So the gifts are bought (wishful thinking for some, I know), and you're ready to set the stage for the holidays by dressing up your dining table and those gifts with some sparkle and finishing touches that please the eye and warm the heart. Welcoming friends and family with food and gifts of the season is one of the best parts of the holiday season...and if you keep it simple, you can actually enjoy your guests as well as being gentler on the planet.

Start by taking advantage of what nature has to offer. After all, don't we all deserve something back after the pounding Mother Nature has given us recently? Instead of buying costly flower arrangements or other decorating "stuff," consider decorating your dining table with branches of evergreens, pine cones, batches of berry-filled holly, or even bare branches sprayed with a little sparkling (fake) snow. Look around your own yard first for colors and shapes that will work together, or ask your neighbor if you can prune a few shrubs to gather what you need. Use your imagination and let your children help; time spent now with your kids will build memories and relationships, and teach them the value of our natural world. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, or home-decorated cookies or gingerbread houses also make charming centerpieces.

Look to nature for your gift garnishes as well. Instead of using yards of ribbon that will be thrown away later, top your gifts with sprigs of herbs, pines, fir or cedar branch tips tied with twine. Add a little sparkle by lightly coating them with glue and dusting with glitter.

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When you are preparing for your holiday get togethers, plan to avoid paper and plastic disposable products as much as possible. Cloth tablecloths and napkins in creamy white or bright holiday colors can be reused year-in and year-out, saving lots of money and creating an elegant ambiance that paper products can't match. Use "real" dishes, glasses and cutlery if at all possible. You can buy (perhaps sharing the cost with friends), rent or borrow dishes and glasses. An upfront cost now will turn into savings over the years. Or go with an eclectic look, filling your table with a colorful mix of non-matching items, a fun alternative to matched sets.

We all have traditional foods we serve during the holidays and no need to change that, but how about reducing the portions of unhealthy food and adding a few vegetarian dishes as well. A colorful pile of cut fresh veggies is healthy and appealing. A Christmas mixed greens salad sprinkled with glistening red pomegranate seeds is gorgeous and delicious. If you’re having a buffet, mix it up with a variety of colors and textures, and use smaller plates to reduce the possibility of leftover food that would go to waste. And for a lovely aroma in the house, keep a pot of warm mulled cider on the stove.

Don't forget to recycle the bottles, cans and plastic from wine, beer, and soda. Ask your guests to place their empties in a marked container in a discrete place or just collect all the empties in the kitchen to recycle after the party. Remember, in Summit, all glass, aluminum, and plastics labeled 1-7 can be comingled in one container, so it's easy to do the right thing.

So think green this holiday season by making it simple and eco-friendly. Members and friends of the Summit Environmental Commission wish you and your families love, joy, and peace this holiday season.

By Beth Lovejoy, on behalf of the Summit Environmental Commission