31 Ways to Host a Green Holiday Party

So – you’re planning on throwing a holiday party? Join the club … entertaining is at its peak during the holiday season. And garbage-creation is also at its peak: between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, Americans produce 25% more trash – about 5 million extra tons – than at any other time of the year. 

This year, we hope you’ll host a zero-waste holiday party in celebration of the season, and of Mother Earth. How? It’s easy: just check out our list of simple party tips and tactics that will ensure a memorable gathering … while also ensuring that you tread more lightly on the environment. From invitations to decorations, party favors to clean-up, we’ve got plenty of holiday party strategies to help you put a little more green into this greenest of seasons.

  • For party invitations, consider using a free online service such as www.evite.com orwww.regards.com. All three have free electronic invitation services that will save you time and money – and will save paper, too.
  • If you still want to send out paper invitations, choose those made from recycled or tree-free paper (such as hemp or rag). Better yet, recycle last year’s greeting cards and use the fronts as postcards for your holiday get-together. Not only will you end up with fun, unique invitations -- you’ll save on postage, too! Didn’t save last year’s cards? Begin with this year’s and you’ll start a fun and planet-friendly tradition.

  • Bring the outdoors in. Take a hint from Mother Nature – nature is beauty. Drape evergreen boughs and holly across the mantle, doorway, or food table. Gather items from your yard -- such as pinecones -- and add apples, limes, cranberries, and other natural items to give the greenery a festive look. Attach thin gauge wire to the boughs if you need to suspend them overhead.
  • Create candleholders out of household items like apples (carve out the center to make room for a taper) and tin cans (fill with water and freeze, then tape a design onto the outside and punch out the design using a nail and hammer). These also make great holiday projects for kids.
  • Decorate your home with potted herbs such as lavender, rosemary, or sage. They not only look beautiful and smell wonderful, but they’re also very handy for cooking!
  • Incorporate the construction of a gingerbread house into your party. Before the party, assemble the walls and ceiling, and prepare the resting site for the finished house. Then during your party, set up a workstation for guests to add decorative touches. When the house is complete, carefully move it to its place of honor and enjoy!
  • Create fragrant pomanders by studding oranges with whole cloves and hanging them by a pretty holiday ribbon. The refreshing fragrance of these pomanders will fill your home for a long time, and they’re a planet-friendly, easy-to-make, economical decoration. (They also make lovely gifts.)

  • Dim the lights. You’ll create a warm, soft glow, and will save electricity to boot. Also consider replacing some of those energy sucking lights with energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • Speaking of lights, don’t forget to use timers for lights and your heater.
  • Add ambience by using beeswax or soy wax candles.  They’re healthier for your lungs than regular paraffin candles, and also help to conserve natural resources. If you have a bunch of half-burned candles lying around, melt and re-pour them into old jelly jars to create new candles. (For directions and wick supplies, visit your local craft store.)
  • Scent the air with homemade air-fresheners. Boil a large pot of water, and then add cinnamon sticks, clove, anise, and other yummy spices to create a warm, homey atmosphere. Alternately, you can scent your home by using an aromatherapy diffuser  filled with essential oils  such as orange, lavender, frankincense, cedar, or pine.

Food & Merriment
  • Keep the menu simple and the cost low. For starters, buy food in reusable containers. And buy in bulk -- it reduces waste and cost. For the menu itself, consider themes such as dessert or hors d’oeuvres. (For recipe ideas, see our article in this newsletter, “ Easy Recipes to Wow Your Holiday Guests ”)
  • Plan your menu around locally grown, seasonal fruits, vegetablesand beverages, if possible. This supports local farmers and business, and also reduces pollution because the trip from farm to market is short.
  • Use washable table linens, napkins, cutlery, and dinnerware. They’re more elegant than the other disposable options, and they can be used time and time again.

Wrap it Up
  • Make it a priority to buy only recycled wrapping paper. It is readily available at stores everywhere, and is the smart consumer choice.
  • Recycle brown paper bags to create your own wrapping paper. Slice potatoes in half and carve out designs. Then dab the potato stamps on colored stamp pads to create your own signature wrap. This is another great holiday project for kids, too.
  • Be creative and wrap gifts with old topographic maps, color comics, or gaudy thrift-store fabric.
  • Start a wrapping tradition. A member of our staff and her brother have an annual competition over who can use the ugliest wrap. It has become a fun and “green” tradition that started over fifteen years ago.
  •  In place of ribbon, use natural raffia. Raffia is a plant material that makes wonderful bows and can be found at your local craft store.
  • Choose reusable, fabric gift bags. You can make your own, or shop online for a broad selection. And to wrap oversized gifts, recycle old pillowcases, sheets or tablecloths. Embellish them with remnants of ribbon, buttons, and felt.

Party Favors
  • Upon arrival, present each guest with a mug or glass (use etching creme to create personalized messages) to be used for their drinks that night, and to take home as a memory of the evening.
  • Give guests two beeswax or soy taper candles wrapped with raffia and a tag that reads, “May your holiday be bright.”
  • Guests will be delighted with gifts of herbs in 4” pots (lavender and rosemary are good choices). Tie a raffia ribbon around each pot to add a festive touch.
  • Make edible party favors, such as cookies or truffles, for guests to bring home. Better yet, attach a recipe card to each goodie bag, and print one of the cookie recipes on it.
  • Create reusable party favors. Christmas tree ornaments are always a good bet. For guests who celebrate holidays other than Christmas, you can make nature Menorahs (cover a small tree branch with greenery, and glue blue candles in a row along the top of the bough), or hand out homemade tin candleholders (see above, under “Atmosphere”).
  • Make a mixed tape or CD of your favorite holiday (or non-holiday) music, complete with personalized covers and liner notes.

Cleanup Patrol
  • To help keep cleanup simple, set up a recycling center in your kitchen: one container for aluminum, one for glass, and one for compost.
  • Use planet friendly cleaners – you can purchase ready-made cleaners  or make your own. Baking soda, for example, works wonders on sinks, tubs, counters, and floors. For other homemade cleaner recipes, check out the book Clean House, Clean Planet.
  • Send guests home with leftover food. This cuts down on waste, simplifies cleanup, and makes the next day a bit easier for your guests as well.
  • Run your dishwasher and washing machine while you sleep. Nighttime is best for running large appliances, since it saves energy and money.
  • Mulch your tree and garlands. Many communities have municipal recycling centers that gather greenery to be mulched and turned into compost for city landscaping or for use by the public. For more information about mulching in your community, call your local city or town hall.