I’ve never quite understood why Madison Avenue expects us to celebrate the birth of Jesus with an orgy of gluttony and avarice. It runs completely counter to Christ’s mission, and buying boatloads of excess junk — most of it packed in plastic and cardboard — and then wrapping it in paper we’re just going to throw away is spectacularly awful for the environment.
I’m not going to pretend I don’t participate in holiday gift-giving. It’s tradition, and my friends and family would be hurt if I didn’t. But I try to be responsible about it.
Here are a few ways to minimize the ecological impact of your holiday shopping:
1. Keep it local. Locally produced goods save fuel, and they’re better for your local economy, because more of the money you spend stays in town.
2. Keep it practical. I live in a 730-square-foot bungalow. Anything that comes in this house has to be small, useful or both, because we don’t have room to store a lot of random shiny objects. We’re particularly fond of consumables. I’m always glad to get cookie or cocoa mix in a jar, handmade soap, hand lotion, candles and the like. Gifts for the garden — such as this grow-your-own morels kit — also go over well. (Yeah, that was a shameless hint.) And some gifts truly “keep on giving”; for instance, LED lightbulbs, power strips to help eliminate phantom loads, shrinkwrap window insulation kits, draft stoppers and so forth may not be traditional presents, but they all save the recipient boatloads of money over time. Know a runner who drinks a lot of bottled water? Give him a faucet-mounted water filter and several reusable bottles. Does someone on your Christmas list love microbreweries? Buy her a home-brewing kit. Is a friend spending half his paycheck on K-cups that go straight into the landfill? Get him a reusable filter and a pound of locally roasted fair-trade coffee.
3. Recycle. Antiques, vintage clothing, vinyl records and used books all make great gifts for people whose tastes you know well. As for wrapping: Packages look cute wrapped in newspaper and tied with colorful bows, and sturdy gift bags can be reused year after year.
4. Give your time. The coupon books I made last year for the children in my life were a big hit, and I’m betting the memories of the time we’ve spent together this year will last far longer than any toy. For adults, consider offering to do chores such as mowing the yard, babysitting, steaming the carpets, weeding the garden, etc.
5. Make your own gifts. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Homemade seasoning mixes.
Herbal tea in a jar. (Instructions for drying your own herbs are here; when giving loose tea, be sure to include an infuser. I use this $3 model, but I’m considering an upgrade.)
The aforementioned coupon books.
Sock monkeys. (Pattern here.)
Home-canned treats such as salsa, pickles or hot sauce.
Collections of heirloom seeds saved from your own garden.
Beekeepers, you know what to do.
6. Make a donation. We’re big fans of Heifer International, which allows you to donate sustainable gifts — such as farm animals, irrigation pumps or biogas stoves — to people in developing countries. (I bet you can guess our favorite item in that catalog.)