At some point this Christmas season I, and most weary women I know, will ask the perennial question, "What do pricey gifts from the mall—that I can't really afford and my loved ones don't need—have to do with the real meaning of Christmas?"
If you're anything like me, at some point you've felt a bit ambivalent about the whole retail-driven enterprise of shopping for holiday gifts. We want to give gifts that will delight our loved ones. We want to hear the "oohs" and "ahhs" on Christmas morning when Aunt Millie unwraps the monogrammed glow-in-the-dark bedroom slippers we had imported from Italy. But we're not entirely convinced that a mountain of credit card debt to buy novelty gifts headed for a landfill is the very best way to celebrate the birth of the One who was born in a manger.
To be clear, I'm not suggesting going all Ebeneezer Scrooge! Most of us still want to give good gifts at the holidays—and possibly even "do good" at the same time.
A few years ago I decided to experiment by giving my loved ones a "virtual" gift from World Vision. For example, I "bought" the family knitter a sheep. The sheep was offered to a family in need who would use it both to earn income and also to bless their community through principles of micro-business. So on Christmas morning each person in my family received a certificate describing the gift made in their name and an awesome Christmas ornament I'd sculpted of their faces. (Because I'm a sucker for the "ooh" factor, that's why.)
If I'm honest, the stunning tree decoration was the easy part. Not offering beautifully-wrapped packages filled with surprises from specialty catalogs actually did take some real courage, because, though recipients were appropriately gracious (think, tight smiles trying to be brave in the face of non-wished-for gifts), my paper certificates of benevolence didn't bring the same "oohs," "aahs" a pair of glow-in-the-dark slippers may have.
Understandably, livestock donation may not have your name on it this year. But if the stress and expense of holiday gift-giving has become a burden, or if you share my concern about stewardship, you're not alone. A number of Christians who have been particularly thoughtful about their spending choices have discovered a rich variety of ways to bring light and life back to gift-giving at Christmas.
1. Give Without Overconsuming
A few years ago a group of Mennonite Christians in Canada, fed up with the rampant consumerism during the Christmas season, started a "Buy Nothing Christmas" campaign as a radical way to regain the true meaning of Christmas. Despite the ominous title, there wasn't one Scrooge in the bunch: They canned fruits. They stitched gifts. They feasted together.
Aiden Enns, one of the group's organizers explains, "Of course I'm not saying I literally buy nothing at Christmas. We have to buy supplies to make things; we do buy ingredients for feasts and celebrations. The important thing is to shift our thinking away from reckless and careless shopping."
You can visit www.BuyNothingChristmas.org to download coupons for homemade desserts, child care, or back massages that you can give to your family and friends.
2. Give Gifts That Have Been Fairly Traded
Each fall Sharon Coolidge, who teaches literature at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, hosts a Ten Thousand Villages sale with her husband, Norm Ewert, in their suburban home. Around the globe, native artisans create beautiful jewelry, textiles and other craft items that can be purchased at a Ten Thousand Villages store, or a similar affiliate. Every purchase supports women in developing regions who receive a living wage for their work.
Sharon Coolidge explains, "I'm excited about the work of Ten Thousand Villages because I've visited artisans around the world and have seen firsthand the difference it makes."
Giving these gorgeous gifts isn't about charity. Sharon Coolidge notes, "When I give a gift from Ten Thousand Villages, not only do I give a beautifully crafted and unique piece, but my purchase supports a living wage for an artisan that enables her to provide food, shelter, and education for her family. It's a gift that gives twice."
3. Give Things People Really Need
Author and church leader Nancy Ortberg, with a heart that beats for the poor and oppressed, is a woman who's fired up about shopping responsibly. Specifically, Ortberg advocates buying items we use every day that have been fairly traded at an online market called Trade As One (www.TradeAsOne.com). The site offers a variety of staples that include everything from cooking oats to salsa mix. And every purchase at Trade As One supports sustainable business that breaks the cycle of poverty and dependency in the developing world.
Nancy Ortberg explains, "These are dollars you and I are already going to spend for everyday food items. These aren't luxury purchases." She notes, "You can use your dollars already committed to putting those items on your shelves, and purchase them through the Trade As One website."
One friend who sends me a tasty food gift every Christmas adds, "Don't have to worry about sizes, wrapping, or delivery. And you can be fairly sure that at least one person in the family will like them." I look forward to receiving this box in the mail every December, because—unlike battery-powered plastic reindeer that poop chocolate candies—the food I receive is something that I actually want and need.
4. Give Gifts That Are Made, Found, or Regifted
For years I'd been searching for a certain small necklace charm. Specifically, I had my heart set on one shaped like a loaf of bread. After years of fruitless (breadless?) searching, I'd resigned myself to the reality that I'd most likely need to pursue metallurgy in retirement to ever score that charm.
Not long after, my husband and I decided to embrace a "make it or find it" Christmas. "Make it or find it" means that givers can offer anything they've created, found, or regifted. This could include: a knit cap or an original poem; seashells and sand dollars; the pair of socks that was too small; or the coffee maker that was too big. Admittedly requiring a bit of thoughtfulness and creativity, the implementation was actually a welcome relief. I painted Peter a picture, and he sculpted a small loaf of bread for me. Best Christmas present ever.
And if you've never brazenly regifted, Buy Nothing Christmas organizer Aiden Enns encourages, "Try it. It's fun!"
5. Give Gifts That Build Relationship
I have one friend who gives me the same gift every year. And I give her exactly the same one as well. If that sounds boring, it's actually quite the opposite! Twice annually, Glory and I treat one another to lunch at Panera's. Mathematical geniuses, we both realize that the sum total of all the gift-giving is a zero-game and really just amounts to eating a lot of food together. But the true gift we've given, and received, is the gift of friendship.
As you purpose to give gifts that build relationship, the possibilities really are endless. Give young parents the gift of child care for a night out on the town. Give a friend the treat of movie night—with popcorn!—at a theater or in your living room. Give frugal parents or grandparents a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant (or what would be their favorite if they ever ate out). Offer local nieces or nephews a sleepover at your home with a friend of their choosing.
This Christmas, gift-giving can be filled with more joy and freedom than you've ever imagined. With a bit of thoughtfulness, a smidge of creativity, and a pinch of courage, your holiday spending really can honor the One we celebrate on Christmas.
Gifts that Keep on Giving
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