A few years back our family made the switch to Alternative Christmas gifts. Some of our extended family participated in the Advent Conspiracy at their church and then I went through it with a small group. Since we all had our needs covered, it just made sense to give gifts to others who didn’t have their basic needs met in the honor of the loved ones we celebrate Christmas with. It seemed a fitting way to give tribute to the Christ child who entered the world in a stable and then grew up to talk repeatedly about how we should care for the poor. Plus, it is WAY less stressful than picking out sweaters at the mall.
Here are a few Alternative Christmas gifts that we’ve enjoyed giving over the years and how we’ve given them.
Heifer was one of the first organizations we heard about for alternative giving. The basic concept is that you donate money and Heifer uses it to set farmers up with livestock and education/support in how to farm them in extremely poor parts of the world. Part of the brilliancy of the plan is that when the first farmers farm does well enough, they donate some of their animals to a new farmer in their village so that eventually the whole community gets empowered and fed. We still love to give Heifer gifts for adults in the family and for teacher/c0-worker gifts. For one, Heifer has a great reputation as a charity for being efficient and effective in the communities they engage with. Also, it is just fun to pick an animals for each person. (e.g. Honeybees for a teacher who is sweet as honey, or a goat to your brother-in-law because . . . well you know :-). And really, who doesn’t love getting a llama or waterbuffalo?)
The year I went through Advent Conspiracy for the first time we gave donations to Living Waters for family gifts. Advent Conspiracy recommends them as a charity and gives the profits from their book to this cause. It kills me that some people have to walk over a mile just to get access to a water source. And sometimes even that water is murky river water ridden with life threatening diseases. All while I stroll across my kitchen to get cold, filtered water from my refrigerator. It is insane and incredibly unfair. But much like Isaiah writes, Living Waters brings streams into these deserts (okay they are actually wells dug down out in the bushlands, but you get the idea). As with the Heifer livestock, the gift of a well is a powerful agent of change for an entire community. Your click of a button has a big impact.
We are really happy to have a school for children in rural Haiti that our local church supports. We can walk into the parish hall and decide whether we want to donate money for a child’s lunches for a month, buy a child’s uniform and books, or sponsor a teacher’s salary. These are children and teachers whom we see pictures of regularly and sometimes know their names. We especially like to give these donations as teacher gifts because of the education connection. This being said, there are other locally run charities that are fun to donate to since you know you are making a direct impact.
If you do not already give alternative Christmas gifts, I highly recommend them. It feels like you are going out on a limb the first time you try it, but our experience has been that they are very well received. And it is so much more enjoyable to sit at my computer and learn about the good being done in the world than to fight traffic and crowds at some shopping center. And at the end of the day, I feel much better about someone in the world having a shot at a healthy and full life than I do about giving another gadget to my Dad.
Have you experienced giving or receiving alternative Christmas gifts? If so, what are your favorites?