This article has been evolving for a few weeks of every year for several years – as my subject line warns you, it’s seasonal. In 2009 I sent it to family, friends and colleagues in the hope that it would put a little bit more meaning back into the Christmas hoopla. The following year it was published in my local paper and it has appeared in a few other publications since then. If you have read it before, you might like to skip it this time to learn more about (e.g.) a bear sanctuary or the centipede’s dilemma. Otherwise, read on:
Christmas was originally a time of religious thanksgiving, and for many of us it still is. And for nearly all of us it is a joyful time, bringing happiness by re-affirming bonds of family and friendship whether or not the spiritual aspect is celebrated.
But it is not all good. The religious side of Christmas was being drowned out by the clangour of cash-register bells even when I was a wonderstruck child still willing to believe in Santa. In these days of environmental degradation there is another reason to reject the commercialisation, too: Christmas is becoming a pretext for blatantly wasteful over-consumption.
In itself, giving is always a good thing (receiving can be nice, too!) and Christmas can be a good excuse to acknowledge your friendships in this way. And choosing not to give presents offends and upsets those who believe in tradition, while refusing to accept gifts offends them even more. But what can we do to opt out of Consumas and back in to Christmas?
1. Give according to the recipient’s values. Of course you already try to do that but think outside the conventional range of gifts. If ‘everyone buys their Dad a gadget’, your Dad has probably got a shed-full already. Remember that he is not just a generic older male consumer but has his own particular interests.
2. Give according to your own values. If you care about native birds, giving your friend a kitten may make you feel guilty for years, so find something which you have no doubts about instead – a bird-bath, maybe.
3. Give twice with every gift by finding gifts which benefit as many people as possible, and especially those in need.
- Buy from charity shops which handle third-world craft products (e.g. World Vision). Some of the money goes back to the maker, and the rest supports the charity’s other projects.
- Buy Fairtrade goods if you can, rather than the standard commercial equivalents.
- Make a donation in the recipient’s name to a charity whose aims they support. (If you give them the receipt, they can claim it as tax deduction – nice bonus). Kiva, which provides micro loans in poor countries with Western help, is worth considering here alongside Red Cross, the Wilderness Society and the rest.
- Remember that Unicef, CARE and Oxfam sell a range of gift certificates where the purchaser buys school books or a goat or a well for a third-world family. Buy one in the name of the recipient, who will receive a card with details of the donation and what it’s going to be used for.
- Make or grow something yourself, if you have the skills: a cake, herb sachets, a framed photo, or a pot-plant in flower.
- Buy gifts from local art galleries to support struggling artists (and believe me, nearly all artists are struggling).
- Buy cards, calendars, t-shirts, Christmas cakes, etc, from the Heart Foundation, Australian Youth Climate Coalition or similar organisations. The goods may be mass produced but at least the profits are doing some good.
4. Ask, suggest or hint that others do the same. Use this article as a starting point if you like, and put it on Facebook or email it to lots of people you know. You don’t have to say, “If you were thinking of giving me something, I would prefer…,” which could be kind of awkward; just say, “I think this is a good way of thinking about Christmas.” You could bring a lot more happiness into the world by doing so – and isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Thanks for reading – and do have a good Christmas, whether you take my ideas on board or not.