Negotiating Christmas

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 hand, 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. Continue reading “Negotiating Christmas”

The Christmas season

The approach of the Christmas season is heralded by signs no less consistent than those foretelling the approach of the Wet season. Emails from the Red Cross, the Wilderness Society and other charities arrive in our inboxes, reminding us that not everyone can afford the Christmas they want and that we should help where we can; banner headlines announce that Aussies will spend X billion dollars before Christmas and celebrate/lament the growth/slump since last year; paper catalogues land in our letterboxes, sometimes in spite of our “No Junk Mail” stickers; and every shop in the city is festooned with glittery red, green and white decorations and “Pre-Christmas Sale” signs.

Where, in all this, is Christ? MIA, apparently, either smothered under a heap of Santa costumes or sitting quietly in a corner lamenting our thoughtless, selfish materialism.


I’m not quite so angry about it all as the American gentleman above (thanks to FB for the image) but each year since I began this blog I have written about how not to lose sight of our common sense and decency in the commercial maelstrom. Give Twice for Christmas (2012) is as relevant as ever and I would encourage you to click through to it if you haven’t already read it, but here are some more suggestions by way of an update on it:

  • Kiva now allows people to set up a gift register if they would like gifts to them to become loans to Kiva borrowers. (Don’t know Kiva? Start here.)
  • Sustainable Table, a not-for-profit organisation which focuses on food sustainability, has put together a similar guide to Christmas shopping. The Energy Collective has done the same.

Whatever you do, try to have a good Christmas – good as in ethical, ethical as in sustainable – as well as a happy one.

Give Twice for Christmas

This article has been evolving for a few weeks of every year for several years since, 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.

Christmas 2011 – supporting the community

This arrived via email as one of those passionate but not always articulate pleas written by someone who saw a need and forwarded endlessly (that’s the hope, at least) from friend to friend. I agreed with it enough to spend a few minutes tidying it up, and commend it you.

As Christmas approaches, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high gear to provide Australians with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods.

But this year can be different. This year Australians should give the gift of genuine concern for other Australians. There is no excuse that, at gift giving time, nothing can be found that is produced by Australian hands. There’s plenty! And, honestly, do you REALLY need to buy another ten thousand Chinese lights for the house? When you buy a five dollar string of lights, about fifty cents stays in the community.

Looking for something personal? Local crafts people spin their own wool and knit it into scarves. They make jewelry, pottery and beautiful wooden boxes.

Your small retailers also needs your support! They may not be there for you next year if they don’t have your support this Christmas. So keep them in mind when you’re choosing your gifts – and please look at the labels and support Australian made goods, too.

Remember, this isn’t about big national chains (many of which send their profits overseas anyway), this is about supporting people in your own town or suburb who put their financial lives on the line to keep their doors open.

And who says a gift needs to fit in a box wrapped in Chinese wrapping paper?

  • EVERYONE gets their hair cut. How about gift certificates from your local hair salon or barber?
  • How about a gift-certificate for a Photo Shoot for a family portrait to reflect back on?
  • Gym membership? It’s appropriate for all ages who are thinking about some health improvement.
  • Who wouldn’t appreciate getting their car detailed? Small, Australian-owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a book of them.
  • Are you one of those extravagant givers who think nothing of plunking down the dollars for a Chinese-made flat-screen TV? Perhaps that grateful gift receiver would like his driveway sealed, or lawn mowed for the summer, or games at the local golf course?
  • How many people couldn’t use an oil change for their car, truck or motorcycle, done at a servo run by the Australian working guy?
  • Thinking about a really practical gift for mum? She would LOVE the services of a local cleaning lady for a day.
  • My computer could use a tune-up, and I KNOW I can find some young guy who is struggling to get his repair business up and running.
  • There are a gazillion owner-run restaurants, all offering gift certificates. If you don’t want to give a night out as a gift, hold your own celebrations at a locally owned and operated restaurant and leave your waiter a nice tip.
  • And how about going out to see a play or ballet at your nearest theatre? Musicians need love too, so find a venue showcasing local bands.

Christmas is not about draining Australian pockets so that China can build another congested city. Christmas is about caring for each other. And when we care for other Australians, we care for our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we could not imagine.

This can be our new Australian Christmas tradition!!

Please pass this around – we can make a difference, can’t we?