Alternative Giving Year 'Round

MORE About Alternative Giving

Guidelines for Year 'Round Alternative Giving

Using the Guidelines
Guidelines for Giving
Alternative Giving Cost/Analysis Form
Getting More Involved
  • Working For Peace
  • Working for Adequate Food and Shelter
  • Working to Help Prisoners
  • Working for a More Responsible Lifestyle


    Although we tend to think about Alternative Giving at Christmastime, let's consider it year 'round, at each holiday and rite of passage, such as weddings and birthdays.

    Giving is at the heart of Simple Living, Voluntary Simplicity, Sustainability and Community. We remember God's continual gifts by giving to others. Given human nature and the commercialization of holidays and rites of passage, 'getting' sometimes seems more prominent than 'giving,' and giving to 'our own' sometimes has more importance than giving to 'the least of these.' It doesn't have to be that way. We can give in a way that honors Christ, expresses our love to our family and friends, and our concern for the Earth.

    These Guidelines are designed to assist individuals, families or groups who want to be more intentional in their giving. The Guidelines are intended to be suggestive, not inclusive. In the end, each one of us will set the guidelines for your giving.

    25% for charity? I can't afford that!


    Using the Guidelines

    1. Enlist the participation of the whole family for a discussion of these Guidelines. If you are single, or a single parent, try to get together some of those with whom you ordinarily exchange gifts to discuss the ideas presented here.

    2. Try to have the initial discussion before the end of October. People are likely to be more receptive to new ways of giving if they have not already begun to plan for this Christmas. In the Christian calendar, Advent -- the four weeks before Christmas -- is a beginning of a new year.

    Or give yourself a year a gather data, so that you have the basis for a long-range plan the following year. For example, begin talking, planning and gathering data in October, 2014, for fall/Advent 2015.

    3. Ask each member to prepare an expense report on last year's celebrating, including Christmas. Set a time when you will all report back. Encourage the children to prepare reports as well.

    4. When you come back together, combine the reports for all family members on the 'Alternative Christmas Cost/Analysis Form' below. Decide what aspects of commercialized celebrations you would like to change in the coming year.

    5. Discuss taking 25% of last year's total and spend that on a birthday present for Jesus. You may want to take time to read Matthew 25:31 46 together and discuss the meaning of 'a birthday present for Jesus. ' Make a covenant on what is decided.

    6. In addition to diverting 25% of what you spent last year toward organizations in your community or denomination that work for peace and justice, consider how you can become more involved as an individual, as a family or as a group. (See below.)

    7. Go through the Guidelines and discuss what might be appropriate birthday gifts and appropriate gifts for family and friends. Add your own guidelines to the list.

    Guidelines for Giving

    1. REMEMBER WHOSE WORLD IT IS! Gift-giving begins with the recognition that holidays (Holy Days) are the days we celebrate life in God's good creation. When we celebrate a birthday we give gifts to the person whose birthday it is. Moreover, we are careful to choose what that person expressly wants and needs.

    Is there any doubt about what Jesus wants us to give him? He pointedly insists that in order to gift him, we must find him in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.

    Gifts of our time, skills and money to support ministries to 'the least of these' are the beginning points -- not the afterthoughts -- of gift giving. For example,

    Giving our time for participation on a committee which ministers to 'the least of these' (local senior citizen lunch program, prison visitation, housing board etc.);

    TIME to volunteer in a program or participate on a committee which serves the poor, the elderly, the homeless, the jobless, those in prison or in hospitals.

    Giving your skills to the same kind of organizations (teaching cooking, auto repair, bookkeeping, etc. in programs for disadvantaged young people; or actually cooking, repairing, bookkeeping in some particular situation;

    Giving financial support to programs of your denomination that minister to 'the least of these.'

    MONEY to support programs in your denomination or community which help people in difficult situations.

    NOTE: Not mentioned here are participation in and support for groups like PTA, Scouts, etc. which you may do for your family. That participation and support may be your gift to some family members. They are not, however, 'the least of these.'

    Will you plan to spend in time, skills and money at least 25% of what you spent on last year's celebrations?

    Warning: You probably do not have the time or money to do everything you have done before and add this on. These Alternative gifts may replace some of the time and money invested before.

    2. PLAN YOUR GIFT GIVING! Consider the person, your own time, skills and money and PLAN your gift.


  • Do not look at catalogues or go to stores to help you decide what to give.
  • Begin your planning as you do the Cost/Analysis for last year's celebrations and gift giving.
  • Don't wait until the last minute when the commercial pressures are the greatest.

    To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays and Rites of Passage -- Alternative Celebrations Catalogue -- includes many ideas for alternative gifts as well as detailed discussion of what it means to 'buy with conscience.' Check your church or public library for a copy. Excerpts are available in the Archives of this site, as well as the complete Treasury of Celebrations, To Celebrate's successor.

    3. GIVE YOURSELF! The giving of gifts is essential to the health of our society. The traditional purchase of gifts is essential only to our convenience and the store's profit. Giving a gift both affirms and strengthens a relationship. The highest form of giving is the giving of one's self:

    Time: Giving an uninterrupted period of time to a child or other loved one on a regular basis. (You may be surprised by your child's reaction to this gift.) Those who are busiest may find this to be their greatest gift. Skill: Using a skill you have, give yourself in what you create. You can also give the skill itself by teaching it to the recipient. Some ideas:

    COOK traditional foods like cookies and fruitcake or a personal specialty, such as bread or apple butter. Invite friends to share their family recipes;

    SEW a simple pattern, then personalize it with embroidered initials or an appliqued design. Sew floor cushions, pillows, place mats or a rug to suit the recipient's taste. Sew soft toy or beanbags or puppets for a child;

    TUNE up a friend's car, or offer other special mechanical expertise.

    FRAME a favorite picture. Illuminate, Illustrate, embroider or silkscreen a passage or poem and then frame it;

    RENEW an old possession. Make new clothes for a well-loved doll, rebind a tattered book, refinish a scarred chest or chair.

    BUILD shelves, a spice rack, a window box, a bird house, a gerbil cage, a sand box, a doll house, a lamp, a set of blocks, a game, hundreds of things....

    PLANT spring bulbs on pebbles or in a bulb glass to bloom in the middle of the winter. Plant a terrarium in an aquarium or large jar. Plant a windowsill herb garden;

    STRING necklaces of seeds, beans, nuts, shells, Indian corn, spices or baked clay beads on dental floss. (Hard materials may have to soak overnight first.)

    TEACH a language, how to play a musical instrument, swimming or tennis lessons.

    POUR candles in milk cartons, cans, cardboard tubs, egg shells, jello molds or damp sand.

    PHOTOGRAPH family members or friends. Make a collage or album us¬ing photographs of past Christmases, gatherings or spe¬cial times.

    WRITE a history of your family (for family members) or a history of your friendship with a particular person. Include some old photos.

    4. BUY WITH CONSCIENCE! We are not opposed to the purchase of gifts. We do believe that purchasing gifts requires careful thought. Consider these questions:

    Does this gift reflect the values I want to share? What does it say about me and the person receiving my gift when I give

  • a war toy?
  • a gift that re-enforces sexist or racist attitudes?
  • a board game that teaches competition over cooperation?
  • any 'for the person who has everything' gift?

    Does this gift encourage conservation rather than consumption? Does material from which the gift is made reflect abuse of the environment, or does the use of the gift abuse the environment? Any gift requiring the use of electricity (including non-rechargeable batteries) or gas should be purchased only after the most serious consideration.

    Does this gift encourage passivity rather than activity; dependence rather than self-reliance?

    Does this gift stimulate spiritual, mental or physical growth? What are your expectations? Giving to stimulate someone else's growth can be presumptuous, but between two people who care about each other, it is an act of love.

    Who profits from my purchase of this gift? The purchase of hand-made gifts from craft groups (like those listed in the Alternative Giving list LINK) supports the preservation of traditional crafts and skills as well as the efforts of low income persons to become self reliant.

    Alternative Giving Cost/Analysis Form

    How Much Do You Spend at Christmas and Other Celebrations?

    1. Gifts

















    Sister-in -law




    Sub Total




    Mail Carrier

    Paper carrier

    Dog, Cat, etc.


    Sub Total

    2. Decorations


    Tree Ornaments

    House Decorations

    Wrapping Paper

    Ribbon and tape

    Sub Total

    3. Cards



    Sub Total

    4. Food



    Cookies, etc.

    Special meals


    Sub Total

    5. Travel Expenses for Shopping

    6. New Clothes/Outfits

    7. Other


    Add all Sub Totals

    1. Gifts



    2. Decorations

    3. Cards

    4. Food

    5. Travel Expenses

    6. Clothes

    7. Other

    Grand Total

    Take 'Grand Total' and multiply by 25%.

    Grand Total X 25% = _____ !!!

    This is how much money we plan to divert to social causes this year. Giving

    Getting More Involved

    Financial support to peace and justice programs is, for many, a first step toward greater involvement. These guidelines suggest ways that you can offer your time, concentration and prayers, as well as your money, for birthday gifts.

    The degree of involvement you choose in each of these areas depends upon what you have already done. If you aren't sure how you feel about the issues, you might want to learn about the background through personal or group study; or, arrange a firsthand experience by volunteering in a hospitality house or talking with a prisoner. If you have had some direct experience working in these areas, you may want to devote more time to studying the systemic dimensions of these problems. On the other hand, if you know a good deal about, say, the causes of world hunger, it may be important to work as a volunteer in a community kitchen. The significance of prayer and meditation should not be overlooked. It's easy to feel too busy to set aside quiet time; however, communication with God is a crucial source of strength and insight.

    It will probably be helpful to choose a main focus for your commitment. You can work together as a family or a group by focusing on different aspects of a problem and sharing what you learn with each other. The issues represented here really cannot be categorized as neatly as our checklists may suggest. You will find that involvement in one of these areas will lead to involvement in the others.

    Working For Peace

  • Find out what you can about disarmament efforts and the barriers to their success.
  • Study the historical and economic background to conflicts in Central America, the Middle East, or some other place where fighting goes on.
  • Study the scriptures to determine the Biblical position on war and armaments.
  • Write a letter to your congressperson urging arms negotiations, cuts in defense spending, and elimina¬tion of weapons that could cause global destruction.
  • Pray for peace. Pray for guidance for world leaders.
  • Take a few minutes each day to envision a peaceful world.
  • Make your own attitude peaceful and conciliatory. Settle an old quarrel.
  • Write a letter to a family in a country with whom our country has been experiencing tension. Send a picture of your family.
  • Fold paper cranes to give as ornaments or decorations.
  • Make a special card with the message 'Peace on Earth.'
  • Organize Peace Day (August 6th) observances for your church or community.
  • Form a group to meet regularly for prayer and study about peace issues.
  • Find out if a train carrying nuclear weapons or nuclear waste passes through your area. Organize a vigil.
  • Organize your church or community to send a representative to Central America.
  • Help your church to become a sanctuary church for refugees.
  • Other activities or concentrations:

    Working for Adequate Food and Shelter

  • Learn about the problems of hunger and home¬lessness here and abroad.
  • Study the economic, social and political conditions contributing to hunger in Africa, Latin America or Asia.
  • Write a letter to your congressperson urging U.S. aid to Africa, where over 500,000,000 may die from hunger unless effective action is taken.
  • Write a letter to your congressperson urging a revision of U.S. priorities in order to make more money available for domestic hunger, health and education programs by spending less on weaponry. For help, contact Bread for the World at bread.org, or your denominational advocacy office.
  • Plan to donate regularly to an organization that provides food and other assistance for hungry people or educates the public about hunger issues.
  • Pray for people who are hungry and for those who work to help them.
  • Fix a dish or meal for someone in your commu¬nity who is sick, disabled or needy; or, invite them to share a meal with you.
  • Share lunch with a friend, even if you aren't sure you have enough for yourself.
  • Help to make sandwiches for a community kitchen or shelter.
  • Volunteer to help at a hospitality house.
  • Plan to eat simple meals or skip meals for an agreed upon length of time. Give the money you save to a food pantry or hunger program.
  • Cut out 'junk food.' Give the money you save to a food pantry or hunger program.
  • Find out who in your town might be hungry or homeless. Does anyone help them? Can you or your family or church help them?
  • Start a food pantry.
  • Start a community kitchen.
  • Volunteer with a food bank.
  • Start a hospitality house.
  • Other activities or concentrations:

    Working to Help Prisoners

  • Find out how many prisoners there are in your state. Where are they housed? What are the different kinds of jails? Where are they located?
  • Find out what percentage of the prisoners in your state are poor.
  • Learn about the courts. How do people get put in jail? How do convicted offenders get out of going to prison?
  • Remember all the Bible stories you can think of about people in prison.
  • Study to find out how the Bible advises us to treat people who have done wrong.
  • Write a letter or make a Christmas card for someone in prison. (Sojourners has lists of prisoners who would like to correspond.) Arrange to visit that person.
  • Visit the family of someone in prison.
  • Pray for people on death row and for those who have to take part in executions.
  • Write letters to local officials stating your reasons for opposing the death penalty.
  • Contact Amnesty International and write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience who are being tortured or illegally held.
  • Start a study group to explore alternatives to incarceration.
  • Worship with prisoners. Contact Prison Congregations of America for prison congregations in your area.
  • Other activities and concentrations:

    Working for a More Responsible Lifestyle

  • Learn what you can about the standard of living in developing nations, and about how U.S. affluence affects global economy.
  • Read Walden, a life of St. Francis of Assisi or Gandhi's writings concerning possessions.
  • How does the Bible view wealth? Locate passages about possessions.
  • Take an inventory of your possessions. What could you do without?
  • Plan your gift giving so that you don't have to go to a shopping mall.
  • Plan simple, inexpensive meals on certain days each week. Give the money you save to a food pantry or hunger organization.
  • Make a pledge to avoid unnecessary purchases during a specified amount of time by repairing old things, making do, or doing without.
  • Make a list of television, radio, newspaper and internet ads that make you want to buy things. Try to figure out why they affect you. Read one item under Media Literacy in SLW! Recommends. [LINK]
  • Lobby for an inexpensive, simple meal at a church supper or community gathering.
  • Form a lifestyle assessment group with others in your church or community who want to commit themselves to less consumer oriented lifestyles.
  • Other activities and concentrations:
    Guidelines for Year 'Round Alternative Giving has been prepared by Simple Living Works! from ALTERNATIVES' Alternative Giving Guidelines 1 & 2. Make copies of this resource under the Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial, share-alike license.
    Page updated 20 Feb. 2014

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