In a year like no other, it was somehow intuitively that the last bit will just top it all off. We are all in a complete rush, timed activities, with responsibilities to be completed before the holidays, and so on. Not to mention the preparation itself for Christmas and New Year’s. As I hope that in the coming days I’ll manage to clear my mind a little bit after long hours of work; I now have to face the hard fact: what do we do about the gifts?
If there is one thing I hope we all learned from 2020 is this; we truly do not need that much to be happy! And now if we are looking back, there are some patterns I hope we will all take further with us; the collective power to fight for something, the beauty to empathize, and the care for those around us. Those all sound like big words, but you will see the connection in just a minute.
Last year around the end of November, while sharing an apartment with two lovely ladies, one day we found an unknown bag in our living room. At first, we didn’t question much. When we talked about it, the story went this way: “Santa came around and left us a small treasure hunt to guide us through the long waiting days before Christmas, to be opened one by one altogether each day”; sort of an advent calendar. One of the girls’ parents planned this whole thing out, and it was about to become one of the most special “waiting” experiences for me. Not so fun when you get easily excited about things.
Although we had lived in that place for quite a while then, we didn’t have a lot of furniture and decorations yet. That gave us all the space we needed to sit together every night; get some warm tea; open our gifts and spark a nice conversation. What was exciting to me was really the whole thinking process behind it. Not to mention the details. The gifts were small, something that you do need, but probably is not on your to-buy list. Something that you can eat, wear, decorate for Christmas; games to play together, and things that you might even have to buy yourself anyhow; with one big goal: TOGETHERNESS, or hygge how the Danes say.
There was one thing that stayed with me after this. With all my struggles to choose ethical products and become more sustainable, I get that we should not take away this joy of giving and receiving gifts. We should just think about them more purposefully! Following my roommate’s parents thought process, in the months prior, they tried to observe us as a whole; understanding that something like this would benefit our relationships and help us create a beautiful union. At the same time, there are smaller details as to where do the gifts are coming from; what about the wrapping; the usefulness of the gifts; and the big question we always ask, “Is she/him going to use this?”.
It’s been a journey, and still working on them, but there are some small things I try to consider when preparing a gift for someone. Not trying to cancel anybody’s lists, with countless product recommendations and so; just putting it out there that maybe some people simply don’t think the same; or don’t see the things as we do, even if they want the same things, and even when they deeply care about the climate.
Try to understand the person you are gifting to
It is easy to fall into this trap. We think about the gifts as they are for ourselves; or “they might like it”; or “it looked beautiful on the shelf”. Maybe the people you are gifting are not even aware of the climate problems and do not really pay that much attention. This could actually be a good opportunity to spark the conversation in this direction, but be aware of not sounding judgmental. Do your homework well beforehand, and share your support and resources.
Look for locally made gifts and DIY
There is no other way to explain it. Why buying sustainable products coming from miles distance, when you can have that same product close to you. Lately, there has been an increasing number of smaller shops, both online and offline, fighting for the same goal: producing things slow, with respect for the planet and people. Unfortunately, they can easily pass overlooked, as they don’t rely necessarily on heavy marketing budgets; but it is on us to discover them. At the same time, there is no excuse to try to be creative if we got the skill for it. That way, we do not only gift something, but we gift a piece of our heart too.
It is okay to re-gift
There has been a common discussion on the subject for a very long time. My mother started doing it a while back, and at first, it was a bit hard for me to understand it too; perceiving it as an offense to the giver. If we think about it, it is not that hard: why keep something you do not need it? Things end up laying around or forgotten in drawers, when in fact other people can really benefit or be happier.
Add your personal touch
Creative or not, you should try adding something of your own. More than just the typical cards you are buying, wrapped at the gift shop. Change comes in small steps, but I guarantee is worth taking them. There are also places where you can get truly homemade and sustainable cards if you cannot create them. Options can be endless.
Find your packing alternatives
We all know by now that a lot of the gift-wrapping paper produced today cannot be recycled. There is of course hard for some to move away from this in the absence of better alternatives. However, there are still some things we can do about it. For starters, no matter the kind of paper used, you should allow for it to have at least one more life. Basically implying that whatever method you are using to finishing up your gift, you need to make sure that it will not damage the package. Then remember to make it easily accessible for your recipient to see the intent. One good example is to simply use your ribbon when finishing off you are wrapping, having then a complete and robust nicely wrapped gift.
Reuse and recycle
Connected to the previous point, which is not only applying for our everyday living but also to everything when it comes to gifting. Even before we plan our gifts, we simply need to realize that there is a life behind the beauty of gifting, and we should also make sure that our recipients can reuse or have the opportunity for recycling old pieces. If we talk about electronics, as an example, there are several programs where you can recycle your old product, which at times is coming with an incentive system and things alike. Make sure to include specific instructions if this is the case, and maybe do a little research in your area to look for options.
To sum up our little discussion, here is a little helping hand with a few questions to have in mind even before starting to think about gifting. Please, be aware that those are just a starting point, and just as in my story with the “treasure hunt”, you should always add the sustainability dimension to everything you have in mind.
- Can I give this person an experience?
- What do they do or want to do in their free time?
- Can I give this person consumables?
- Are they “more short” on money or time?
- Is this gift going to be used or am I better off with a gift card option?
- When they go shopping, what kind of items are they drawn to?
- Is there something they might want to learn more about?
- How do they normally relax?
- Is there something you can do together?
- Do they have a favorite snack or indulgence?
- What have they talked about buying for themselves?
- Do they have a charity or cause they could support?
- Are they the practical kind of people?
- What topics excite them?
- Would they just want to spend time together?
- How can I help this person become greener in their everyday life?
Now I got this challenge for you: be the “weird” one among your family, friends, and colleagues; be the one that comes with the weirdly wrapped gifts, carefully thought materials, and with something that truly comes from the heart, for them and the planet. Challenge yourself to think outside the box, or even to use it, adding some markers, and turning it into an exciting exercise for the younger ones.
At the end of the day, it is all about creating new traditions, including for Christmas, and being together. Although the latter has been a bit difficult this year, we can only look hopeful about what is coming ahead of us.
Regarding traditions, they are a deeply embedded part of our collective consciousness. We have created them for years and generations, and they are, of course, super special and important both to me and to all the others around the world worried about the climate. Wanting to be more sustainable does not and should not mean that one should give up all their traditions. Instead, we should all try to find new, creative, and beautiful new traditions, reinterpreting the ones we already have, specific to our beings and cultures. There is definitely no perfect way to go about it, but it is about trying, learning, trying again, understanding, and enjoying every bit of it.
Happy gifting 😁