Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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The Holidays Don't Have to be All About Buying

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday, December 16/07

Zack Gross

It’s that time of the year.  People are out spending their money (or going deeper into their lines of credit) to fulfill the reason for our holiday season. 

Whether you believe in Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza or the Winter Solstice, it is a time to mark our passages, to worship our own brands of deities and, most of all, to shop!

When the September 11th Attacks took place back in 2001, one of the first things that US President Bush told the American People was that they should keep on shopping, to support the economy. 

The question then might be, when something really important happens, good or bad, is that a reason to go shopping? 

I was recently asked by a polling firm if I shopped for pleasure.  It seemed that there was at least a double meaning to that question.  

On average, Canadians spend about $800 each every December in retail outlets, doing their holiday shopping.

It is expected that US holiday shoppers this year will spend over $30 billion in December. 

As holiday shopping is left later and later each year, the crunch time starts about December 15th, with the two biggest days always being the last Saturday before Christmas and December 23rd.  At one time, retailers expected the rush to start on what was called Black Friday, the first day after US Thanksgiving, when retailers saw their books begin to move from the red to the black.  That is no longer true, although some folks still start their shopping early in autumn, right after “back to school” is over.

It’s that time of our lives.  Given that those of us in the “Western World” have much more than we need, and that those we might give gifts to probably also have more than they know what to do with, can we take significant strides to do the right thing, to do some things that are truly significant?  These are not necessarily really big things.  Here are some simple examples, with apologies to those folks that are already ahead of me.

•    Ask the seniors who live down the block, or on the next farm, if they need some company during the holidays.  Do they need some cleaning or shoveling done?  Or, can you fight the traffic and crowds for them and pick up their groceries and other necessities?

•    Ask those new immigrants that have moved onto your street if they are handling the winter chill okay.  Do they need a ride somewhere or a chance to meet other neighbours.  Are they getting the services they need – translation, training opportunities or work?  How can you help?

•    What about our global neighbours?  There are numerous worthwhile groups that offer opportunities for you to donate practical items to needy families and communities overseas.  You can pay for school supplies, farm animals, small business start-ups and much more, with a gift of as little as $25.  Check out / Links to view the web sites of Canadian international development assistance organizations.

•    Ask your family and friends, “What can I get you this year that isn’t plastic, has nothing to do with violence, and doesn’t harm the environment?  What can I get you that is locally or handmade, organic or fair trade?  What can I do for you, instead of give to you?  Who can I donate to, in your name?  Can I pay for you to take a course, go to fitness class or attend a cultural event?”

•    Ask yourself, “How can I spend some of my time in late December that isn’t in front of the television or eating an extra helping of food?”  Do they need me at Operation Red Nose, at the local charitable Christmas Dinner, at the Cheer Board, at the local personal care home or hospital, and so on.

•    What about changing the way this season is sold to you and me?  If you’re going to be parked in front of a computer, don’t spend all your time playing poker or other games.  If it were me, I’d be emailing the various TV advertisers to tell them how their commercials turn me off, rather than on, to the holidays.

It’s that time for our planet.  You’ve heard it before and here it comes again.  We need to change the way we do things.  It’s not just altruism, but it’s in our self-interest as well.  Many of us believe that it’s our lifestyle that fuels climate change, conflict and poverty (and, of course, there are a few that don’t, or haven’t thought about it).  It is in our interest to change, but change is admittedly hard.  Holiday shopping and traditional gift giving may be unsustainable, given the other needs our planet and people have.

Cutting back on consumerism does not necessarily mean cutting back on fun, love and the upholding of our economy.  Make your holidays, in some way, noticeably different and memorable this year. 

Zack Gross is program coordinator at the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (
MCIC), a coalition of 36 international development organizations active in our province.
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