The holiday season is upon us.
In 2005 my mother gave me a tiny rubber chicken, signifying she had donated on my behalf to Heifer International. It was my favorite gift of the year, by far.
In 2006 I bought a water pump for a remote village on the behalf of our four sets of parents, and asked others to make similar donations on my behalf.
In 2007 I gave up material gifts entirely, donating for everyone and doing my best to deflect physical gifts sent my way. It largely worked.
This year I want to redouble my anti-consumerist efforts to make more meaningful donations for more people, and to encourage them to pay it forward to more of their friends and family in the form of donations, or just more thoughtful gifts. There is still a Christmas to be had. And a Hanukkah, a Kwanzaa, and a Festivus. I’m just hoping not to cash in on the consumerism angle of any of it.
I know my approach to holidays is unusual, and I certainly wouldn’t force it on anyone else. However, given the current positive buzz of change in America, the increased interest in “green” initiatives, and the unsteady future of the economy, as my first step in “paying it forward” I’d like to encourage you to take back the holidays from the merciless grasp of consumerism in ways that don’t involve you writing embarrassing holiday limericks or making your own potpourri (unless that’s what you really want to do).
If you send holiday cards, try one or more of the following…
(1) Purchase cards or envelopes that include post-consumer recycled materials.
(2) Buy plain blank cards and personalize each one with a sketch, a note, a photo, or a shared memory.
(3) Switch from cards in envelopes to postcards, or self-mailing cards.
(4) Make a small donation to a charity on the behalf of all of your card recipients, and mention the donation in your cards.
(5) Replace your physical cards with phone calls, eCards, or messages on your favorite social networking site.
If you have people you feel compelled to buy a gift for, like members of your extended family or co-workers, try any combination of the following…
(1) Wrap less! Try wrapping your gift in household material, like newspaper or brown bags. Or, consider just putting a bow on it.
(2) Give something consumable or useful. Stay away from fancy toiletries or exotic kitchen aids – focus on the things they would really use. If you’re very close with the recipient, give them a simple physical representation of your relationship, along with a note explaining why you chose it.
(3) Make a donation to a charity local to where they live. Some apolitical, inoffensive charities include toys or coats for kids, or adoption or care for abandoned animals.
(4) Offer to help them perform a daunting task (like doing their taxes or cleaning their garage), or give them them a way to spend extra time with you during the year (like going hiking or seeing a concert).
Finally, for the people on your list who you just love giving to – like partners, parents, or siblings, try some of these ideas to take the consumer edge off of your giving:
(1) Focus on what they love to do. Why give them a decorative plate when they love to watch movies? Why give them a DVD if they are fly-fishing fanatics? Think about how they enjoy spending their time.
(2) Talk to them to see if they are saving up for something. Surprises are great, but you might find out that they’re just $50 away from buying a new briefcase, guitar, or set of golf clubs. If you help them buy that big ticket item they’ll always remember you helped!
(3) Give them the gift of a new experience they might enjoy. Send a beleaguered mom to the spa, or a shower-singing sister to voice lessons.
(4) Donate to a charity that you both share a passion for. Even better, find out if the charity invites any kind of volunteerism, and include a card with an offer to volunteer together!
And, for all of those people:
– Consider setting up a post-Christmas gift for them that will brighten their day some other time of the year. If you see a silly knickknack or a second goofy card, hold on to it to send for Spring Equinox, or for Christmas in July!
That’s the best I’ve been able to brainstorm with a few weeks of thought. Do you have any other less consumerist, more green, reasonably priced holiday solutions? Please share them in the comments – I’ll post an update within the next week with a link to your blog (or, if you prefer, the charity of your choice).