[Ed. note: this article is part of our series of weekly reflections called Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays]
Many traditional Christmas gifts begin with good intentions and end up as a pile of plastic on their way to the landfill. But gifts made of creativity and compassion give generously to both creation and God’s people. Clean water, a handmade scarf, time well spent, items made from natural materials and by craftsmen receiving fair wages—all of these are gifts we can give to neighbors near and far this season. And by giving gifts that are simple and meaningful, we give the gift of good stewardship and abundance to the earth.
Such altruistic gift-giving is becoming trendier these days, the same way that “green” living is en mode. But a motivation of style, or the pressure of guilt, are sure to exhaust even our best efforts at living rightly. Reflecting on the depth of Christ’s own gift and taking joy in the things that most feed our souls, however, light us with a gratitude that can be sincerely expressed in gracious giving.
Of course, it’s also always encouraging to join in an effort like this with others who take the story of Christmas seriously. So this year, gather your church, small group, or Sunday school class, and give in gratitude together. Here are some creative ideas and resources to support and inspire your commitment to giving quality gifts of the heart:
• An initiative that encourages the church to “Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All,” the Advent Conspiracy asks, “What if Christmas became a world-changing event again?” Watch the Advent Conspiracy’s video to the right.
• Put your heads and hands together to create gifts with your own ingenuity. Many of us with creative talents and energies sit at desks all day and need an outlet for our crafty sides! Gather in knitting or crocheting groups to make scarves and hats for homeless shelters to have on hand; apprentice with each other to build furniture for families in your congregation who need a new dresser or desk; mow lawns, help with housework, or shovel snow for folks without the physical strength to do so on their own; or bake a hearty meal for a busy family. The Body of Christ has many skills to share. Find more ideas (and instructions) for creative gifts on this family craft site and through the Canadian Buy Nothing Christmas initiative.
• Instead of buying gifts that will only stack up in already-crowded closets and play rooms, participate in a kind of gift-giving that will provide resources to families and communities in need of some help to reach sustainability. Some reputable organizations that you can donate to, often in the name of a loved one: Heifer International (”Just one goat can change the world!”), ECHO (Give a fruit tree or a whole community garden!), Gift Card Giver (get rid of those nagging $3 on your BestBuy Card), Compassion International’s Christmas Gift Program (Suggested donation: Just $20), Charity: Water (put clean water on your wish list), World Vision (Give anything from 5 ducks to hope for sexually exploited girls), Samaritan’s Purse (Operation Christmas Child going on right now!), and tree planting through Plant With Purpose, and Care of Creation.
• Buy Fair Trade, local, or organic items if you’re going to give store-bought gifts. It’s sometimes more expensive to buy goods in these categories, but that’s for a good reason: it means the artisans and farmers who have created those products are being paid decent wages and working in fair labor conditions. The money you pay will not only compensate producers, but also contribute to the flourishing of their communities and local environments. But check to make sure the Fair Trade items you purchase are approved by TransFair USA or the Fair Trade Federation, and your organics are really organic. Good places to start with these kinds of gifts include Ten Thousand Villages and Amani Ya Juu.