Making the Holidays Meaningful, Sustainable and Simple

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

A growing number of people are “unplugging” from the holiday machine—or avoiding the hyper-consumerism that can be associated with the giving season. Even some companies, such as REI, are closing their doors on Black Friday following this trend.

People from all ages and backgrounds in Northwest Arkansas are planning sustainable, simple holidays. According to Kelly Holst, one of the touchiest subjects to deal with is that of gift giving. But last year, things changed. “I have a large extended family and we voted to stop giving material gifts to each other. Last year was one of our best Christmases ever. We exchanged names before Christmas and each recipient got to pick a favorite charity and each giver donated a gift to that chosen charity.“

While some forgo material gifts altogether, others are finding ways to transform their gift-giving through other methods.

“I am making gifts,” said Julie McQuade Hayes, commissioner at Keep Arkansas Beautiful. “One is a memory box with old postcards, photos and such. Another is making a throw blanket out of old sweaters and sheets.”

Christi Daniels, owner of Self-Full Living, had a similar idea.

“I’m going back through boxes of photos that have never been organized into scrapbooks, she said. “My goal is to pull together an updated scrapbook for each of my kids for Christmas that will span their lives to date.”

Replacing the Christmas morning gift-giving ritual with activities that help make Christmas more meaningful, less commercial, and more fun is the purpose of the Christmas Game which was recommended by Amanda Bancroft, writer of This game can be found at

Much impetus to helping to make the holidays simpler and less commercial is supported by the growing minimalist movement, which is defined on the blog www.becomingminimalist as “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it. Lucy Ozanne, an aspiring minimalist, wife, mother and business owner said, “Our family has decided to give gifts to the youngest generation. That means we will buy presents for my one-year-old daughter and my sisters’ kids. “ Shawn Haggerty, twenty-five, who has been a minimalist since she was eighteen, said that she only gives gifts to her immediate family. “I do other things to nurture people during this time, like having people over for dinner, giving cards with encouraging messages to girls I’m in ministry with, and baking.”

Chris Mikkelson, who has lived in a 320-square-foot tiny house for the past eighteen years and a graduate student at University of Arkansas, stated, “Our family gets together before Christmas and decides how we want to spend Christmas Eve and day together. Every year is a little bit different, but we always include a walk, a meal, prayer, songs, dancing and honoring Jesus in some special way. We don’t spend a lot of time cooking so that we can focus on our various activities just connecting with each other.”

Will Jeffries, master massage therapist and sustainability activist, said,“I keep my bags packed light, focusing on family and sending homemade Christmas cards to loved ones. It’s the simple things that people cherish and tend to remember the most.”

The holiday season is a time when pastors like Clint Schneklof, of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, have the opportunity to offer activities which increase meaning during the hectic season. “We simply observe Advent ( a Christian season which takes place the four Sundays before Christmas) as a season of repentance. One way we do that is by sharing a light meal Wednesday evenings and learning prayer practices.”

Sustainable living can be incorporated into the holiday season, as Abel Tomlinson gardener and landscaper pointed out. “Most new products include habitat destruction and water and air pollution in the unwritten ingredients. Buying used things helps. However, buying nothing is best, so my wife and I agreed not to buy any presents. We are only making things, like food.”

Moriah Santiago, Food Corps service member, lives out her values of sustainable living by using recycled materials to make gifts and items to sell for a good cause. “We are making Christmas tree ornaments to sell at school for a fundraiser using up-cycled materials, We have also made a bulk load of candles using essential oils in thrifted tea cups to give out as gifts and decorated the outside.

Shopping at farmers markets is another way to get in the habit to act sustainably during this festive time. There are now at least three winter markets in Fayetteville and one in Springdale where a large variety of locally grown foods and handmade items can be purchased.

Fayetteville Farmers Market meets on Saturdays 9-1 at the Jefferson Center at 612 College. There is a special holiday market on Dec. 19 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 224 N. East Ave., 9-1. The Green Fork market is open on Wednesdays from 4-7, year round in the breezeway Nightbird Books on Dickson Street. Wren Thicket market is 9-12 on Saturdays at 1041 S. School Ave., Springdale Farmers Market is at the Jones Center on East Emma and 265 in Springdale and meets from 9-1 on Saturdays.

How are you making your holiday season more sustainable, meaningful, and simple? Is this important to you? These are questions that are worth having a conversation about.

Patricia Mikkelson is a Simplified Living Coach, aka professional organizer and community organizer. Contact her at

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