Guidelines for Alternative Giving II

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Christmas Pack #11
Preparing to Celebrate the Birth of Christ

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Guidelines 1

Guidelines for Alternative Giving II


Giving is at the heart of Christmas! We remember God's great gift by giving to others. Because of human nature and the commercialization of Christmas, "getting" sometimes seems more prominent than "giving," and giving to "our own" sometimes has more importance than giving to him whose birthday we celebrate. It doesn't have to be that way. We can give in a way that honors the birth of 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, it is you who must set the guidelines for your giving.

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.

3. Ask each member to prepare an expense report on last year's Christmas. You may want to use "Guidelines for Alternative Giving I" to help you in this process. Set a time when you will all report back. Encourage the children to prepare reports as well.

4. When you come back together, decide what aspects of commercialized Christmas celebration you would like to change this year.

5. 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 the last page of the Guidelines.)

Guidelines for Giving

1. REMEMBER WHOSE BIRTHDAY IT IS! Christmas gift giving must begin with the recognition that Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. 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 working with needy people are the beginning points of giftgiving at Christmas not the afterthoughts. For example, you might give

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.

SKILLS that help to keep organizations like these going, such as cooking, teaching, auto repair, bookkeeping, counseling, or maintenance.

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

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

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, among the needy.

Warning: You probably do not have the time or money to do everything you have done before and add this on. The Christmas birthday gifts must replace some of the time and money invested before.

2. 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 best gift is the giving of oneself through sharing time or skills. Those who are busy may find that giving an uninterrupted period of time to a child, a family member of friend on a regular basis can be the best present. By using your skills, you can give yourself in what you make or do. Or, you can give the skill itself by teaching it to the recipient. Here are some ideas:

COOK traditional foods like cookies and fruitcake or a personal specialty like 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.

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.

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

PHOTOGRAPH family members or friends. Make a collage or album us­ing photographs or past Christmases, gatherings or spe­cial times.

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

3. BUY WITH CONSCIENCE! We are not opposed to

the purchase of gifts. We do believe that purchasing gifts re­

quires 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

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 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 presumptious, 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 Celebrations Catalogues) supports the preservation of traditional crafts and skills as well as the efforts of low income persons to become self reliant.

4. PLAN YOUR GIFT GIVING! Consider the person, your own time, skills and money arid plan your gift. Suggestions:


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 avalable in the Archives of this site, as well as the complete Treasury of Celebrations, To Celebrate's successor.

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

Working for Adequate Food and Shelter

Working to Help Prisoners

Working for a More Responsible Lifestyle

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Page updated 1 Dec. 2013

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