Christmas Gift Exchange: Gifts of time and from the heart

By Jessica Kirby, Senior Editor of TheGreenGazette –

Christmas time is on the way and despite individual feelings about it, green thinkers, earth lovers, planet healers, and community champions all feel the pressure this time of year. We love bringing people together, enjoying beautiful food, getting outside in the wintry landscape, and enjoying the quiet darkness—at the same time, another kind of darkness is waving at us from the corners of every shopping mall and billboard from here to Tuktoyaktuk: consumerism.

Photo: Christmas homemade gingerbread cookies on wooden table. Copyright: www.123rf.com/profile_haveseen 123RF Stock Photo

Gift exchanging is part of the holiday, and has been since St. Nick first appeared in early European folklore. It feels fantastic to find something special for someone, something you know they will cherish or that they’ve had their eye on. But this is different from rushing about searching out gift items out of a sense of obligation. The experience of coming across something perfect for a loved one, and stashing it away to give to them at Christmas is dramatically different from braving crowded shopping centers and kamikaze parking lots to meet a cultural expectation.

There are two ways to deliver on the ancient ritual of Christmas gift exchange without the superficial, consumption-focused panic: give the gift of time or give a gift of the heart.

The gift of time is really magical because it brings with it a lifetime of memories and experiences. Most people don’t spend enough time doing what they really love—bringing them that experience and sharing it is a personal, loving gift that shows your support of others’ interests. In our family, we have gifted tennis lessons, theatre tickets, horseback riding, bowling, yoga passes, night skiing, coffee and dessert at the board game coffeeshop, concert tickets, and even a trip to Williams Lake from Vancouver Island to go mountain biking.

Last year, I went to the local beer brewer and asked to prepay for 12 growlers so my husband could try a new seasonal beer each month for a year. We have received an overnight in one of our favourite biking locales, dinner at my favourite restaurant, and a couples’ spa treatment. Someone once arranged for a friend to receive a tiny bouquet of flowers every week for a year to brighten up her preschool. I know a hiking family that exchanges exactly one needed hiking item for each person and then they plan a five-day excursion to some place new as the main gift. The possibilities are only limited by the interests your loved ones are passionate about.

The other option is gifts from the heart. These are things to make or give that cost nothing or very little, but carry a deep sense of love and connection. One of my favourites is anything food related: cookies and sweets, dinner at my house every month for a year, homemade Irish cream, breakfast in bed every Sunday from Christmas to Easter, wine or beer and cheese party in the recipient’s honour. There are some beautiful flavoured oil recipes that are easy to make, as are preserves like pickles, sun-dried tomatoes, jams and jellies, and even cheese, bread, or fudge, if time allows.

Speaking of making things, homemade candles, decorations, centerpieces, photography projects, knitting, hand sewing, woodworking crafts, and metal work are all gifts people close to me have brought to Christmas in years gone by and I still have every single one of them. Are there talents you have you can share with others? Help with a website, Sunday dinner delivered, two hours a week of housecleaning (especially thoughtful for new parents!), child-minding, yard work, help with a home project—the list goes on. There are so many ways to give from the heart, it is almost overwhelming to decide.

A big issue in our extended family is how to make these ideas stick for everyone. Maybe I want to give child-minding and Cousin Sally thinks it is silly and would rather have a blender. The way to get around this is in the delivery: “I have a great idea that I know will save everyone time and money this Christmas …” is one good way to start. Another is the rally the family members you know will buy in and tell the rest, “Sally, Sue, Bobby, Bill, and I think we should try this for Christmas …” This will help others unsure of the concept to see the rest of the family is willing to try.

The world is a big place, but it is shrinking at an alarming rate as we pack every last corner with more “stuff,” year-round but especially at Christmas. I encourage you to think outside those corners and bring love, thoughtfulness, and time spent making memories to the forefront of your holiday season.

Thoughtful gift giving ideas for the holidays

Change can be hard, and if yours is a family unwilling to break the chains of buying this Christmas,
give these eco-friendly ideas a try:


Shop Local

Your community has so many options for locally created crafts, household items, art, music, and textiles, there is bound to be something for everyone.


Shop Social Justice

Plan International Canada and Because I am a Girl are two excellent examples of charities you can support
in a loved one’s name and create real change in another person’s life.


Shop Sustainable

Me to We offers beautiful jewellery and textiles created oversees in sustainable development projects.
Earth Easy offers a range of gifts that are both sustainably made and used to make the world a better place.
Tree Hugger has an awesome gift guide of upcycled, sustainability-focused, and time-spent gifts to choose from.
Check it out at: www.treehugger.com/giftguide.

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