Sustainable Holidays: Hanukkah, lights and wrapping paper

In the United States or any westernized country that celebrates Christmas or Hanukkah there is plenty of waste to be found. Regardless there are still ways to keep your traditions with a modern twist and sustainable twist. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Common)

If you grew up in the United States or any other westernized country that largely celebrates Christmas or Hanukkah, you may have found the holiday season is one often filled with excess. And with excess comes waste. But fear not, you can still have most, if not all, of your traditions but with a modern and more sustainable twist.

Last week I covered sustainable options for Christmas trees, looking at the different choices for Christians of America have when it comes to bringing some of the great outdoors, indoors. (A link to the article can be found at dailycampus.com under the life section). This time I will be discussing the sustainable options relating to other popular holidays celebrated in the United States.

First up, Hanukkah. There are lots of things to keep in mind this December as we head into Hanukkah. First and foremost is the menorah, as it is the centerpiece to this Jewish holiday. It is not uncommon for many to have menorahs that have been passed down through their families typically made of precious metals and perfect for windowsill or fireplace mantle displays.

Depending on the metal that your family’s menorah is made out of or plated with, it might need to be polished after sitting in storage for the past year. Keep in mind the type of polish you choose to use can have environmental impact. There are some DIY options for cleaning that involve baking soda but there are commercial options that are just as sustainable, like Sparkle Bright All-Natural Jewelry Cleaner. From their website: “100% ALL-NATURAL: Biodegradable, Environmentally Friendly, Non-Toxic, No Alcohol, No acids, Child Safe, Fresh Scent, Made in the USA - One of the only chemical-free cleaners on the market”

If you don’t have your own menorah and are in need of one this year, check out your local second hand and antique stores; you will be supporting local business and will likely find a one of a kind relic that you can then pass on to future generations. Another option would be to make your own. Menorahs are fairly simple in their design and can be made out of just about anything. For easy DIY menorah tips and inspiration check out Pinteresy and Etsy.

Finally, how and what you choose to burn can also have an environmental impact. The most sustainable options for candles are those made from bee’s wax or vegetable oils. These are not petroleum based and are much less damaging to the environment. Also, reducing the time the candles remain lit can be effective way to save as well. Use the time that the candles are lit to center the family on what Hanukah is all about. Fire lit story times are a wonderful way to reconnect with your faith and family. Public lightings are also a great way to consolidate the tradition and share with others, all while keeping the traditions alive.

All of these practices can also be applied to Kwanzaa traditions. The Kinara shares many qualities with the Jewish menorah so be sure you are doing what you can this holiday to sustainably and spiritually keep traditions alive.

If you’re more likely to be in the kitchen rather than around the menorah this Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, then be sure you are keeping sustainable practices for your holiday treats as well. Oil for frying Jewish latkes and doughnuts this time of year can be saved and reused when cooled and handled properly. At the end of the season, make sure you dispose of the oil responsibly at your local waste management centers. Most importantly, try and source all of your holiday ingredients as locally, organically and sustainably as you can, to ensure that latkes will never die!

Lastly, all religion, denominations and spirituality aside, winter is the season of giving and togetherness, and who doesn’t love and excuse to put up cool lights around their house? Both of these aspects can be made more sustainable too. Reusable cloth wrapping is a great way to start a new family tradition instead of wasteful and damaging wrapping paper. Cloth wrapping is often more elaborate and beautiful, and can even be given as a gift on its own. The Japanese have been doing this for years in their culture, just imagine the waste that is avoided by simply implementing a reusable option.

You can make cloth wrapping out of old T-shirts, blankets, and other clothing, or head to your local craft store and look for naturally produced fiber that is durable so it will last throughout the years and will ultimately be biodegradable.

If you don’t have 100 percent LED lights on/in your house this holiday season: What are you doing?! According to multiple sources LED lights use 90 percent less energy, and last roughly five times longer than traditional bulbs. I can understand wanting to use your old bulbs until they break but, if you do have old holiday lights, or lights that are broken, you can recycle your old incandescent string of lights by sending them to Holidayleds.com and you will receive a coupon good for 25 percent off any purchase of energy efficient LED lights.

Go to http://www.holidayleds.com/holidayledscom_christmas_light_recycling_program or call 866-492-4330.

Possibly the most important thing you can do to spread the word about sustainable practices is this: Remember to always be in good cheer and be generous this holiday season. Peace and generosity can go a long way when it comes to spreading sustainable practices. The future of our food, health, environment and children is a very strong and unifying sentiment so be sure to help others be more sustainable, not scold them for ignorance.

Until next semester, thank you all for reading. Happy holidays.


Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.wood@uconn.edu.