A More Thoughtful Christmas

gifts that give back

We all get stuck this time of year. We’ve already bought Grandma more scarves, mittens, electric jar openers and big band CDs than we can count. Our mothers don’t need another robe. For Dad, we’ve worn the golf theme into the ground (pun intended). If we get our sister-in-laws one more candle, we run the risk of becoming the butt of their holiday jokes, if we aren’t already. And our kids want for nothing. These certainties can leave even the most well intended gift giver utterly uninspired.

The spirit of Christmas has less to do with the latest and greatest electronic device and more to do with thoughtfulness and reminding people that we love them. Somewhere along the way, we started buying gifts just so we could put a checkmark on an overwhelming Christmas list. This year, try doing away with token gifts; the ones rooted in obligation. Is Aunt Ruby’s neighbor really going to notice if you skip the trial size jelly collection this Christmas? For true gestures of thoughtfulness, the ones that say, “I love you all year and I’m glad the spirit of Christmas gives me an annual reason to remind you of that” consider gifts that benefit the receiver AND mankind:


This organization was established to assist wounded and fallen soldiers and their families. Here you can purchase “Freedom Isn’t Free” merchandise, including hats, t-shirts, mugs and purple wristbands.


As the website explains, “BeadforLife eradicates extreme poverty by creating bridges of understanding between impoverished Africans and concerned world citizens. Ugandan women turn colorful recycled paper into beautiful beads, and people who care open their hearts, homes and communities to buy and sell the beads. The beads thus become income, food, medicine, school fees and hope. It is a small miracle that enriches us all.” If you struggle to make attractive jewelry with pre-packaged kits, you will be awed by what Ugandan women can do with recycled paper.


Also known as “A Greater Gift”, SERVV has been around for 60 years and works to “eradicate poverty wherever it resides.” This Fair-Trade, non-profit organization does this by donating proceeds to farmers and artisans in 35 impoverished countries. Purchasing a gift from this outlet is a win/win situation, because your money goes to a good cause, the collection of wares available is incredible and everything is very reasonably priced. From hand carved wooden bowls, intricately weaved baskets, unique jewelry, gorgeous home décor and coffees from all over the world, you will truly find something for everyone on your gift list. Download the catalog, and don’t be surprised if you come up with a few gift ideas for yourself.


Check out Global Village (www.globalvillagefair.org), Good Earth Market (www.goodearthmontana.com), and Barjon Books (www.barjonbooks.com) in downtown Billings. After you view SERVV’s catalog, take a quick trip downtown; there is some crossover between SERVV and Global Village’s inventory. How gratifying to take your Fair-Trade purchases home that day! Also consider purchasing a basket at Global Village and filling it with fair-trade coffee, chocolate and spices from Good Earth Market. Barjon Books periodically features Fair-Trade wares, and always features local artists. Additionally, Barjon Books is raising awareness about The 3/50 Project (www.the350project.net), which touts many interesting facts and figures about the importance of shopping locally. Pay this website a visit before shopping this holiday season. We all know how important it is to support our local economy, but the statistics offered by The 3/50 Project are pretty dramatic. Shopping locally is a way to find unique gifts and give back to the community.

Once you start thinking along these lines, the options are limitless. Being thoughtful about where we spend our holiday funds this year will net a more thoughtful Christmas for both the giver and the receiver.

gifts we can give our environment

Make sure your tree is “green”

The real versus artificial debate continues. Artificial trees have a huge carbon footprint, as they are usually made from petroleum products and shipped on large barges from China. However, they will last for years, even decades, without harming one innocent living tree.

While the thought of cutting trees seems less that earth friendly, tree farms are usually close to just that. Tree farms are typically placed in areas that would otherwise be unusable. They also tend to plant one to three trees for every one that is cut. Inquire as to where your chosen tree was grown; closer to home means less shipping, which in turn means more earth friendly. Another bonus is that used Christmas trees can be recycled into mulch. For an even more environmentally responsible tree, purchase a living potted tree that can be planted after the holidays.

Green is a good color for the dinner table

Get through your holiday dinner with the goal of keeping the garbage at bay. Going “real” is a good way to go green. Skip the disposal dinnerware and bring out the cloth napkins and linen tablecloth. “But the dishes!” you say. Here is an easy solution- make cleaning the kitchen a family affair. Turn up the holiday tunes and have fun with it.

Gifting Green

What better way to celebrate an eco-friendly holiday than by teaching children the value of giving to others. They can make cards for the elderly, or collect and donate gently used items for area shelters. On another note, instead of trading low quality inexpensive toys between little friends, set a time for a great get-together (ice skating for example) and have each child bring one carefully chosen gift to be donated to a charity of choice.

Decorate in Green

It is common to find gently used Christmas decorations at your local thrift stores. Take advantage of this by allowing kids to visit second-hand stores so they can find the perfect ornaments to decorate a “green” tree. The hunt for the decorations will be just as fun as the end result.

Green Light Christmas

Save the earth and your electric bill this year by investing in Christmas lights that are powered by solar energy. Solar powered Christmas lights are designed to use energy from the sun instead of electricity. Solar powered Christmas lights are a tad more expensive than traditional ones, but this is an investment that is sure to pay off.

thoughtful and from the kids

• Have the kids write a letter or Christmas message to the troops. There are countless ways to do this on the Internet, but you can send an e-mail straight from www.americasupportsyou.mil.

• Stuff holiday goodie bags with easy-to-make frosted pretzels or “reindeer chow” (recipe found on the back of Chex cereal). Have the kids bundle up and distribute the bags to neighbors or family members as they arrive for the holidays.

• If you don’t already, consider participating in an event like Dress a Child, where volunteers take a child in need on a sponsored shopping spree. Take your older child or children with you. It makes a lasting impression on them and fills them with the true meaning of the season to help someone less fortunate.

• Encourage older siblings to help younger ones make gifts for parents and other family members. The easiest and most affordable way to go about this is to order easy-to-make craft kits like the ones found at www.orientaltrading.com.

• Publishing personalized calendars and hard-cover photo books is easier than ever! Both www.costco.com and www.shutterfly.com are good places to start. SFM

How to put the


into the Gift

Start early. We would all probably agree, it is not very thoughtful to shop at the last minute. You end up buying overpriced, useless, or tacky gifts – and that’s definitely not an effective way to say “I love you” at Christmas. The earlier you think about gifts, the better.

Listen for hints and suggestions throughout the year. Chances are you spend time with those people throughout the year for which you are now in the process of buying gifts. When you hear or see a need that might make a great gift, write it down. It will make your shopping much easier if you have some notes.

Ask friends and family for suggestions. They may notice things you don’t, and offer the perfect way to say I care at Christmas. Consider talking to colleagues, neighbors or even acquaintances for creative ideas.

Be creative. Give careful thought about for whom you are purchasing the gift. They most definitely have likes and dislikes. For example, purchase tickets to their favorite concert, get them a membership, or purchase a subscription that they would like.

Make it with your own hands. Everyone has a talent or strength, so use it to make a gift for your friends and loved ones. Whether is is sewing, baking, scrapbooking or another skill create away and it will be a gift to cherish.

Give the gift of time. Plan something for the two of you. Put together a trip, or just a local outing. Gifts are often put aside, but time spent together is always remembered.

Express your love and appreciation throughout the year. Don’t leave it until Christmas to tell your loved ones what they mean to you. Make it a habit to share feelings every day.