Sustainable Holidays With Juniper Station

With the holidays, ambience is EVERYTHING. My childhood memories of the
yuletide are entirely sensory. They’re basically sugar-coated fever dreams
with Bing Crosby and Judy Garland fading in and out of the background (or Neil
Diamond and Amy Grant depending on the company). With age, I’ve settled into
my own, particular version of this, trading out velcro advent calendars for
conifer-shaped wooden ones, and adding our own family traditions like red
velvet bows on the Christmas tree (the bows were handed down from my
mother-in-law... more on that later... parents and in-laws are ripe sources for
classic holiday decor). But the goal of the trappings hasn’t changed: make me
feel something, preferably something warm and fuzzy. The holidays and its
stuff are all about making us feel the magic.

But it’s also the stuff that tends to get us in trouble. There are as many
different ways to create holiday ambience as there are people on the planet,
but so many of these options turn a blind eye to growing landfills and suffering polar
bears. I, personally, haven’t found looking away from these atrocities to add
much cheer to said ambience. So for everyone’s sake - every bee, bear and baby
- I’ve created a simple (and very fun, I think!) guide to a sustainable
holiday season, specifically for throwing responsible, eco-friendly holiday
parties. All the warm feels and none of the globally-warming ones. So let’s
get into it. I want to start with some of the more obvious, old tricks our dearest mamas have been slinging since before we gave them grandbabies. Because they are gems (the ideas and the mamas).

  • Save old Pellegrino and wine bottles for water carafes. Green glass is stunning, especially next to a flickering candle. And you don’t really need those little plastic inserts, in my opinion. Maybe a hot take, but I stand by it.
  • Use cloth napkins. They’re classy, pretty, and don’t end up in a landfill. Don’t have cloth napkins? We've got some great ones in store! Or you can make some from old fabric scraps (easiest sewing project ever, and if they’re not perfect-looking, your earth-friendly friends will still be impressed), or ask an older relative if you can borrow some.
  • Save old yogurt and pasta jars to send leftovers home with guests. Less food wasted, second life given to a container, and no unreturned glass snapware that you might miss.

Here are some tips specifically geared toward serving food at your zero waste shindig:

  • If you don’t have enough silverware or flatware to serve all of your guests, skip the single-use stuff and buy some eclectic pieces at the thrift store. This simultaneously creates a cool, mismatched look and saves exquisite, vintage dishware from a premature death. Plus, you won’t regret inexpensively growing your flatware collection when you go to throw your next party.
  • In the same thread, shop second-hand vases, glassware, cake stands, and serving platters. I promise what you’ll find is prettier and more interesting than the new stuff! You might even find some milk glass. Double-score.
  • Serve cocktails or punch rather than canned libations. Aluminum is low-impact, but nixing single-use containers is even better.
  • Use low-impact nuts in holiday baking and candy-making. Some common legumes suck an excess of precious water from our planet. Nuts to avoid using in excess are almonds, pistachios, and walnuts. Consider subbing nuts that require less water in the farming process.
  • Use recipes that utilize in-season produce, and shop organic.
  • Serve local jams, cheeses, teas, wines and spirits. This, as we know, abounds in benefits, positively impacting the community, large and small. (And what better place to be a locavore than Napa?)
  • Serve olives. Besides being a culinary gift from the gods, olive groves are enormous carbon sinks! Supporting industries that support the earth (and our taste buds) has a huge impact.

And when it comes to decorating the table

  • Ask local Christmas tree stands for scraps to incorporate into centerpieces, hurricane lamps, and just about any decorative little moment around the house you can think of.
  • Use nature-walk elements in decorating. Pine cones, gnarled sticks, and dried flowers from last spring and summer look beautiful scattered on tables or crafted into homemade wreaths. (If you go the stick/wreath direction and have some young people in your life to do the doing, consider this smorgasbord of benefits: yard cleanup, keeping kids busy and instilling them with a sense of satisfaction, fresh air, AND gorgeous decor. Another hot take - perfect is boring, not gorgeous. Imperfect homemade wreaths carefully twisted by tiny hands are the definition of gorgeous.)
  • Decorate with cranberries, and then compost them. Let’s be honest. They’re much better-looking than they are tasting. We’re big fans of online videos in which lovely, creative people virtually tour us around their heavenly homes complete with tasteful interiors, and you can be sure these design savants are tossing a fresh handful of cranberries around candlesticks and between evergreen clippings for the warmest, fuzziest centerpiece feels.
  • Use kraft paper in decorating! One inexpensive roll from the hardware store can last you years! Our roll is about three years old, and I literally cut a piece off everyday for some reason or other. And if you’re like me, and have sworn off wrapping paper forever, it’s an attractive substitute. You can even custom design it! And finally, kraft paper is all-natural, biodegradable, recyclable, and compostable! (And it adds good vibes to all things.) I really love kraft paper, if you couldn’t tell.
  • Decorate houseplants with twinkle lights and strings of beads. Last Christmas season, a spontaneous urge came over me to string wooden beads. I imagined my young sons spending hours with me at the kitchen table just stringing beads and talking about life. Though the latter part of the fantasy didn’t pan out, I derived an immense amount of satisfaction and relaxation from the activity (maybe my ancestors were really into it??) and made personalized strands representing each family member for the Christmas tree. To be honest, I’ll probably make more this year.
  • For scents (our most poignant sense), consider essential oils (I love cedar and frankincense for the cold months), beeswax candles, cinnamon brooms, and cinnamon pinecones.
  • Display after-dinner local teas in upcycled mason jars.
Finally, I want to leave you with this: If a few of your goodies require

importing or you do order some items from big business - maybe it’s a family
tradition you can’t let go of because your late, sweet granny was all about it
- take a moment to give thanks for everyone that made it possible for the morsel to arrive in your mouth or the package to arrive at your doorstep. Give
thanks for the truck drivers, the pilots, the factory workers who put a little
bit of themselves into your holiday happiness. We may not be perfect, just as
no holiday season or party is, but we’re so grateful. So tread lightly, shop
local, and pause before you click. When you’re intentional about the decisions
you make in every corner of your life, it is felt. Give yourself, your guests,
and the world the gift of a modest ecological footprint. But make it gorgeous.

Photo Cred: Taylor Heery