Everywhere you look, there are bright, shiny decorations. Strangers walk by mouthing the words to songs that everybody seems to know. Folks are beckoning you to taste this and sample that - it's Christmas shopping time!

Don't wait until you're standing in line at the check out to ponder the guilt you're about to feel as you struggle across the parking lot with all those bags. No, I'm not going to preach about curbing your shopping list. Instead I have a fun excuse you can use to go out and spend - you're saving the planet. That's right, you are hosting a "Green Christmas." (More and more companies are "going green", but that term, in itself, can be subjective. Learn more in Forget Green Stocks, "Green" Will Do.)

Have a sustainable celebration with the following ideas for an eco-friendly holiday:

Edible Wreath
The cook in your life will enjoy an herb wreath made of California thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and chili peppers. Edible wreaths can be found and ordered online, or you could always make your own.

Sustainable Ambiance
Most ornamental holiday candles are made of petroleum-based paraffin wax. Soy wax candles are plant based and therefore more "sustainable." Pure soy wax can't be formed and molded as well as petroleum, so you may find blended candles are best for decorating, but for little aromatic gifts, look for scented soy candles in glass containers.

Reusable Wrap
The $2.7 billion gift wrap business is turning green. Many more companies are offering eco-friendly alternatives, including gift bags made of recycled paper, reusable organic fabric bags, and glass containers you can use long after the holidays. Just look for the familiar recycle triangle on the bottom and, when it finally wears out, shred it into the compose pile or the recycle bin.

Responsible Spirits
Does your bartender recycle glass liqueur bottles? Should you opt for the newly chic wine-in-a-box? When shopping for the perfect beverage to go with the holiday feast, remember that, though wine boxes may be recyclable, it took vast amounts of water to recycle the paper they were made of. Paper breaks down each time it is recycled, while glass can be recycled over and over with little loss of product. It's ok to choose the glass package; just be sure it goes in the recycle bin instead of the land fill.

Ultimate Tree-Hugger Stocking-Stuffer
Give an actual live tree. Order evergreen seedlings for only $3 a piece from the Arbor Day Foundation. The trees come in partially recycled tubes that can be reused as bird feeders.

The best way to have a Green Christmas is to stay informed. Beware of "greenwashing," a tactic marketers use to convince buyers their products are environmentally friendly, when in fact no efforts are made to save the environment. Paula Collins, Principal & Co-Founder of the eco-friendly education organization Our Green Value, advises consumers to ask the following questions of each purchase:

  1. What raw materials were used? Consider the amount of water used and any negative impacts of the manufacturing process.
  2. Who made it? Were the workers in sweatshops?
  3. Where was it made? Were raw materials shipped overseas then finished products shipped back?
  4. What is the impact of using it? Are limited natural resources required to maintain it?
  5. What happens when you're done with it? Can it be reused or the materials recycled?
  6. How much does it cost? Does the price outweigh the benefit?

If you can't readily find the answers to these questions, look for items that are "certified green" by reputable environmental organizations. The ultimate goal is to minimize the mound of landfill bound, non-biodegradable "stuff" left on your curb at the end of the holiday season. So go forth holiday shoppers and claim your title as environmental heroes. (Green investing is the new buzz word for companies and investors, but What Does It Mean To Be Green?.)