What the Planet Wants for Christmas

Crystal Possehl-Oakes with environmental-themed gifts at the South Fork Natural History Museum. Jenny Noble photo.

By Jenny Noble

In 1982, my mother had a nervous breakdown that we teenagers probably caused.

She announced that we were going to have a “Love Christmas.”

“A what?” I asked, color draining from my face.

“That’s an oxymoron!” my sister shot back.

“You girls have gotten so materialistic, I can’t stand it anymore. So this Christmas, we’re all going to make each other gifts.”

Without missing a beat, my sister said, “Make me a Sony Walkman.”

I sat quietly weeping.

Those were the good old days, when shopaholics roamed freely, without having to worry about things like carbon emissions. Or the future of life on earth.

Today, we know that the carbon dioxide emitted to make plastic toys, disposable clothing and unwanted Christmas and Hanukkah gifts, wreaks havoc on the environment. In the U.S., a person produces an average of 1,400 additional pounds of CO2 every holiday season. That’s 4 percent of their annual carbon foot print and the equivalent of just over a thousand pounds of figgy pudding.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to give the planet a break without feeling Grinchy. Here are some COVID-safe ideas.

Bittersweet vine put to good use as a wreath at Marders in Bridgehampton. Jenny Noble photo.

Give the gift of somewhere to go:

Rent bikes or make a coupon to take a hike in Montauk (include Mike Botttini’s trail guide to the South Fork).

Give a membership to the South Fork Natural History Museum, where one can learn about sharks, astronomy, native butterflies and find loads of other ways to learn about wildlife on the East end.

Get memberships or tickets to events at cultural institutions like Parrish Art Museum, Guild Hall or Southampton Arts Center which still offer exhibitions, lectures, music, camps and workshops. Gift a Long Island Aquarium membership, where you’ll find everything from penguins to porcupines and a variety of habitats from across the world. If it crawls, flies, or swims, they probably have a workshop for it.

Give the gift of something to care for:

Gardeners will appreciate tools for a hobby that benefits both the land and their health. If you’re dealing with indoor people, consider a plant. The Christmas cactus, Boston fern and peace lily are especially known to produce oxygen and remove toxins from the air. Even having a goldfish is a simple distraction during times of COVID.

Help someone who’s stuck indoors discover backyard birding. Wild Bird Crossing in Bridgehampton sells locally made birdhouses and recycled plastic bird feeders. They offer a library of bird books to learn who’s who. Manager Bruce Horwith points out, “You’ll enjoy the play more if you know who the characters are.”

Give the gift of something to make:

The best place for projects is Mind Offline, a pop up and online store that sells kits to make pottery, embroidery, and skate boards, blend chai tea or even learn cartooning. About 90-percent of their craftspeople are local and much of the material is recycled. My favorite project is making wool sleeves to cover Southampton Soaps.

“It’s like an antimicrobial wash cloth and helps the soap bar last 10 times longer,” says manager Rowan Hausam. “Peasants used it back in Europe.”

Give a gift you’ve made:

Create a sentimental gift such as a framed photo or scrapbook of a past trip now that traveling is more difficult. Bake cookies or make someone’s favorite dinner. If you like to sing — and your voice isn’t categorized as noise pollution — record a song with the Garage Band app for free. Custom make a Spotify playlist. Or check out Innersleeve Records in Amagansett, where the majority of records and CDs are used and there’s a decent selection of used turntables.

Give the gift of time:

Almost everyone has a skill or talent they can share. Offer to fix something or cut someone’s hair. Babysit, coach basketball or offer a Spanish lesson. If you work in banking, offer help organizing financial records. My son worked at a car wash all summer, so he knows what to give my car for Christmas.

For us hunter-gatherer types who are still itching to buy stuff, we can do it more environmentally.

Assemble a gift basket with items from Second Nature. Jenny Noble photo.

The number one rule: Buy local.

If the planet could choose only one local store for you to buy it a Christmas present, it would be Marders in Bridgehampton. This magical kingdom of garden design has several creative and planet-friendly options. Take what they do with weeds. The invasive bittersweet vine is transformed into a wreath of bright red berries. Tucker Marder’s soaps are made with Rosa rugosa, which smells wonderful, but is also an invasive species.

As a coffee junky, my favorite gift-to-self is one of Marders’ stylishly patterned “No Excuse For Single Use” portable coffee cups. Provisions also has 35 varieties of portable coffee cups and water bottles. For the perfect pandemic stocking stuffer, check out Aura Winarick’s up-cycled masks that she makes from high end vintage fabrics.

If you love to pop into thrift stores and yard sales throughout the year, keep an eye out for what a friend might like. Also, check out Free Cycle East End and Bonac Yard Sale on Facebook for recycled goodies.

Here’s what’s not very environmental. Eco-bling! Himalayan salt stones may cleanse  your space of bad psychic vibes, but there’s nothing about them that reduces CO2. Mining is not environmental. And heavy rocks shipped from the Himalayas? Think about it. Or that used surfer T-shirt with a ripped collar that sells for $220? It would be more environmental to buy it for $3 from Salvation Army and donate the remaining $217 to the World Wildlife Foundation. Or better yet, I have a few of my sons old surfer T shirts that I’d be willing to sell you for only $180.

Susan Blacklocke with locally made wooden bowls sold at Provisions in Sag Harbor. Jenny Noble photo.

These days, Amazon might visit your house more often than your friends do. While almost all local stores offer online shopping, it’s hard to kick the habit. Just know that 91 percent of plastic used to ship packages ends up in landfills, incinerators or our oceans. But don’t boycott it. Nicole Delma, founder of change.org says, “Boycotting is counterproductive because if Amazon doesn’t know why you’ve stopped using them, they won’t know what to change.” Instead, go to change.org/plasticfreechoice and sign the petition to get Amazon to offer a plastic-free packaging option.

We have about 10 years to reduce carbon emissions in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. So this Christmas, give the gift that keeps on giving — a healthy planet.

Merry Christmas Planet Fans!


sokindregistry.org: all-purpose gift registry and amazing source for alternate gift ideas.

charitygiftcertificates.org: recipients pick three of their favorite causes from over 1,000 choices for you to make a donation.

newdream.org: a nonprofit that focuses on reducing consumption, building community, and improving quality of life. (see “Simplify The Holidays”).

Jenny Noble is a writer and mother who enjoys food, water and clean air.