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Personal, earth-friendly gifts help buyers, givers focus on true meaning of holidaycomment (0)

December 14, 2006

By Lisa M. Petsche

During the Christmas season, many of us stress ourselves to the limit as we seek the "perfect" gift for everyone on our list, shop until we drop and spend beyond our means. However, taking steps to combat Christmas commercialism and to protect our planet’s natural resources can help save our sanity, avoid debt and focus our attention more on the religious aspect of the season.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, during the holiday season, household waste increases by more than 25 percent, mostly with shopping bags, product packaging and gift-wrapping paper.

If we believe that we should be good stewards of the planet God has given up to inhabit, we may want to consider changing our holiday habits, especially when it comes to gift giving.

One consideration may be reducing the number of gifts we give. If exchanging gifts with certain people no longer holds meaning, then we may want to suggest discontinuing the ritual. Chances are, the recipients, too, will be relieved to have fewer gifts to buy.

Other strategies include drawing names (we’ve gone this route in my growing extended family), pooling resources, giving "couple" or "family" presents and giving one or two major gifts (within budget, naturally) for the children and spouse, instead of numerous, smaller-scale ones.

It may be good to consider nonmaterial options first. These include gifts of experience that allow the recipient to try something new, such as an exercise class or dance lessons; membership in an organization — an automobile club or animal protection group, for example — that will benefit the individual or a favorite cause; a long-distance phone card; a gift certificate for a restaurant or a professional service, such as a manicure or housecleaning; tickets to a cultural or sporting event; and movie or museum passes.

Another idea is "IOU" coupons for gifts of time or service. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination and might include offering child care, home-cooked meals, chauffeuring, running errands, performing household chores, car washing and dog walking.

For the person who seems to have everything, a charitable donation in the individual’s name or in memory of a recently deceased loved one can be a meaningful gift.

If a person prefers to give a tangible present, homemade gifts — jam, sauce or sweets, artwork or a handcrafted item — convey a message of their own.

When seeking something store-bought, it is best to avoid products that are trendy, disposable, have limited use, require batteries or don’t appear durable. Instead it is best to give preference to items that can be recycled or are made from recycled materials; have minimal packaging, preferably recyclable; save energy (compact fluorescent light bulbs, for example); reduce waste (a travel mug, litterless lunch kit, etc.); focus on nature (a potted plant, bird feeder); or benefit an environmental organization. When in doubt, consider a gift certificate from the recipient’s favorite place to shop or a department store or bookstore.

Another way to be more environmentally friendly is to take bags on shopping trips to avoid accumulating more.

For wrapping, choose reusable, easy-to-store gift bags and boxes, or make the wrapping part of the gift (a scarf, dish towel or photo storage box, for example). Being creative with wrapping is a challenge that both adults and children can enjoy. For oversized gifts, a possibility is to use a green garbage bag tied with red ribbon or adorned with a big bow. Better yet, leave the item hidden and unwrapped and simply provide clues on where to find it.

When buying wrapping paper, look for the kind made from recycled materials. Also save paper, ribbon and bows from gifts received to be used later. Enlist the children to help make gift tags from old Christmas cards.

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