A week ago we went to the Santa Claus Parade. Before we left I decided to tell Swee'pea about the parade to entice him to let me clothe him appropriately for the sunny but cold weather. Knowing his obsession for all things wheeled, I told him there would be trucks and tractors and big wagons with kids on them, and probably at least one fire truck AND an ambulance. I glossed over Santa, not having really thought about what I want Swee'pea to think about him. He was definitely interested in seeing all the trucks, but we still had to get him dressed while he screamed and flailed. Yay, winter with a two-year-old. Anyways, he was pretty spell-bound for the whole parade, and kept looking down the street whenever there was a gap between floats (which I must say were pretty pathetic, even by G-town's standards) looking for more trucks. It was the trucks that he especially loved, no surprise.
Towards the end, someone was carrying a sign that said, "Simplify your life!" Always on the lookout for ways to simplify my life, I looked closer and read the next line: "Hire an Elf." This confused me and made me think for a moment that perhaps I really have been doing too much Pot(ter). Looking even closer, I saw the fine print talked about a personalized shopping service. For a moment, seduced by the power of suggestion, I thought that might be a good idea, but then I came to, digusted. Buying gifts for loved ones, just for the sake of buying gifts, really feels wrong to me. I mean, if you don't have the time, interest or knowledge to give gifts that are meaningful or particularly desired, why bother?
I've already written about how in my immediate family we no longer give each other gifts and we donate to a charity instead (we still give gifts to the children though), about how I feel like a total scrooge with my disillusionment in gift-giving and ambivalence about Santa and what role I'm comfortable with for the man in red in my child(ren)'s Christmas. And yet, I feel the need to rehash a lot of this.
Go ahead and call me the Grinch but I don't really like getting gifts anymore. Being a packrat by nature and not very hygienically inclined, my house tends to keep filling up with stuff that I just have to keep sorting through and donating or tossing to landfill. Andrea's green family series and the Bloghers ACT: Canada initiative have really got me thinking about how wasteful it is buying new things when you could recycle old things... and, now that Christmas is coming, giving people (or receiving) gifts that they'll never really use or enjoy. I am fortunate and frugal enough to be able to buy myself most of the things I want when I want them so I don't need Christmas gifts, and most Christmases I can't even think of anything that I'd like to receive. On the other hand, I like showing other people my appreciation of and affection for them, and I appreciate when that affection is reciprocated, but I really don't need or want it to be done with material things.
Mad and Jen's monthly Just Posts, now approaching their first anniversary, have also raised my awareness about social justice in a big way. This year, I'm going to try to make all my gift-giving give back (except for Swee'pea and nieces and newphews, which I will discuss later). I'm going to donate in the names of the people I give gifts to. So I've started thinking about what organizations I want to donate to. Last year, my family and I focused on international giving -- we gave to Foster Parents Plan for Christmas Gifts, and (eventually) sponsored a child through Help Lesotho (which we are still doing).
This year, I'd like to give locally as well. On June 15, 2007 our youth shelter closed suddenly. It provided dinner for about 30 kids every night, and had 20 emergency beds. Sadly, the essential services it provided have still not been replaced and the kids who used them still don't have a new shelter space. I discovered through G-town Social Justice that we can donate money towards the new shelter (once they find space and funding) or to providing services in the meantime. The same folks are also collecting toiletries and other essentials for the kids and are driving a Kick the Cold initiative to collect clean warm garments for homeless people here.
Another choice for giving is the Masai Centre for Local, Regional and Global health, an out-patient clinic that provides holistic and compassionate care for people living with HIV/AIDS in Wellington-Dufferin, Grey-Bruce and Waterloo Region. The organization also raises funds for the Tsepong Clinic in Lesotho.
While I am most drawn to using my gift-giving dollars to help people, I also feel it may be appropriate to support an organization in line with my passion for native plant conservation and gardening, so Evergreen is top of my list as well. What I like about Evergreen is its holistic approach: Evergreen funds the creation of native plant gardens at schools, makes urban spaces greener, builds awareness and provides resources for native plant gardening, and supports buy-local initiatives in its Brick Works space. I am also considering the Canadian Wildlife Foundation.
And finally, I want to give to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. It does great work to fight AIDS in Africa, and when you make a donation on behalf of someone else, they give you a nice card to notify them.
All those options make me feel slightly less grinch-like, and I also discovered that I am not alone. Buy Nothing Christmas has lots of ideas to reduce the crazy consumerism of the season that just widens the gap between rich and poor around the world and further damages the environment.
Last year I was able to get away without much thought for how I want Swee'pea to see Christmas and how to let him enjoy the magic and family closeness of the holiday without going all capitalist crazy. This year he's so aware that we've got some decisions to make and traditions to begin. But I'll leave that for another post...
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