Christmas can be a difficult time for anyone wishing to live ethically without offending family and friends by appearing to reject their goodwill. The frenzy of gift-giving is a big issue. On the one hand, Christmas has been commercialised beyond belief, becoming yet another pretext for blatantly wasteful over-consumption; on the other, giving is always a good thing (and receiving can be nice, too). The religious aspect may also be problematic, since the endless barrage of sentimentalised carols and nativity scenes is irrelevant at best, and may be oppressive, for atheists or members of non-Christian faith communities. And then there’s the obligatory socialising with co-workers, members of your sporting club, or those members of your extended family whom you do your best to avoid during the year. It has its good side but enough is enough, surely?
We can’t do much, individually, about the superfluity of Christianity or conviviality but we can certainly do something about the material waste. This seasonal blog post has been slowly evolving for nearly ten years, with that objective in mind. An earlier version of it was called “Give Twice for Christmas,” my first strategy for getting as much good as possible out of the obligatory gift-giving.
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. Kiva, which provides micro loans in poor countries with Western help, is worth considering here alongside Red Cross, WWF, the ACF and the rest.
- Remember that Unicef, CARE and Oxfam sell gift certificates whereby the purchaser buys school books, a solar panel 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.
- 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, BirdLife, the Wilderness Society or similar organisations. The goods may be mass produced but at least the profits are doing some good.
If you can’t give twice…
- Make or grow something yourself: a cake, herb sachets, a framed photo, or a pot-plant in flower.
- Maximise the benefit to your own community by buying from locally-owned independent shops and keep the profits in the community instead of sending them to the Cayman Islands.
- Minimise waste, and still keep the money in the community, by giving services, subscriptions or memberships rather than goods – vouchers or gift certificates from theatres, restaurants, gardening services, yoga studios, the local cinema club, etc.
- Give according to your own values, as well as the recipients’ wants. 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, perhaps.
- Ask, suggest or hint that others do likewise. Use this article as a starting point if you like, and put it on Facebook or email it to 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 supposed to do?