How can something as (potentially) shallow as Christmas gift shopping be a great way to make a difference in the world?
Easy If we aspire to living a life where our actions reflect our values, then how we spend our time and money on Christmas gifts can make a real impact on people beyond the friends and family on our list.
Turn Christmas values into Christmassy actions
If your values happen to spring from a Christian commitment, this is where confrontational biblical authors like James come in:
126 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
214 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.
It’s all very well knowing stuff about God, as the Biblical writers often say, but it’s really what you do with that knowledge, to make the world a bit more like heaven, that counts.
So alongside our stories of stables and mangers and angels, let’s make sure we model and explain the connection between ‘beliefs’ (whatever they are) and actions for the kids in our lives. One great way to do this is to put our Christmassy values – sacred or secular – into practice in our Christmas giving.
I’ve been thinking (and asking Facebook and Twitter) about all the different kinds of ways our gift-giving can make the world a better place, not just for us and our gift-recipients, but in a wider sense. Thanks for your dozens of ideas!
It seems to me there are a bunch of different ways we can get extra bang for our Christmas shopping buck:
- being conscious consumers: buying with our ethics in mind and sending our money somewhere worthy – supporting businesses with high standards in terms of fairtrade, eco-friendliness, animal welfare, industrial relations, gender equality and so on
- giving things people really need that won’t be wasted
- considering plenty of free or thrifty options that show our love
- making charitable donations as a Christmas gift
- giving gifts that will make the world a better place as well as make the recipients feel loved.
Here are some specific ideas for doing those things – and I’d love you to add your ideas in the comments below, please!
Choose information over surprise
I do like a good surprise present. But I also like getting things I actually want. It’s a juggle.
The biggest reason for all the materials, labour, transport and opportunity cost of your kindly-meant Christmas present to be a complete waste is this: the recipient doesn’t actually want it.
So check first. Ask for a list of ideas, or check with a partner, parent or friend for inside info
Almost anything you buy to give to someone is made up of precious resources, laboured over by real people, and transported (from, say, mine to refinery to factory to wholesaler to retailer to you!) at cost to the environment. So don’t let all that go to waste for the sake of a gamble.
Give non-toy Christmas gifts to kids
For present ideas for kids that are thrifty, eco-friendly and foster great things in kids, Lucy at Lulastic and the Hippy Shake has a wonderful post with Sixty Great Gift Alternatives to Toys. Great for Christmas gifts, birthday gifts and anytime you want to treat a child:
A few toys can be fantastic, but the fact is most of us have MORE than a few; many of us have homes filled to the brim to toys and we can’t take any more! Too many toys can push a child’s imagination right under the bed and will eventually wreck the planet our children have got to enjoy for the rest of their lives. (Read my thoughts on that here.)
But friends, Aunties, grandparents and neighbours want to show loooove! It’s the kid’s BIRTHDAY! It’s CHRISTMAS!
Well. Thank goodness for this here list. There are so many alternatives. Millions (okay, here there are sixty but I’m sure we’ve still only scratched the surface!) of ways to show you care, and for the most part they fire a child’s imagination and cause less havoc for the environment. Many of them are free, or cheap and plenty of them can be found in charity shops. There is a common theme of taking children seriously- of trusting them and their abilities, of giving them tools to create.
[Read more at Lulastic]
Her 60 crowd-sourced ideas (she asked Twitter, ‘what’s the best non-toy gift you were given as a kid?’) are grouped under the headings:
- Culturising (arts and culture)
Check out the full list here. It’s flipping brilliant.
Rachel at Nourishing Minimalism has an overlapping list of 18 non-toy ideas to check out too.
[New Section!] Give ethical clothing as presents
Buying new clothing that has been produced ethically (more on that definition here) is usually more expensive than whipping into a chain-store and buying cheap clothes.
For a special present, check out one of these wonderful companies making and selling clothing that doesn’t exploit workers and makes minimal impact on the environment.
The other great thing about this option, of course, is that most of us do need to wear clothes, at least some of the time, so this is a useful gift idea.
Some of my favourites, all of whom deliver:
And for an amazing, comprehensive list, check out the Muka Kids list of brands they recommend.
Buy locally-made gifts from small businesses
A huge number of people are now turning their arts-and-craftiness or technical know-how into small retail businesses, often fitting the making-and-selling around raising kids, or being social activists, or working in other jobs they like less than their business.
Support these guys! Buying locally has the advantage (usually) of less fossil-fuel usage on shipping, it supports the economy where you live, and rewards the thoughtful creativity of your neighbours. Many of these businesses are eco-friendly in other ways, and they’re unlikely to be exploiting their workers (except their hard-working selves!) or engaging in unfair trade.
Laura Giddey wrote a great guest post last year featuring a bunch of great local businesses based in Auckland and beyond, making everything from cushions to cupcakes. Check out her list and the other ideas in the comments, and start thinking of options near you.
If you’d like to write a guest post featuring creators you know, I’d love to hear from you!
Buy ‘ethical’ Christmas gifts
Everyone has ‘ethics’, whether they’re worthy or reprehensible, but what we usually mean by ‘buying ethically’ is taking into account much more than price and shininess of products and services.
If you need to buy some Christmas cards, you could stock up at the supermarket, where your money goes to a multinational stationery company, or you could instead go to a charity or fairtrade shop, and buy cards where money from the purchase price is guaranteed to go to, say, cancer research or to fair wages in a developing community.
In London there’s a brilliant Fair Christmas Fayre each year on Oxford St. If you know of something similar somewhere else, please add it below.
My top tip is to buy as many Christmas presents as you are going to actually purchase from a fairtrade shop like Trade Aid (add a link in the comments to the equivalent where you are, please!). Some of the best gifts I’ve given and received have been from here.
For a couple of family birthdays, I recently sent a bunch of treats from Trade Aid – ordered online with free delivery, even! The package was a mixture of:
- fairtrade chocolate: paying a fair wage to otherwise exploited cocoa and sugar farmers, and packed in compostable packaging (also extremely delicious)
- fairtrade soap: wonderful-smelling, made from simple, eco-friendly ingredients, in recycled packaging, supporting a business in South India
- fairtrade olive oil: made by farmers in Palestine
- a couple of notebooks for these artistic family members: made from recycled and scrap materials, supporting a business in Bangladesh
(Actually, the soap, chocolate and olive oil from Trade Aid are staples in our grocery shopping, too – we try to send some of our grocery budget in this direction regularly.)
Trade Aid also has a lovely selection of homeware (tea sets, cushions, storage baskets, blankets, and so on), lots of things for kids, and more. I seriously reckon you could do all your Christmas shopping in this one place (or even do it online with free delivery!).
(I just reread this section and feel like I need to stress that no one is paying me to say anything in this post )
In New Zealand, you can find businesses that sell fairtrade items, or products made with other ethical priorities, by visiting the nifty Conscious Consumers website. (Overseas equivalents, friends?)
And here are a few more specific ideas of ‘ethical’ gifts that will make a real difference to someone you don’t know as well as someone you do:
- Beautiful leatherwork from The Loyal Workshop. Satchels, walletsa, belts and more, made by women in Kolkata who have become artisans as a way out of the sex trade
- TOMS shoes (you buy one pair and they give one pair away to a shoeless child – thanks Karen and Glen for this idea and the next)
- Freeset bags and t-shirts (also made by women in India as a path out of sexual slavery)
- Add links to other specific products you know of in the comments, please!
Get your craft on
Pinterest is your friend if you’d like to make a home-made Christmas gift with your own fair hands.
If you’re aiming for a unique gift idea, this is, of course, the best way to go about it.
I found these easy home-made gift ideas sites in two minutes of Pinteresting:
Or if you just want one reliable source, head over to Lulastic for lots of clever, thrifty and easy gift ideas in this post: 20 Handmade Gifts for Grown-ups.
Please leave your home-made present ideas and things you’ve made in the past in the comments below
Give home-made food treats
If you are known for your healthy home-made muesli, your (no-one would guess that they’re) sugar-free treats, or your gosh-that-seems-like-more-work-than-I-can-cope-with kombucha why not share the love with everyone else?
Of course you can also just give plain old treats – they don’t have to be healthy
Whatever they are, home-made food gifts are win-win-win. They take time but usually much less money than normal Christmas shopping, they radiate love and kindness with every bite, and they might even help your friends and family get interested in something that will benefit their health for the following year. Include a recipe card with the gift if that’s part of the plan!
I know lots of you will already do this – could you please tell us in the comments what kinds of things you’ve made as gifts?
A variation is to give a pretty jar with the ingredients layered so you’re giving a fun, easy baking experience to someone (good idea, Catherine). Here’s a collection of recipe ideas (very easy to adapt the process to your favourite recipes).
Home-made potions or starter packs make great presents too
You know how I made that awesome home-made dishwashing detergent? It took me six years to work my way up to that level of hippie home-cleaning. It’s not that it was hard, just that the mental energy required was always a bit too much.
If you have made a breakthrough in some kind of eco-cleaning or similar area, help your friends to jump the mental energy hurdle with a little gift pack.
You could give a sample of your own home-made batch, along with containers of the ingredients and clear instructions, so they can try it out with no effort, then not need to even go shopping if they want to carry on.
Give a child the chance to give
This was a great idea from Daina: how about giving a child in your life $20 and an hour of your time to spend on food to give to your local food bank or women’s refuge? Or for a present for someone they don’t know through a present-giving charity in your town?
Maybe they could choose things to make up a pack for, as Angela suggested, 4 The Kidz (which provides snuggle packs for kids undergoing forensic examinations), or perhaps to the child of someone in prison through Prison Fellowship (thanks, Anna).
Give Christmas vouchers for your personal time (including hospitality)
Think about what you have to offer the world, and offer it.
Write in a Christmas card that you would like to offer two or four (or whatever) hours of your time to:
- proofread (if you have students in your circle)
- help write a CV
- do some home maintenance
- teach a computer skill
- do mechanical work
- sew or mend
I reckon a special subset of this is hospitality. Do you know people who really appreciate coming to your house for company and/or a good feed? Maybe people who live alone, or students who live on spaghetti, or someone who’s a bit shy or socially awkward.
Give them a card inviting them for ten meals over the next year. This should make it really clear they are welcome in your home, and could be a gesture that means a great deal.
Donate a Christmas gift to a third party
My father-in-law is brilliant at giving things to African communities (where he used to volunteer) on behalf of family members via Send a Cow.
The idea is that you donate a specific thing to a specific place – maybe you purchase a medical kit or school fees for a child or a goat for a family – and give a card to your friend saying that you’ve done that on their behalf. So they don’t get a present as such, but the warm glowy feeling of being part of something generous and life-changing.
Most major charities that work in the developing world now have a system like this, so just google your favourite and see what you can help with (feel free to link to your faves in the comments).
Pledge to a business start-up
In a slightly different category (thanks, Jess, for the idea) maybe you could pledge to a social enterprise start-up business to get off the ground?
Check out Spark my Potential or Kickstarter or another crowdfunding platform to see if there’s something that looks like a good fit with your gift recipient – maybe they’d be tickled to be part of getting a business off the ground.
Give Christmas gifts that equip your friends for world-changing
Darcy suggested an inspiring book, Living More With Less, by Doris Janzen. Anything you can give someone that will help them (in a way that suits their temperament and situation – not just nagging, or passive aggressive hints, right?!) take the next step to making the world a better place themselves is a gift that keeps on giving.
Ask your friends and family what would be most helpful in this category. Are they keen to take up gardening or fitness in the new year? Is there something you can give them that will help?
Or, as Laurenne suggested on Facebook, how about giving things that will help people cut down on waste, like reusable lunchboxes, shopping bags, sandwich wrappers (home-made, even!) or drink bottles? We’ve just started using these waste-free, reuseable food baggies from Munch and I can testify that they are fab, and would save your friends money as well as looking happy in a kid’s lunchbox.
Ok, what else? I know you will all be founts of information and ideas. What have you given or been given that made a difference beyond a warm feeling of generosity? Pop your ideas in the comments below!
Please feel free to keep in touch with Sacraparental throughout Advent by following Sacraparental on Facebook (daily extras), signing up for email updates (the box at the top right) and/or following me on Pinterest (the Advent and Christmas boards will be particularly relevant just now, and I also have one called Change the World).