Christmas is a happy time for nearly all of us, re-affirming bonds of family and friendship whether or not we celebrate it as a religious festival.
But it is not all good. The spiritual side of Christmas was being drowned out by the clangour of cash-register bells even when I was a small child still willing to believe in Santa, and in these days of environmental degradation there is another reason to reject its commercialisation, too: Christmas is yet another 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 our relationships 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. So what can we do to opt out of Consumas and back in to Christmas?
1. 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.
- 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, the Wilderness Society or similar organisations. The goods may be mass produced but at least the profits are doing some good.
- Buy Fairtrade goods if you can, rather than the standard commercial equivalents. If you can’t do that, at least buy from a locally-owned independent shop and keep the profits in the community instead of sending them to the Cayman Islands.
- Make a donation in the recipient’s name to a charity whose aims they support. Kiva, which provides micro loans in poor countries with Western help, is worth considering here alongside Red Cross, the ACF and the rest.
- Remember that Unicef, CARE and Oxfam sell a range of gift certificates whereby the purchaser buys school books, a solar panel 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.
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 else which you have no doubts about – a bird-bath, perhaps.
3. 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 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?
* This article was written by Malcolm Tattersall some years ago for his blog, Green Path. He has updated it before reposting it here. If you would like something dealing with the same subject more forcefully, try George Monbiot's The Gift of Death.