holiday gift-giving

I got an e-mail today from a friend who sympathizes with the sentiments on this blog about consumerism at Christmastime, but wants some practical ideas for giving to her loved ones this holiday season (and asked what we, specifically, were giving our family and friends this Christmas).  Here’s my response, verbatim:

It’s been a struggle, to say the least, to break ourselves of the connection between Christmas and material things and to communicate this to our families.  It is so ingrained.  As for Christmas gifts we’re giving, we lucked out by getting most of our gifts when we were in Africa.  Carvings, pottery, etc., that we purchased directly from the artist who made them.  So there’s some sentimental value in these gifts, and we didn’t break the bank acquiring them.

But not everyone gets to go to Africa every year before Christmas.  I totally understand your question regarding practical ideas for gifts … it’s still a struggle for us.  Well, there are many schools of thought on this.  I’m personally not a huge advocate for the cold turkey approach — saying “sorry, family — nothing for you this Christmas.”  You’re more likely to be seen as a scrooge than loving.  There’s power and significance in giving thoughtful and relational gifts, I think.  Have you heard of the Advent Conspiracy?  It’s basically an evangelical movement trying to reclaim some of what has been lost to consumerism.  Well, they offer some great tips on “relational gift giving” over on their site:  (poke around the rest of the site as well … there is some good stuff there)

Here are some other ideas:
Monetary gifts to ministries and charities in the name of someone you love.
“social justice” gifts.  Last year, we bought a tree in Uganda for Chrissy’s parents (who have everything).  The tree helps employ several people, contributes significantly to the local economy, and for every 45 trees purchased, the organization donates $1,000 to the community for childhood education (which is not free).  The organization is based in Searcy, actually, and is called The Kibo Group. ( Oxfam has some great “gift ideas” as well at  I’ve also heard of people making micro-loans to a family in a developing nation in the name of someone else.  Check out for more information on this.
Homemade gifts.  Again, the Advent Conspiracy site has some good suggestions here. Also, a Google search for “homemade Christmas gifts” turns up a variety of creative ideas.  I like the site, which allows regular folks to post instructions for making things at home and then post it to the Web.  Could be some good ideas for gifts there.

The website for Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping (an anti-consumerism activist group … not a real church) has some suggestions for “sinless giving,” which I haven’t had a chance to look through completely.  Looks like it lists a bunch of sweatshop-free online merchants.  Might be worth a look. [side note: if the What Would Jesus Buy? movie is in your city, go see it.  We saw it on Saturday, and it was hilarious … and convincing!)

The bottom line is that I’m not at all against exchanging presents at Christmas, but I am against completely thoughtless, creativity-lacking, decadent gift-giving.  Basically, anything you put some time and thought into — no matter how “small” or inexpensive — will be appreciated by the other person.  Relationships are key at Christmas anyway, so just being with family and friends is “gift” enough for many people (if they’re honest with themselves).

Hope some of this helps!

Anyone else have any suggestions?


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Steve on December 17, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    I just wanted to let your friend know about a website I go to often, and it is a great place to find not only great gift ideas that better our world, but they also offer you suggestions all year long as to ways you can take a few minutes out of your day and impact the world for the good. The website is

    Check it, and dig through their archives and search “gifts” or something. I see a good gift idea monthly, and several times during the holiday season.

    Good luck!


  2. Posted by chris on December 17, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    I don’t shop much but if someone else wants to, that’s fine
    with me. There is already too much nanny state telling us what to do.


  3. Posted by Daniel Gray on December 17, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Sometimes when I was a kid, I would give my parents time-gifts. I’d give them coupons for various services I’d provide. The one that always seemed to work was washing/waxing their cars.


  4. I commend hand-made gifts (paintings, crafts, photos – especially for family).

    I know most don’t have the time to do this with 40+ hour work weeks, etc. I would bet everyone has the talent regardless if you believe in your abilities.

    We’ve been going the hand-made route for a few years due to finances. And we’ve discovered how people react greater to them then store-bought gifts.


  5. Steve…for different reasons I am always wrestling with this question. Even though I have the same reaction to rampant consumerism, I do not see anything wrong with acknowledging the ones you love with something that comes from the heart (sappy, sappy, but it is Christmas). Shopping alone is not
    consumerism” as the term now means — consumerism is a state of mind.

    The hardest thing, I think, to overcome is not the shopping but the price tag and thinking that you need to spend a certain amount for the gift to be valid. A $4 gift that has special meaning and will be used over and over is a much better gift than a $200 something that was just bought because something needed to be bought. Once you start thinking in terms of “how much” it’s easier to think up gifts that really mean something.

    This year I didn’t have time to make a lot of things (I agree, the best solution) but I bought everyone gifts from local artists. To me, I am supporting people who are doing something they love, keeping my money within my local community, and giving unique, one-of-a-kind gifts.

    What I have found works in the past, too, is experiential gifts, or what I like to think of as gifts that help you to enjoy living. I’ve given dance lessons and other types of classes, museum memberships, plants, or movie and concert tickets. At least this way your money is not ending up as “stuff” that will be thrown away or left unused and the recipients will be forced out of their routines and into something new and exciting (hence enjoying living!).

    Anyway, sorry this was so long. I blog a lot about that topic too so its on my mind. 🙂


  6. Hey Steve, I just wanted you to know that I’ve been reading here regularly for about a month now. Good stuff. Email me sometime if you get a chance.

    Love you man.



  7. Posted by Melanie Knox Larson on December 23, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Hi Steve!
    I bought several presents this year from Harvest of Hope (, which is probably similar to the organization where you purchased a tree. Here you can purchase goats for African families, food for North Korean families, school supplies for Indian children, and lots of other things in price ranges from $5 and up. I had a lot of fun matching up different gifts with my friends’ passions, and just gave them a card that was along the lines of “in honor of your love for … and your heart of justice.” Plus, you can give your friends a “gift certificate” there and they can pick out what to donate toward. One of my girlfriends bought me a Christmas ornament designed by (and completely profiting) the children at St. Judes’ hospital. I loved that gift. But those I think you have to order early; they sell out by November. Next year! 🙂
    Merry Christmas to you and Chrissy!
    much love, mel


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