Christmas looms and I'm beginning to worry about presents. Our house is already full of stuff: dolls and blocks and textas and jigsaws and marbles and puppets and books. We have so much more than enough. We certainly don't need another pile of toys; it's just more to pick up at the end of the day.
I hear other parents talking, even complaining, about the latest electronic gadget or plastic toy they've just bought their kids. Because I've never quite worked out how the giving of expensive and unnecessary things made for the most part in appalling conditions relates to the birth of a man who said 'Blessed are the poor', I refuse to play this game, and resent the pressure to acquire the latest thing. Even so, failing to participate in the excess can make me feel mean: my kids are kids, after all. They like to unwrap things; they like presents.
Stepping off the consumer treadmill is easy enough with adults. I make jam, put together a mix tape, or pass on a choice op shop plate to someone who likes a bit of retro. Yet my kids are another story. Do I deprive them of the overabundance that they see in other families? Do I withhold expensive gifts from them and stand my ground? Well, to some extent, yes – especially while they're young. And yet I am also of my culture; I like to give gifts. The difficulty is deciding what.
It seems to me that for the giving to be any kind of celebration, then the things I give must be celebratory – and this means that there's no guilt attached. So I'll avoid items made in unregulated factories and sweatshops wherever possible; avoid ostentatious status symbols; and avoid useless things that will wear out quickly. More positively, I'll look for things which are practical, second hand, fair trade, homemade, or charitable, and which together give a sense of that most intangible of concepts, 'enough'.
When I think back to earlier Christmases and what my daughters have most enjoyed, I recall them running around a park where we have held Christmas lunch. A friend had given them new umbrellas, and they spent the afternoon dancing around spinning their brollies; holding them up and pretending it was raining; and wandering off to the far reaches of the park together, chatting under their portable shade. One brolly had an elephant trunk; another, panda ears, and they hid behind bushes, holding them up and roaring as if wild beasts were lurking. Those umbrellas provided hours of fun; and years later are still in regular use.
Remembering this, I know my girls will survive without Wii and a DS, even if they want them. I can stand firm. So Christmas for my three will be as usual: a few trinkets from the kinder fete to fill our foot-not-pillow-sized stockings: pretty hair bands, a nice pen, a little notebook. I'll get them a new fair trade hat and a pair of bathers each to replace the faded things they've grown out of. I'll get three favourite books, borrowed time and again from the library and now ours to keep; and buy some songs online and burn a new CD with music we'll all enjoy. Together, we'll choose a few gifts from a community development agency: a goat, perhaps, or some chickens.
And so each child will get bathers, a hat, a book, a hair band, a theoretical goat and a bit of dancing round the lounge room: practical, fair trade, homemade, charitable, joyful. To celebrate the birth of a man two thousand years ago who loved kids and told us to look out for the poor, it may still be an imperfect list, but for three little girls living in the here and now, it feels just about right.
Can't think of a gift?
*Pass on an unused treasure (lamp, book, rug, canisters, wine glasses, leather jacket, bracelet, platter).
*Make something (frame a photo, bottle some chutney, get baking, collate a recipe book).
*Give a plant (pot up lavender, pelargonium or daisy cuttings, or hen and chicks, or sow seed).
*Spend thoughtfully (dedicate a gift to charity, draw names instead of buying for everyone in a family, shop second hand, buy an edible fair trade gift (coffee or chocolate), buy something necessary but fun (bathers for kids, organic fair trade underpants for adults!)) For a list of fair trade places to shop which I have used, click here.
For more good ideas on how to celebrate Christmas without the ostentatious consumerism, visit buynothingchristmas.org.