Christmas is coming.
I know it is, because the catalogues have started arriving in my real and virtual letterboxes - catalogues from the Wilderness Society, World Vision, the Mouth and Foot Painters, the Australian Conservation Foundation and Care Australia, all suggesting that their goods would make wonderful presents.
Christmas has been problematic for me for years. I grew up in a not-overly-religious Christian family (can I call it a ‘small-c christian’ family?) but I haven’t defined myself as a Christian since I became an adult, so the season is not a religious celebration for me.
The religious side of Christmas was being drowned out by the clangour of cash register bells even before I moved away from the faith. In these days of over-consumption and environmental degradation I have another reason to dislike the season: it celebrates consumerism.
Choosing not to give any presents offends, upsets and alienates those who do believe in the tradition for one reason or another. Refusing to accept presents offends then even more. And, in itself, the giving of presents is a good thing, and the receiving can be nice too.
So what can a thoughtful person do?1. Give according to the recipient’s values.
Yes, I know you usually try to do that but think outside the conventional range of gifts. If ‘everyone buys their Dad a gadget’, don’t buy your Dad a gadget - he has probably already got a shed-full. And remember that your Dad is not just any Dad: he has interests that are specifically his, not generically older-male-consumer.2. Give things which have as many benefits as possible.
• Buy craft items from charity shops which handle third-world craft products (e.g. World Vision). Some of the money goes back to the maker, and some of the rest supports the charity in its other work.
• Buy Fairtrade goods () where you can.
• Make or grow something yourself, if you have the skills: a cake, a framed photo, a pot-plant in flower …
• Buy from small and local manufacturers when you can. All the money stays in your community and no-one is exploiting child labour to make the goods.
• Make a donation in the recipient’s name to a charity they support (if you give them the receipt, they can claim it as tax deduction - nice bonus).
• Buy gifts from local art galleries to support struggling artists (and believe me, nearly all artists are struggling). Give a couple of tickets to a local theatre show for the same reason.
• If you buy a book or DVD, make it one that supports your values. It doesn’t have to be seriously religious or conservationist or whatever, though - a movie like Micmacs
() has all the right values and is loads of fun.
• Buy cards, calendars, diaries, t-shirts, etc, from the Wilderness Society and similar organisations: the goods may be mass produced but at least the profits are doing some good.3. Ask, suggest or hint that others do the same.
That’s what I’m doing now, in case you hadn’t guessed.
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(edited for formatting)