01 December 2009

Honoring Christmas: giving better gifts

I'm back, and I'm certain some of you are wondering why I didn't post about gift giving before Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The answer is simple: I was busy with Thanksgiving family fun, and I'm not that organized. Until such a time as I get paid to blog, please keep your expectations very low.

But Advent has started, and Christmas has now captured the attention of nearly everyone. We have 24 days to finish getting ready, and I'm guessing that gift shopping is high on the to do list for many of us. As for me, I'm a fan of giving and receiving Christmas gifts. There are those people that are difficult to buy for, and I'm not so fond of that part, but I like Christmas gifts as a general rule. I know people who no longer exchange gifts and generously donate all the money they would have spent to worthy causes. We've talked about becoming those people, but we've decided not to go that route. Instead we have a modest Christmas budget with defined spending limits, and we try to give the best gifts we can with the money we have available.

I realize that every family is very different in their approach to gift giving. I'm sure that some of our favorite gift giving options would never fly in your family and vice versa, but I'm sharing some of what we like to do in hope that it will help us all to think creatively about giving better gifts. Please comment and share your ideas as well. I love getting new inspiration and new options to check out.

So without further ado, here are some ideas we love for giving better gifts.

1. Give gift certificates for interesting things to do. They never add clutter or end up stuffed under the bed or break after 3 days, and they allow people to spend time making happy memories. Find interesting restaurants the gift recipient would enjoy. Send someone to the spa for pampering. Check out local arboretums, historical attractions, theaters, bowling alleys, zoos, gardens, museums, etc. If you're willing to spend more, consider buying a membership for a full year worth of fun. Since our kids came home, we've enjoyed numerous trips to the children's museum, McDonald's, the children's garden, and the zoo that were all gifts. We love these gifts and look forward to using them. This year we added two new things to the wish list we gave our family: tickets to The Crayola Factory and gift certificates to attend workshops at ACPPA, the community art center 2 blocks from our house. Some people feel that a gift certificate isn't a "real" gift, but we think enjoying special activities is one of the best gifts.

2. Give gifts with purpose. If you know someone who loves coffee, buy some high quality fair trade coffee that also supports a great cause. If you don't already have a favorite organization that sells coffee, we'd recommend Gobena Coffee. Everyone wins: the gift recipient, the coffee farmers, and the organization receiving the profits. Find out if your favorite charitable organization is selling anything as a fundraiser. For Mother's Day Peter made a donation to an organization I love and received my favorite necklace in return. If you want to buy home decor for someone, buy it from a fair trade store or online retailer so you're supporting artisans around the world. Ten Thousand Villages has very cool stuff in a wide variety of price ranges. Thanks to the internet, it doesn't take long to find oodles of purposeful gift giving options.

3. Give previously loved gifts. I know some of you will think the idea of giving used gifts is terrible. I've struggled with it, too. A few years ago Peter found a used high end drill on craigslist. He knew my brother would love it. All the siblings had a debate about whether he would be OK with a used gift, and I was the most hesitant. We finally decided to go in together and take the risk. Phil was so surprised to get such a great drill. He didn't care a bit that it was used because he knew he would have never gotten one new. This year I decided to make a quick stop at the Thrift Store to see if Garty's desired Bob the Builder movie was there. Sure enough, I found it for $1. By the time Garty is old enough to understand that I bought him a used VHS tape instead of a new DVD, he'll be years past his Bob the Builder phase. Giving previously loved gifts obviously isn't always a good choice, but when it works well, it frees up money for other useful purposes.

4. Give alternative gifts. Most of us really don't need a lot more stuff to put in our house, so consider making donations to charities that the gift recipient will appreciate. There's a non-profit organization for almost any interest your friends and family members may have.

If you really want to give a "real" gift, make a donation and then give something related to the donation. Since our kids came home, an animal has been donated on behalf of our family to another family in need each Christmas. The gift we open is a note explaining the gift and then one these handmade ornaments. This weekend when we decorate our tree with the kids, we'll talk about the goat and pig we received. We'll wonder what the families who received the real animals are doing now. We'll be thankful that they are benefitting from our gift. It will be a good memory, and our tree will look cool. I realize that this kind of crafty creativity isn't for everyone. You won't find me trying to fashion a cute little animal out of modeling clay, but I could order Beatrice's Goat for a family to read to understand the significance of a goat I donated on their behalf.

If I still haven't convinced you, consider buying a "real" gift and then making a very small donation on behalf of each gift recipient. An alternative gift market is a great place to do this, as gifts often start as low as a few dollars. You can buy as many little gifts as you want, but you only have to make one payment at the end. Search for one in your area or come to the alternative gift market at the Plymouth Meeting Mall on Dec 7. Peter and I will be there representing Worldlink and 2 other organizations we support. You can stop to say hi as you check out more than 20 great organizations, nibble a few cookies, and sip some tasty coffee.

I'm sure there are other great ideas I've missed, but I need to stop and get this posted. I hope to hear about all the great gift ideas you have so I can add them to my list for next year.

Next up: making the most of family traditions.

Previous Posts
Honoring Christmas: a series
Honoring Christmas: the hard work
Honoring Christmas: advent


FARM-Africa said...

FARM-Africa’s charity gifts are perfect if you are looking for a Christmas gift with a difference. There's everything from e-cards to personalised movies and beehives to banana beer! What's more - when you buy a gift or e-card your donation will be helping to provide the poorest farmers in Africa with sustainable solutions to poverty. So whether you buy one of four collectable FARM FRIENDS, send an e-card or personalise a movie, you can be sure that you are sending gifts with a difference this Christmas.

Ann said...

I'm really enjoying your posts about honoring Christmas, it is so refreshing in the midst of the "commercial overload". I too struggled with the idea of "previously loved" gifts until I remembered some of my own favorite Christmas gifts. At age 4 or so, my mom gave me some of her own childhood toys - a doll bed, a little metal stove with utensils(all incredibly dangerous by today's standards, but so much fun), and a little cupboard with dishes. She made new sheets & blankets for the little bed, but nothing more. How I loved those toys & played with them constantly! And it never occurred to me at any point in my childhood to be upset that I hadn't received new versions of those items. I've since become a fan of Craigslist toys for my own small boys. They don't know the difference, and they love the toys just as much as brand new ones - everyone wins!

chris said...

Nice blog. Christmas season is almost here. As early as now I am starting to make a list of the persons I am going to give Christmas gifts.