“Gift-wrapping my principles”


Years ago, I started giving “ethical gifts.”

Calling them that sort of implies that there is something unethical about gadgets, clothing, and books. As though if it wasn’t made by female entrepreneurs in Sudan then it must have been made in a sweat shop in China. Of course, seeing as how I have a Banana Republic Visa Card, if I really touted that shopping was evil, I would be the biggest hypocrite in the world. I’d be saying, essentially, “I buy myself whatever I want all year long, so that I can use the money I would spend on your gift for something tax deductible.”

Calling them “ethical gifts” was really my way of saying, “This gift was intended to bless you, and the world…well, really more just the world, and not so much you…because it’s a notebook made out of elephant poo.” (For the record the poo notebooks were among the more pragmatic purchases.)

My family is great, and they have always gotten the true spirit of my ethical gifts: for Jesus’s birthday, what he really wants is for us to love people more than stuff. They’ve even done some ethical shopping themselves, which has been fun.

But still I’d always have this dilemma. Because Jesus also loves my family, and giving them gifts is a good thing. So do I get them something that says, “I love you and thought you’d love this?” Or get them something that says, “I think Christmas is grossly over commercialized and we desperately need to remember that Jesus’s birth is not about stuff and gluttony?” It was really hard to find things that said both…especially on my budget. I’d love to get everyone gorgeous hand woven tapestries and metal work jewelry, but part of my being ethical at Christmas is not going into debt over it. Plus…have you ever tried to find “ethical” men’s gifts? It’s really hard. The men in my life are not scarf-wearers.

Some years everyone in my family got goats. Or rather, someone else received a goat purchased with the money I would have spent on buying my family members something else. One year they all got trees planted in their names. Such a big hit with kids…no. It’s not.

Some years were a hybrid. I did what I could and then shopped on Etsy “to support the artists.” Or I gave things loosely environmentally friendly. One year during the recession I gave gifts “to support small businesses.”

So this year, rather than hunt around for the perfect ethical gift with just the right balance of actual appeal and world-saving, I went back to my old ways. I still believe that Christmas is over-commercialized. I still cringe at the sentimentality and excess. But this year, I just decided to try really hard to show my love to my family by buying things they might like. Not the way they like volunteering (which they do! A lot!). But in a way they like stuff that they like.

Next year, they’ll probably all get shares of a milk cow.

But for this year, I returned to full-throttle Christmas shopping, and yes, I felt weird about it. SO, family, I hope you enjoy your presents. There’s a little piece of my principles in each box.

(“Gift-wrapping My Principles” is the holiday remix of the hit song “Alone in My Principles” by Jimmy Mattingly)

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