Although December has become the most commercialized time of year, celebrating the holidays doesn’t have to center around spending lots of money on things you don’t need. In addition to the religious holidays, this time of year is traditionally a time to celebrate the natural world and the winter solstice.  In the spirit of the season, we’ve rounded a few ways to celebrate the season without getting caught up in the materialist mindset. From nature-inspired decorations to vegan menu ideas, read on to be inspired by some natural holiday traditions from around the world.

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Pine Cones

Decorations Influenced by Nature

Tropical countries may bring fresh flowers into the home, while those in Australia have “Christmas Bushes”; plants with red flowers and green leaves that fit right in with traditional holiday colors. Those of us in colder climates can find ethically sourced evergreen branches, holly, and mistletoe to deck our own halls, the ubiquitous Christmas tree can be sourced from a sustainable tree farm, and there are also great tree alternatives if you’d prefer to go the artificial route, with the benefit being that it can be used for years to come. If you do choose a fresh tree, please remember to put it out at the curb after the holidays so it can be picked up to be composted!

For additional festive decor, pine cones and acorns can be painted or tied with ribbons and then hung up as ornaments, and scrap paper can be transformed into snowflakes, garlands, or bunting. We can also make interesting displays from foraged branches and twigs from the backyard or local forested area: try visiting Pinterest for ideas about how to use them.

Related: 14 faux Christmas trees to green your holidays

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Plant-Based and Nature-Inspired Food

Instead of turkey or ham this year, consider celebrating this season of good will with a gentle, cruelty-free meal. There are so many incredible vegetarian and vegan dishes out there, and you might find some new favorites! Those who celebrate Hanukkah will be feasting on latkes, while many who celebrate the Winter Solstice will be eating seasonal foods like roasted root vegetables and mushroom stew. Take a quick jaunt over to Epicurious and pore through the hundreds of recipes there to discover some that inspire you. Russian people eat a meat-free meal on Christmas eve, which includes a rich grain porridge, while in Poland and Lithuania, that meal is celebrated with 12 meatless dishes! (Here’s a tip: perogies are wonderful to eat, fun to make, and can be filled with everything from potatoes and cheese to mushrooms and buckwheat, caramelized onions, and roasted squash .)

As for foods inspired by plants, rather than solely being made from them, have you ever tried a bûche de Noël? You might know it as a “yule log” instead: a delicious dessert of rolled cake with a cream (or ice cream) filling, and then decorated to look like a log. It can be made in so many different ways, from vegan to gluten-free, so you can get creative with bits like meringue mushrooms or pretzel twigs.

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Kindness to Animal Friends

Kindness towards animals, especially during the holidays, is a key aspect of Scandinavian culture. In Sweden, Denmark, and Finland,  seeds, grains, and nuts are placed outside for the birds on Christmas eve, and many people refrain from eating their holiday dinner until the birds have had their meal. You can get in on this tradition by creating some feeders from suet or nut butter and wild bird seed, or just scatter the seeds around your yard for the little friends to enjoy.

Remember that animals in shelters won’t be chewing on new bones or getting cuddles the way that your own pets will, so please consider donating food, blankets, towels, and even toys and/or treats to your local shelter. If you can open your home and heart to a foster animal for the holidays, or even consider giving a little one their new forever home, even better.

(Note: If you do adopt, please make sure that it is, in fact, a forever home: many animals are given as gifts during the holidays, only to be returned shortly afterwards.)

Photos via Shutterstock