Corporations are often a focus of my writing, and with good reason. Large companies are powerful and have the ability to affect the kind of change that can have a profound impact on many people. Because of their public nature, companies that either are doing the right thing or are in need of reform are also easy to spot and tend to draw the scrutiny of journalists, supplying me with plenty of research material.
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As the holidays approach however, my attention has turned to how the average person can affect change, and in particular, how their shopping during this season can do so. In the same way that we often approach food on Thanksgiving, Christmas can be a time in which we mindlessly indulge in the commercialism that surrounds us, without much real benefit to ourselves or others. It falls on every conscientious individual to give some thought to their annual gift giving and resist succumbing to shopping patterns that are easy but not as mutually beneficial as they could (or should) be. Instead of defaulting to Amazon or big box stores because these suppliers seem to make our lives simpler, here are a few suggestions for more thoughtful and sustainable Christmas giving:
There are so many ways to support your local businesses! Spend a Saturday morning browsing on Main Street (or its equivalent), find artisan/craft show dates and times on the community calendar, or check out the year-round or weekly farmers' market. I attended our local Holly Jolly Fair this past weekend, and it did not disappoint. Dozens of booths displayed handmade items as varied as jewelry, woodworking, Christmas ornaments, food, and one-of-a-kind artwork. The atmosphere was festive, the prices were good, and you could literally make it a one-stop shop for every person on your list. There is probably a version of all these options near you; give it a try, and I guarantee you'll be doing it again next year.
Try Vintage or Thrift
There is something especially satisfying about a great bargain, and one of the best (if not the best) ways to find amazing items at affordable prices is to shop secondhand. According to thredUP, one of the largest online sources of secondhand clothing and accessories, there are multiple benefits to purchasing clothes secondhand that are beyond the obvious advantage of saving money. Currently, over 100 billion new garments are produced every year. Of these items, 73% will end up in a landfill while they are still wearable or could be recycled. Wearing secondhand apparel also cuts down on CO2 emissions by an average of 25%. Beside thredUP, other terrific sites for secondhand items of all types include Poshmark, REI-Co-Op, the RealReal, Patagonia Worn Wear, and Ebay. For more suggestions, visit this list on sustainablejungle.com.
Look for Ethical Labels
There are a number of companies that are truly trying to make a difference in how they affect the people involved in producing their goods, as well as how they impact the environment. Labels like Fair Trade let you know that the product you're looking at adheres to certain standards and is being evaluated by a third party. These label associations set requirements such as fair minimum pricing, traceability of goods, exclusion of child labor, equitable working conditions, and protection of natural resources. In addition, many of these brands help family farms in third world nations make a viable living, which not only helps these individuals but provides for greater stability in their communities and countries. If you're not sure what a label stands for, this list of 28 ethical and sustainable labels should be helpful.
I've come to the point in my life where I don't want to find a place to display or store yet another gift item, and I know I'm not alone in this feeling. Instead of purchasing a material object for someone, why not give them the pleasure of a memorable experience? Ideas for this kind of present range from a gift card for their favorite restaurant, to tickets for a rock or orchestra concert, to a season pass at a local attraction such as an amusement park, a community theater, or a college sports venue. One of the added benefits of this kind of giving is that it can be done last minute, with instant delivery to an email address.
Encourage Donations instead of Gifts
Whether you are hosting a holiday party or the annual family get-together, consider asking the attendees to benefit a local charity as an alternative to giving or exchanging gifts. Instead of another bottle of wine, a host gift could be a small box of donations or check for the community foodbank or homeless shelter, both of which are currently in great need of assistance all over the country. Instead of giving gifts to each other, adult family members could "adopt" children in programs such as Angel Tree at the local Salvation Army, which enables hundreds of thousands of needy children around the country to receive wanted and necessary items. Giving items that people need or would not otherwise receive brings its own special blessings on both the giver and the receiver, especially during the holidays and the following winter months.
Shopping for Christmas with economic mutuality in mind is a very relevant way of honoring the one whose birth we celebrate. As Jesus came to earth in order to bring freedom to the oppressed and sight to the blind (Luke 4:18-19), conscientious gift giving can facilitate economic freedom by helping those in need to either make a living or be supplied with necessities. It can also bring sight to those of us who are givers, revealing the reality that how we spend our money truly does make a difference. This year, let us endeavor to save Christmas from the unthinking commercialism that is has become, and give in a way that reflects the true spirit of the season.
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