Deck the Halls Without Hidden Toxins

From handmade decorations to the safest plants, discover how to fill your home with holiday cheer—the natural way.

The first glimmer of holiday magic is often felt once the music starts playing and the decorations go up: stockings hung by the fireside, a brightly lit tree, the smell of pine cones and gingerbread, you name it. Before you open your box labeled “holiday decor” or go to the store to buy more ornaments, consider how safe your go-to decorations are for your family’s health (adults, children, and pets). Unfortunately, many conventional holiday decorations contain toxins like lead, phthalates, or pesticides that can act as endocrine disruptors with varying health risks, especially for young kids. Here are our best tips for how to decorate for the holidays in the healthiest way.

The Tree

A Christmas tree is the centerpiece of holiday décor for many families. While you might consider an artificial tree to be better for the environment because you can reuse it year after year, it’s important to note the toxins that are lurking in its branches. 

Artificial trees are usually made of a type of plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which contains chemical additives such as lead and phthalates. Phthalates have been shown to damage the male reproductive system and no level of lead exposure has been proven safe.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “Lead harms almost every organ system in the body and has been linked to a staggering array of health effects, including permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage and nervous system problems.”  You can learn more about these and other common endocrine disruptors, here

On the flip side, some families worry about the environmental impact of cutting down real trees. However, real Christmas trees are grown on farms specifically for the holidays. These trees often take a decade to grow, but a farmer will plant a new tree in place of each one that’s cut. When shopping for a real tree, beware of pesticides and try to find an organically grown tree. 

Holiday Decorations

Cultivating a connected family unit takes intentional effort—and a lot of it. One of your top priorities will be to establish a structured and comfortable environment for your children so that they can feel loved and safe. Peaceful parenting starts with a commitment to be intentional through your words and actions. Dr. Markham offers these Stringed lights are mesmerizing, but so many brands on the market contain lead. Instead, search for lead-free lights to hang on the tree or adorn the mantle.

Shopping tip: Look for the RoHS Compliant label that restricts the use of six hazardous materials, including lead. Quntis is a certified RoHS Compliant brand available at Walmart.

Tree ornaments are often made of plastic, metal, or materials that contain lead and other harmful substances. Skip the tinsel and plastic ornaments and go all-natural with your holiday décor this year by incorporating items foraged from nature. You can even make it a fun outing to gather sticks, greenery, pinecones, and more to make a beautiful wreath or small decorations for each area of your home.Natural Alternative: Ornaments: Dried sliced oranges, cinnamon stick stars, scented pinecones, popcorn garland, and salt dough ornaments with cookie cutters. For Hanukkah, craft these Plantable Seed Paper Dreidels from KIWI.

Festive Plants and Fragrances

From holly and ivy to mistletoe and poinsettias, traditional holiday plants are cherished as festive decorations throughout the home. Some, however, can be mildly toxic or even cause severe symptoms in your pets or pose a choking hazard for young kids if ingested. (Note, the European mistletoe causes more concern than its American counterpart.)

Natural Alternative: Try Autumn Olive instead of holly; red roses instead of poinsettias. In place of mistletoe, consider making a “kissing ball” by combining short sprigs of boxwood or other greenery hung by some ribbon or twine. 

Holiday scents are a must to get your family in the spirit but be mindful of what your candle is doing to the indoor air quality. Some scented candles contain phthalates or carcinogenic components such as formaldehyde or acetaldehyde as part of the fragrance. 

The wax of most conventional candles is made of paraffin, which is derived from petroleum. Paraffin is not a sustainable resource and has also come under the microscope for releasing carcinogenic soot when burned, according to Green America. Some experts have refuted that paraffin wax candles pose a risk, but more data is needed.

Natural Alternative: Choose soy wax (a vegan-friendly option) or beeswax candles for your menorah. Make your own potpourri by combining citrus, warm spices, cranberries, and cinnamon. Or go simple by decorating with fresh pine sprigs or boiling, then simmering cinnamon sticks in water to help your home smell like the holidays.

The Holiday Feast

Whether your family dines on braised brisket and potato latkes, roasted turkey and root vegetables, or anything in between, holiday meals offer some of the best passed-down family traditions. 

To reduce your family’s exposure to pesticides in your food, commit to using as many organic ingredients as possible. You can start by swapping out conventional produce with organic varieties. You can even go meatless to cut your carbon footprint.

Shopping tip: Consult the EWG’s 2021 “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists to learn which produce has the highest concentration of pesticides and which has the lowest. These lists may then help you prioritize your organic purchases at the grocery store.

For more holiday-inspired recipes, check out KIWI’s online Holiday Recipes.