garlands can be found at most area grocery stores, garden and nursery centers, and tree farms, too. The choices are varied—long-needle scotch pine along with several of the more abundant short-needle firs in both ready-made garlands and wreaths, or in bundles for the energetic do-it-yourselfers. Seasonal additions to accent the greens include juniper with a distinctive fragrance and blueish berries, and the recognizable and traditional holly with bright red berries and green or variegated leaves.

Look for magnolia leaves to display green, glossy side out or with the bronze-colored underside of the leaves in the spotlight for southern-inspired Christmas trims outdoors or indoors on the table or mantel. Shop early because they’re sometimes in short supply. Another traditional décor theme is inspired by Colonial Williamsburg and incorporates fresh pineapples, apples and citrus fruits for bright color outdoors around the door. As a bonus, they’re easily composted after the holidays.

To keep all this cut greenery as fresh as possible through the holidays, prep and care. Buying ahead of time has its advantages in selection and availability, but it also makes sense to purchase what you need just before you plan its use. When buying ahead of time, plan to keep the greens outside until you are ready to display. Soaking ready-made wreaths in water overnight will help keep them fresh, as will smashing woody branch stems and soaking them in water, too.

Once arranged and inside, misting greens, if possible, throughout the season will help prolong their appearance. And keeping them away from sunlight and heat—that includes candles—will help them from drying out.

For variety, think options to traditional evergreens like boxwood and rosemary topiaries, just for fun!


The ideal complement to winter greens are the cones and seed pods that naturally occur this time of year. Find them—in all their striking shape and size variety—almost anywhere holiday trims or greens are sold and use them plentifully indoors or out. Accent a wreath, mantel or tabletop with clusters, scatter them across the dining table for a casual centerpiece, even paint them to trim stair railings and doors. Like their other natural counterparts, they’re biodegradable (but not if you paint them) and recyclable. Carefully pack them away for use another year and they’re sustainable, too!


It’s easier than you think. First, think vintage. Glass ornaments found in abundance in the antiques shops in and around Frederick are the most obvious. Or look in your attic for glass heirloom ornaments. Eventually they can be recycled, but for now they’re an eco-friendlier option than commercial plastic ones that don’t biodegrade even in the landfill, and they can last for decades.

Do-it-yourself ornament projects are a great way to get the kids or friends involved in the holidays, thinking and talking about minimizing the holiday impact on the environment and leaving a smaller carbon footprint.

Besides natural materials like cones of various sizes, seed pods, grasses and corn husks, even the traditional popcorn and cranberry garlands can be a family project and sparks creativity. Another material for hand-crafted ornaments is foil, which is recyclable.

Wooden beads or wood cutouts at craft stores for kids to paint is a fun holiday project to get them involved and talking about ways to celebrate without impacting our ecosystem. Think, too, about citrus potpourri pomander balls using cloves and star anise. They’re a natural way to add holiday fragrance to your home rather than using a chemical fragrance spray.

Add lively color with hand-crafted garlands and ornaments made using cotton fabrics in holiday prints and cotton or wool felt, cotton or silk velvet, natural burlap, cotton or wool yarn, paper, cardboard, and wood. Then combine ornament shopping with a fun family outing, checking out shops and holiday craft fairs.

Years from now, they won’t be cluttering the environment; they’ll just biodegrade.


Christmas candles are commonly found at dinner table settings, mantel decorations and party buffet tables. They add romance to any room and a warm glow to any gathering of friends and family.

But traditional candles and tapers are made with paraffin that contains chemicals. For a more naturally sourced and environmentally concerned choice, there’s beeswax and soy. Each is available in an increasingly wide range of colors and scents, especially during the holidays.


Switching to LED Christmas tree and outdoor holiday lights lowers your carbon footprint the same way switching to them throughout your home does. They use less electricity and have less impact on the environment, but with the same glittery effect. They’re energy efficient, work for decades, contain no toxic chemicals and they’re no more expensive than incandescent.


Decorate plain off-white or brown wrapping paper with painted or penned greetings (another kid-friendly project) and tie them up with string or colorful yarn. Fabric wrap is another colorful and eco-friendly option! Tuck in a sprig of holly or other greenery for a festive note that speaks volumes about your wish for this season of peace and joy knowing you’ve helped keep Christmas green in the most important way.

Ultimately, the object is to joyfully celebrate the holiday knowing that your environmental impact has been reduced and our carbon footprint made smaller. Consider it a kind of gift to future generations of Merry Christmases.

Frederick Magazine