Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Gift Alternatives Always Welcome During Holidays

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, December 7 / 15

Zack Gross

Each family has its own traditions for our “season of gift-giving.” People give particular kinds of gifts, open presents on a particular day and / or time of day, and maybe give only to particular relatives or friends in a kind of rotation scenario.  When you add to this the desire to make charitable donations at this time of year and the cost of extra gifts expected at office parties, the whole experience of Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanza may not be satisfying and may be quite expensive!

The majority of people do at least some, if not all, of their shopping at the malls, big box stores or online.  And that’s not entirely bad.  If you know that your gift recipient really likes a certain product or store, it seems fair to give them what they want and make them happy.  A present that ends up in the closet, freezer (forever) or garbage is not the best use of your money, after all!
Being fair trade advocates, my family likes to shop at stores like Ten Thousand Villages and increasingly in regular shops that carry items like certified coffee, teas, chocolate and handicrafts that, as they say, “give twice” – once to the local recipient, and once to the global small producer by offering a fair wage and good working conditions.

Shopping locally is also a good plan.  Merchants in smaller centres struggle financially because their local citizens head to the city or go online to buy gifts.  As well, independent enterprises don’t do as well as multinational outlets.  It might cost a bit more for a product in Brandon as opposed to Winnipeg, or a small town in comparison to a big one, but you save money on gas and a big-city meal and keep your local store going.  The position of the Canadian dollar may also be keeping some folks closer to home.

Shopping green, safe and organic is also a good way to go.  More and more, people are looking for healthy alternatives in foods, cosmetics, kitchen and household products.  Whether you are combatting personal allergies or global warming, these products are now part of the mainstream!

Handmade crafts or homemade preserves are another alternative.  Jars of jam, salsa, or “bits & bites” will do the trick.  A knit or sewn article of clothing is another option.  A set of family photos set in a calendar – or something you made yourself from stained glass – or some research you’ve done on family history, or even a poem you have written and never shared.

Offering personal services is a welcome gift!  The senior who receives a card saying “I’ll shovel your walk all winter!” will be very pleased.  The young couple who are offered an evening out while their babysitting is covered will be equally happy!  Mowing the lawn, washing the car, cleaning the house, helping with a move, chopping wood – there are so many options in this category! 

Charitable financial contributions are particularly good gifts for older people who really don’t want any more “stuff
,” or for young people for whom you may want to model “generosity” and your own personal causes and interests.  You can make a donation in the names of your grandchildren who will each receive “recognition” and maybe spark their interest in that subject.  In turn, you will receive a tax deductible receipt!

The gift of learning is one sometimes forgotten at this time of year as it might appear to be too serious.  That gift might be a book, a magazine subscription, some music, or money toward taking a course or learning a trade.

Of course, many will also be buying the latest “Frozen” doll, or Star Wars toy, embraced by some as the ultimate gift and by others as a waste (something that we spend our lifetimes reconciling).  When my wife and I returned from a trip to East Africa last year and handed out gifts, that we’d purchased in the market, to our grandchildren, one disappointed youngster asked why there were no Wal-Marts where we’d traveled.  You might say that our karma ran over our dogma!

As you complete your holiday shopping, keep in mind the many options for what you can buy, make or offer to those on your list.  What we all hope for, of course, is good health, personal and public safety, an improved environment, peace and some measure of prosperity.  And that takes a year-round effort by everyone, a lot of good will and a little bit of luck!

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of the Marquis Project in Brandon and currently is a provincial and national advocate for fair trade.

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