18 - 2007

Eco-quandary: Green vs. traditionally generous holiday gifts

We usually have a pretty big shopping list around our house for Christmas. We have two sets of parents with whom we really don’t exchange gifts, and two sets with whom we do. We have five siblings/spouses and two nieces, a couple of our daughter’s good friends, two sets of grandparents, and this year, four sets of aunts and uncles.

This year, a church group we’re in sponsored two single-parent/one-child families, and we bought several items for those families, plus donated our old Christmas lights and some extra toiletries we had stockpiled in the closet — and the time to organize the giving. And I like to thank those who have helped us throughout the year, which involved holiday tips or gifts for Little Cheap’s teachers, my hairdresser, my massage therapist, our mail carrier, the newspaper delivery person and Mr. Cheap’s specially kind bus driver.

The latter paragraph consists of gifts that are a no-brainer. To me, they embody the spirit of the season – giving, gratitude, hope.

With the former group, it’s tougher. Sometimes we set giving guidelines. This year, we tried, but not everyone wanted to participate. Some are financially burdened and can’t give much back. Some always give more than others. I don’t mind being on the side receiving less; for me, it’s a greater challenge to graciously receive more than I have (or could have) given.

This year, we have done better than last year financially, so I went the easy route: I spent quite a bit of money buying nice gifts for everyone, generally from their wish lists so I won’t make any mistakes. I don’t want to spend a lot getting something the recipient doesn’t want. I don’t want them to think I’m cheap because I don’t care. But ah what a relief it is to give to those who have no expectations. For instance, I think we’ll give Mr. Cheap’s dad and stepmom one of our king-size squash – and they’ll probably really like it!

I’ve tried to strike the middle ground with other recipients’ gifts:

  • A bottle of locally made wine.
  • A set of reusable shopping bags (I’ve roped my sister into using reusable bags; next step: Mom).
  • Hand-knitted socks (several pairs in the pipeline).
  • Hand-decorated bags from Little Cheap to her cousins.
  • A book by an author friend of mine.
  • A wooden loom made in the U.S. for Little Cheap (although she has several Chinese-made toys coming).
  • Handmade soap and other goodies, some from a craft night I attended, some from local artisans.
  • A handwoven shawl from a local artisan.
  • Products from the Women’s Bean Project here in Denver.
  • Candy and cookies from my own kitchen.

And on the other hand, we wound up purchasing two Barbies, a Spiderman and a Transformer, a pair of inexpensive children’s boots, two pair of work boots from Costco (Mr. Cheap’s verdict: They’re awesome), and some of the plastic, made-in-China medieval “action figures” that Little Cheap plays with incessantly.

How do you strike the balance? Or do you even try?

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