Conscious gifting

December 20, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Laura Campbell

Sometimes within the eco-activist communities, there can be a fair bit of ‘shaming’ around the holidays. We shame one another and ourselves for participating in these spectacles of mass consumption. Of course, some of the concern is rooted in the realities of our collective environmental crisis: too much stuff, produced cheaply, by vulnerable women and children. It is all pretty hard to ignore once you’ve really confronted the realities of global supply chains. However, there has to be an alternative way to make our case, that transcends the standard moral litmus tests we administer within our communities. First I’d like to suggest a few small ways that we can all temper our traditional approach to gifting, and secondly, I’d like to check our privilege within the eco-community. 

One way that we celebrate the holidays is through ‘secret-santa’ activities. I know that this is a popular practice in offices, and certainly very fun. But they generally encourage the purchase of ‘gag-gifts’, or rather, items that have no particular value to any given individual. A group of friends and I have been doing a ‘secret-santa’ tradition since high school. A few years ago, we realized we were spending too much money on this, and decided to start giving hand-made gifts. Hand-made gifts are great in some circles, but impractical in others. Even among the five of us, the ‘getting something’ has lost its lustre. This year, we’ve decided that we are going to take our ‘draw’ out for lunch instead. What we really want is more quality time with friends and loved ones. Doing activities, especially local ones, either together or individually is a great way to get beyond consumerism. Sometimes what someone needs is a friend to show them a great new local trail to walk, or an invitation to a pottery class, yoga, or a movie. If you’re doing a secret-santa at an office, perhaps consider doing a gift certificate exchange for ‘experiences.’

I could write an entire novel on gifting for children, but to sum it up in a paragraph seems more practical. Children ultimately need and want more time with their parents. They won’t actually benefit from or value elaborate toys, even as they may convince you that they need the Barbie mansion. My kids know the only plastic toys that they’re allowed to have are LEGO or second-hand things. They love animals, so I’ve gently explained to them that the newest, greatest plastic toys are bad for turtles. It doesn’t always go over well. But mostly, they are content to accept this reality. 

One way to do Christmas with children is to limit the amount of stuff they get with a philosophy that goes like this: “One thing they want, one thing they need, one thing to wear, one thing to read.” I’ll fully admit that we haven’t been able to limit our gift giving to these four things. But we are getting there. My message is especially key for relatives: why not give money instead? This could give parents the opportunity to take their kids out for the day to do something together as a family (especially during a time where people are financially stretched). The key is that folks begin to change their entire mindset around what the holidays are about. They are about spending time together, to care for one another, and ourselves. 

Finally, I’d like to suggest that adults cease getting one another elaborate gifts altogether (if possible, or practical). Mostly, people will procure the things they need for themselves these days. We should instead give back to our community. The food bank is in desperate need of donations – meaningful ones. Within my own family, I’ve suggested we gift a book and a bottle of wine to one another. We love reading and pinot noir. Both encourage conversation in their own way. And it leaves our pocket books in better shape so that we can make a donation to a cause we care about.

Of course, giving presents is part of the tradition of Christmas. It is a very ceremonial way to impart our love for one another (or at least that’s what it should be about). But we must get back to a more reasonable way to do this. When we are overwhelmed with the amount we must procure this time of year, all of the love and fun and magic goes away- and we are punishing the planet in the process. There are hundreds of comprehensive guides to eco-friendly Christmas traditions on the internet- which all of us should consult. (One of my favourite ones is on readingmytealeaves .com).

But all of this thinking about Christmas, and how to do it better, speaks to my privilege. So much of this is about the politics of class. During the madness of Black Friday sales, I saw a great deal of ‘buy nothing’ arguments floating around. I get it. I also believe that we need to stop buying things we don’t need. But I say this because I am lucky to have steady employment and a roof over my head. My husband and I save money for Christmas (we begin to put money aside for things in July!). But there are single parents out there who want to make Christmas special for their children and good deals might be the very thing that allows them to do that. I will never judge someone for this – indeed, if a multi-billion dollar corporation offers a sale, please, take advantage of that sale! Especially if it’s for something you need. I’ve done it before, and I would do it again. It doesn’t make me a bad environmentalist. But what I would love is for our culture to steadily move towards new Christmas traditions that don’t involve mass consumption. I think we are getting there. And we will all be happier and healthier for it.


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