Last year at this time, I read an incredibly depressing article about a Yiwu, the city in China that manufactures 60% of the world’s Christmas decorations. It’s hard for me to pinpoint what exactly made the article so depressing: the volume of products produced, the images of red-glitter-stained workers, the guilt I felt as an American consumer, or the fact that the Chinese workers interviewed had little more than a vague understanding of the Christmas holiday.
(Are you still reading? I feel like that paragraph was pretty heavy-hitting for this time of year. This will get more uplifting, I promise!)
To say that it’s incredibly easy to get swept up in the consumer aspect of Christmas is an understatement. It takes nearly Herculean strength to resist it. I want to share with you one way our extended family has attempted to counteract that tendency and how it has changed my outlook on gifting.
Three years ago, my mother-in-law came up with a crazy idea: she suggested that the family (which consists of my husband and his three siblings and their significant others, two nieces, one nephew, my M.I.L., her husband, me, and a partridge in a pear tree) buy nothing new for each other for Christmas. Instead, she suggested we make, rehome, or buy gifts from thrift stores.
At first, I was skeptical. Very skeptical. Very, very skeptical.
Could we make gifts that people would actually like? Was it even possible to find cool gifts at thrift stores? Would we all go home with useless junk that would just go back to the thrift store the next day?
Despite these misgivings, the rest of the family and I agreed, dubbing the experiment “Goodwill Christmas.” The first year was an adventure: some gifts, like the vintage bookbag my sister-in-law found for my husband, were a huge hit. Others were silly, inside jokes, or just fun. Very few were duds. We savored the opening of gifts, laughing, oohing, and aahing over each present. After the first year, we decided that gifts could be handmade by us, thrifted, purchased from an antique store, or handmade by an artisan. Basically, if a gift was going to be purchased, the purchase needed to benefit a charity, small business, or individual.
Since then, something incredible has happened: we all give more purposefully, more lovingly, more thoughtfully to one another. It’s not about going to the mall at 6pm on Thanksgiving night or 6am on Black Friday to get a screaming deal on another scarf or pair of earrings that will be worn for a month or two and then lost or discarded. Instead, we pay attention to each other’s hobbies and interests, picking up or making a gift here and there throughout the year. Rather than trying to “outgive” each other in terms of money spent, we outdo each other in thoughtfulness (and sometimes humor!).
Equally important, I have developed a healthier attitude towards both receiving and giving. Previously, when I opened gifts, I had an expectation or idea of what people had gotten me for Christmas. If I didn’t like a gift, I added it to my mental list of things to return the next day. Gifts were transactional: you get me what I want and I’ll get you what you want. Since implementing Goodwill Christmas, I have no expectations about what I will receive. I do know that the physical objects are not the point. The point is the thought, the care, the feeling of being known that gift represents.
On the flip side, I used to get insecure about gift-giving. I worried if it looked like I spent too much or too little, if the gift I picked out was the exact item on the person’s wish list, if I should include a gift receipt. Now, I relish the creative process of making gifts, even simple gifts, that my family members will appreciate. I enjoy finding interesting second-hand items for them. There are no returns. No one cares how much (or how little) the gift costs. It’s truly the thought that counts.
“So,” you might ask, “What do you do with all the money you save by making or thrifting your Christmas gifts?” Great question! Every Christmas, Chris and I donate that money to a charitable organization. One year, we gave to Heifer International. Another year, we gave to Families of Hope Adoption Fund. Last year, our church small group adopted a needy family and bought gifts and a Christmas dinner for them. This year, on the heels of experiencing our nieces’ birth at 29 weeks, we’re giving to an organization that makes blankets for NICU patients.
You see, like the Grinch realized, “Maybe Christmas … doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more.”
Will you share your traditions that bless others during this season? Let’s start a wave of generosity and kindness to celebrate advent and Christmas!