Give the gift of giving back this season

This holiday season is coming up fast. Just the other day I woke up and found myself thinking about gifts and what I’m going to give to my family this year. This is a pretty special year as my brother and his fiancée are staying with us for two weeks coming in from Norway. We don’t often get to spend holidays together with the whole family. Family is important. Having just had my grand parents and extended family come through town for a couple of days, I realized how great it was to see them and also much we all eat!

My brother, in his unusually helpful way, sends the entire family a list of Mountain Equipment Coop products that he would like for Christmas. This year’s list included over twenty different items, prompting me to question the whole point of the holiday season. Anticipation, excitement, the joy of the unknown is being lost. Rather, children, youth and adults open store-wrapped gifts as quickly as possible and then move on to the next one; building a pile of goods manufactured abroad in unsavoury and unhealthy conditions.

I’ve been really pleased to see the waste reduction campaign being put on by Metro Vancouver this season. The one where the brother gives the gift of an evening to his sister and husband where he takes care of their child is really touching. If you happen along the Canada Line you will see them posted at each station. The premise of these ads is to get people to think creatively about gift giving and in particular to think outside the box by providing thoughtful, engaged service to our friends, family and loved ones while reducing waste.

Kids need to be able to play and to express their creativity, I’m not completely sold that disposable toys that are in vogue are the way to go. Often, we’re training our kids to want a bunch of disposable products rather than teaching them to value toys that last that have creative uses (e.g. blocks, crayons, sports equipment). It’s important to think about where things come from, how they’re produced and what the impact they have along the way. A great little short animation called ‘The Story of Stuff’ tells us that of all the things the average household buys over the course of a year over 90% of it ends up in the landfill.

Perhaps we would better serve our children by showing them and bringing them with us when we go to support community organizations and services that help others. I was at a food security conference where an aboriginal leader from Nunavut was moved to tears because he had had to temporarily leave his children to travel to this conference. He couldn’t understand why we would have these moments where we collectively organized to address food issues in the absence of our children and elders. If the next generation need exposure to anything, it’s seeing their parents and elders working collaboratively in addressing these complex issues that impact us all.

There’s a lot of alternatives to giving gifts with lots of packaging and have short lives. This year you can give the gift of experience such as passes to gyms, galleries, downloadable music, cooking classes, random adventures, baked or canned goods, the possibilities are endless and limited only by your creativity.

Contributing to various organizations (Richmond Dream Auction), giving meaningful engaged acts of service (like volunteering at a community meal), gifts that last a long time, or purchasing from local craft fairs and shops, would be a better more conscientious gift this year. Many community service organizations in Richmond that do great work receive very little public support although they make huge ripples in their spheres of influence. After all, who needs another pair of socks this year? The latest mobile phone or hand held device? This year, give the gift of experience and memories.

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