Today’s economy is affecting our holiday season. There aren’t as many "earn-some-extra-cash-in-December" jobs available in the retail sector and really the shopping isn’t quite as crazy as it once was.
On Black Friday, a Winnipeg radio station monitoring mall parking lots reported that there were still lots of spaces available. In my own family, struggling young workers and students are saying: Let’s set $5 limits or come up with creative but cheap holiday giving alternatives!
Here are some gift possibilities to consider as you make your plans for Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza and New Year’s. They are guaranteed to cost you less and still make a loved one happy!
The one that I see happening most in my immediate family is based on my wife’s abiding interest in family history. She has tracked down a host of photographs going back a hundred years, has gotten them "digitized" and is printing and framing them or emailing them as gifts to siblings, parents and relatives further afield. These could also be given as monthly calendar photos. A gift subscription to Ancestry.ca is also a possibility, as it certainly has kept her busy for a couple of years now!
For our grandchildren, we are looking at getting them lessons, such as in theatre, art or music.
After all, they have forgotten about or broken many of the toys given to them over the years — and outgrown the clothes! And we know that their parents could use some "time off," so the perfect gift might be our babysitting for them while they use the restaurant or movie gift card we’ve also gotten for them. It doesn’t have to be an expensive restaurant, just a place without the kids!
Our kids are arranging to give each other something based on their own specialties.
One of our sons loves to cook and is very good at it. So he will make a meal as a gift, hopefully complete with appropriate wine!
One of our daughters loves to bake, so we are expecting cookies.
As we parents age, we appreciate the physical strength of our children, and have plans for them to do some deep cleaning, furniture and book moving, maybe some painting and snow shovelling and promises of future gardening as gifts to us.
Taking that loved one to a special event is also a great option. Unfortunately, Winnipeg Jets tickets may not be available any time soon (I got that last year and it doesn’t fit into the inexpensive category), but a shared outing might be to a museum or a concert.
If you don’t want to attend a symphony or ballet, you can certainly put together a compilation CD of your spouse’s favourite opera arias (and avoid having to listen to them yourself!).
Living gifts are a great alternative. You can give me a cactus or succulent. My wife would love some organic or traditional seeds for her garden. Potted herbs are nice for winter growing. Special sun lamps to alleviate the suffering of seasonally affected people are great gifts! Kits are nice — how about an emergency one for someone’s car or a gardening one for the spring?
Just a little bit of your cash can make a big difference to people close by or far away.
All the grandchildren in our family get a certificate from UNICEF or other international development organization because their grandparents have made donations in their names, buying a goat or cow for a poor community or a school kit for a child overseas.
On that theme, fair trade gifts are also an option, whether they are food items such as chocolate, spices, tea or coffee or clothing, sports balls or handicrafts.
Locally, you may want to take the younger people in your family to a local food bank or holiday meal to serve those who are down-and-out during the holiday season.
Random acts of kindness to strangers — something we ought to do all year round, but you can practice at holiday time — make a huge difference in people’s lives. Make a batch of pastry and hand it out in the office building where you work. Give a token of your appreciation to teachers, bus or cab drivers, postal carriers, and recycling and garbage collectors.
I was brought almost to tears the other day when a fellow in a downtown Winnipeg parking lot not only signalled to me that he was leaving and that I could have his spot, but he also got out of his car and handed me his token which still had a couple of hours on it! That kind of effort helps us to forget the perceived insults that pile up throughout the year as we fight for space on roads and sidewalks, and in malls and parkades.
This is only a sampling of what is possible to make the holidays more affordable and personal.
It is these small initiatives that lead to our being a part of the change that we want to see in the world.
Don’t miss that opportunity this month!
» Zack Gross is program co-ordinator at the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of 36 international development organizations active in our province.