Photo via anti joe @ flickr
Stuck to white lights, green wreaths, and an 8-foot-spruce? Perhaps this is the year to start changing things up. Don't worry: We're not suggesting you get rid of that ornament your newlywed son made in first grade, but there are plenty of other ways--from incorporating nature into your place settings to finding new ways to use old holiday goodies--for you to give your home a December makeover without wasting time, money, or resources. Read on for seven of our favorites--and leave your can't-miss traditions in the comments.
1. String up Energy-saving LED lights
Make a cheery first impression with the right holiday lights for indoors and out by trading out your old incandescents for bright, bold LEDs--which can save you as much as 30 percent on your electric bill. Traditional bulbs tap between 6-9 watts, while LEDs use .05-.07; you could use an LED strand more than 200 times for the same cost as one use of an older strand. (Figure out your own savings at Holiday LEDs.) While the initial investment might seem like a lot, you can get discounts by recycling your old lights at Home Depot or Holiday LEDs--and since LEDs last longer, you won't need to replace the whole string next Thanksgiving. Want to save even more energy? Shell out for solar-powered LED lights, which use the power they collect throughout the day to light your home at night.
2. Choose the Right Tree (or None at All)
You can skip the tree entirely: Create a holiday atmosphere by lighting a pine-scented soy candle and decorating with branches and wreaths. But if you absolutely need a place for Santa to leave the presents, you can still add some green to your greenery: Choose a potted tree that you can replant outside; go to your local Christmas tree farm instead of buying one shipped from across the country; and choose an organically-grown version of your favorite pine or spruce. And once the needles have dropped and the season is over, recycle it through curbside pickup (after which most trees are turned to mulch) or check Earth 911 for a list of drop-off locations near you.
3. Think Recycled, Used, Biodegradable, or Already Owned Ornaments
Unless you're decorating a tree that's going to be highlighted in some sort of national decorating magazine, trust us: You do not need perfectly new, color-coordinated ornaments every year. But you also don't need to use everyone one of your elementary school art project ones every year, either: Try choosing a color or theme to help you edit your collection and give your tree a modern look, from traditional red, gold, and silver to more contemporary purple, blue, and green. Still think your tree is a little bare? Collect family favorites from your parents or grandparents; make your own ornaments from recyclables, cloth, or paper; or bake new ones from biodegradable dough.
4. Serve a Festive Feast with a Gorgeous Centerpiece
Planning an eco-friendly, vegetarian menu is one thing (see our green dinner party tips for foolproof, flawless food) but every great entertainer knows that presentation is everything. Creative, inexpensive centerpieces--like fresh foliage from your yard, mix-and-match ornaments, or holiday potpourri--can take the place of elaborate displays while keeping your table cozy and comfortable. Shop for coordinating (but not identical) holiday dishes at thrift stores and yard sales to create one-of-a-kind place settings for each of your guests (and rearrange them next year for an entirely new look). And don't underestimate the beauty of the food itself: Serve pumpkin soup in a hollowed out pumpkin, stuff squash for extra effect, and let bright berries pop on neutral platters.