Assemble a box of old dress-up clothes and accessories from mom’s, dad’s, aunts’ and uncle’ closets.
Excited about celebrating Christmas but can’t face the prospect of another round of shopping and eating frenzy?
You are not alone in wanting to get off the consumer-driven holiday train. A growing number of people from bastions of consumerism such as Canada and the United States are buying into the idea of spending less during the holidays and recapturing the true meaning of Christmas – peace, love and goodwill to all.
In 2004, according to Ecumenical News International, 70 per cent of Americans polled told national surveys that they would like to see “less emphasis on shopping and consumer spending” during the holidays.
According to the credit card tracker www.CardWeb.com, last year Americans charged $108 billion in retail purchases between Thanksgiving and Christmas day or spent an average of $1,300 per family. Canadians spent an average of $575 on gifts and gave an average of 11 gifts during the holidays, according to a 2003 poll conducted by Canadian Press/Leger Marketing.
Together, Canadians and Americans make up 5.2 per cent of the world’s population, but their portion of private consumption expenditures (the amount spent on goods and services per household level) is 31.5 per cent, or more than six times what constitutes a fair share, according to the Worldwatch Institute.
Faced with such statistics, movements across North America – some of them church-based – have been popularizing the idea of a simplified Christmas.
From alternatives to store-bought gifts, to setting a spending limit, to simply buying nothing, these groups have come up with ideas on how to eschew commercialism during the holidays.
Buy Nothing Christmas, a campaign begun by Canadian Mennonites, urges a “Christian lifestyle that is richer in meaning, smaller in impact upon the earth, and greater in giving to people less-privileged.” Its Web site, www.buynothingchristmas.org, is replete with ideas such as a kit for a Christmas musical, a “Christmas catalogue with things that you really want … and already have,” and a “fresh, radical way of reading the Christmas story.”
Alternatives for Simple Living (www.simpleliving.org) suggests that providing money to buy a goat for a farmer in Honduras or food to victims of war would “give Jesus a birthday gift he really wants.”
Since according to polls Christmas is Canadians’ favourite holiday (6 out of 10, said the 2003 Leger Marketing survey) and a majority (72 per cent, said the 2004 Ipsos-Reid/MasterCard survey) feel that exchanging gifts is an important part of it, the Anglican Journal shares some suggestions on how to celebrate Christmas without going overboard.
Make, don’t buy
- Make a mini-documentary about your parents.
Interview them on videotape about their memories (childhood,
adolescence, courtship, marriage and family life), interview other
relatives and friends about your parents; include family photographs
and heirlooms in the video and use your parents’ favourite music as
background. Give copies of the video as a gift to your parents,
siblings and relatives.
- Collect quotes that make you think
of someone – they can be handwritten or printed in colourful textured
paper and framed. If you are feeling more creative, turn it into a
small scrapbook of quotes that can be carried in a purse.
a box of old dress-up clothes and accessories from mom’s, dad’s, aunts’
and uncles’ closets. This box of vintage boa feathers, high heels, bow
ties, pants, hats, funky bracelets, earrings and other gewgaws
guarantees hours of creative fun for girls and boys aged 5 to 10.
stories (with illustrations or magazine cutouts) with your children
and/or nephews and nieces as the main characters and read it to them
aloud as you are gathered around the Christmas tree or around the
kitchen table with mugs of cocoa and cookies.
- Start a family
tradition of having a Christmas newsletter (e.g. The Smith Times), with
stories and photographs about family milestones, announcements, and
other events that happened during the year; give each family member a
- Make a scrapbook for your son or daughter (e.g. memories
of ages one to 10), which includes photographs, mementos and stories
- Make a wardrobe sachet from scrap fabric filled
with lavender, rose and other soothing herbs that can be bought in bulk
at health food stores.
- Bake holiday cookies, pies or cakes and deliver them to family and friends before the Christmas rush.
- Make your own jams, bottled and decorated with colourful scrap fabric or tied with a ribbon.
coupon books for things like, “Wash the dishes every weekend for one
month,” “Shovel the snow on driveway,” “Cup of tea and sympathy,”
“10-minute backrub,” “Free hug,” “Free knitting lessons.”
- Make a recipe index, which includes family and personal favourites, and put in a personally decorated box.
personalized locker and refrigerator magnets: cut a favourite
photograph to desired shape and size, put in a clear plastic frame and
glue a magnet (which can be bought at craft stores) on the back.
- Assemble a small album of recent family photographs for grandma and grandpa who live far away.
Activities as gifts
- Take your nephews and nieces, elderly relatives,
or your harried neighbours’ young children out on a special day in
December to give their parents and or/caregivers a much-deserved break.
A half-hour walk in the park, with flasks of hot drinks, freshly-baked
goodies and good conversation will keep everyone warm; you can also
visit a museum or just go for a ride around town eating munchies along
- Celebrate an international Christmas by having an
afternoon tea with homemade cookies from around the world (you can
feature a little flag on each plate). Check out http://www.christmas-cookies.com/recipes/bycountry.php
for recipes; to liven it up, play a Christmas trivia game by assembling
a set of questions about Christmas (the Web has 163 million entries for
- Have a “make and decorate your own Christmas cookie day” with the family.
- Organize a Christmas pageant at home featuring music, poetry, dance and drama (with homemade props and costumes).
Volunteer, give cheer
- Visit the elderly in nursing homes and be
prepared to sing some Christmas carols (in case they want to hear some)
or help them write their holiday cards.
- Help out at a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve.
some of your Christmas money on canned goods to donate to the local
food bank, involve your children by asking them to help you shop, pack
and deliver the goods.
- Prepare a Christmas basket for someone who is going through rough times.
- Serve Mom and Dad or grandma and grandpa a delicious breakfast in bed.
- Knit some shawls, gloves and hats and donate to a women’s shelter.
- Use cartoon pages of newspapers and colourful pages of magazines as gift wrap.
- Give a niece the pair of earrings or jacket that she has always admired.
tins from relatives and friends and return them as care packages (e.g.
stuff them with chocolates, scented candles, baked goodies).
If you still want to buy
- Get more bang for your buck at thrift shops.
at fair trade stores like the Mennonite-run Ten Thousand Villages,
which sells products that provide employment to co-operatives in
- Shop at church bazaars and alternative gifts fairs.
- Suggest a spending limit of $5 or less; challenge everyone to stick to it and be creative.
out the online catalogues of church and non-profit organizations which
suggest alternative gifts: e.g. Christmas cards and HIV-AIDS bracelets
from Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (www.pwrdf.org),
the Bishops’ Blend fair trade coffee gift box and other gift items that
benefit children and families living in poverty worldwide are available
at Episcopal Relief and Development (www.er-d.org or request a catalogue at 877-469-1431); get more ideas from www.leprosy.ca, www.unicef.ca, www.oxfam.org, www.beyondborders.net and www.worldvision.ca.
- Make a donation in a gift recipient’s name to a church, a local or international charity: e.g. Church World Service (www.churchworldservice.org) has a “tools and blankets program,” www.oxfam.org has a range of “alternative gift vouchers.”