The Common Good

This Christmas, Do We Go Local, Fair Trade, or Make Our Own?

Christmas is a month away and Christmas music is already playing, guaranteeing that by the time the season actually arrives, we will be so heartily sick of it that we take no notice -- and in the process miss much of the richness of the real season.

Many of us at this season are hit with a real dilemma as we contemplate our gift lists and those that we want to honor during this season. Do we go local, buy fair trade, or make our own?

It is easy to ignore the question and go out searching for bargains -- not hard this year as so many stores are trying to boost their dwindling sales with huge reductions every week. So many of these bargain goods are neither locally made nor fair trade, and when I read about the conditions that many laborers in China still suffer under, I am reluctant to perpetuate and benefit from a system that is so unjust. Though in many ways it is impossible to avoid doing that as so many of our goods are made in places that do not pay fair wages. So what do we do?

For most of us the solution is a compromise. This is a great season to frequent the local artisan markets and street fairs that still continue into the autumn. Here in Seattle, the Pike Place Market and Fremont markets are great places to find locally produced gifts, produce, and wine.

Or there is the opportunity to buy fair trade from artisans in poorer countries. This year I am tempted by a number of items produced in Haiti that are being sold to help earthquake victims get on their feet. Or if you don't mind getting nothing more than a card in acknowledgment, there are now an enormous range of opportunities to buy a goat, a chicken, a rabbit, or seed for next year's crops.

But these are all more expensive, my friends cry. And that of course brings us to the third option -- making your own gifts. This is a great way to extend the gift giving without breaking the bank. Some of my most precious possessions are gifts that friends and relatives have made in years past. I always love to contribute tea cozies, scarves, and homemade baked goods like shortbread and Christmas cake (the real English kind) to my own Christmas giving. I find this is an excellent opportunity to pray for the recipients and infuse something of my love for them into the gift.

Whatever choices I make about how and what to buy for Christmas, I love to finish my own Christmas shopping before the beginning of Advent so that I do not get caught up in the consumer frenzy of the season. I want the celebration of Advent and Christmas to be special, and this is the best way I have found to make sure this happens.

So what choices are you making now that can help make Christmas special for others? How do you plan your gift purchases so that they are not contributing to the consumer frenzy or to the general pollution of our planet? What other creative ideas could you contribute to this discussion?

portrait-christine-sineChristine Sine is executive director of Mustard Seed Associates and author of several books including GodSpace: Time for Peace in the Rhythms of Life. She describes herself as a contemplative activist encouraging a way of life that interweaves spiritual practices with concern for justice and environmentalism. She blogs at GodSpace.

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