"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Have A Subversive Holiday Season


It seems like the December holiday shopping frenzy (thanks in large part to the diabolical geniuses of Madison Avenue) begins earlier each year; eegads, only 24 shopping days left!!! And millions of Americans are already stressing out over what to give friends and family. Adding to this is the effect of the economic meltdown. To complicate all this shopping madness even more is the fact that for people of the Christian persuasion, this whole Christmas thing doesn't have anything to do with "shopping" at all. It's all about that little baby; you know - The Prince of Peace!

O.K., so you are still going to go out and buy presents for people, and that's fine. But if we think about the meaning of this season and how our purchases/gifts can make a difference in bringing some measure of peace to a violent world, we might start spending a little more time thinking about the impact of our holiday shopping. And beyond that, we might even consider some interesting and meaningful holiday gift options beyond the norm. Here are some thoughts that I hope will give your holiday gift giving more meaning and less stress.

First, if you are going to get in the car, consider where you shop. Is it truly a locally owned store, or does most of its revenue pour out of town into some shadowy corporate headquarters. Small locally owned businesses (like the shop in my small town where I buy locally handmade soaps for my wife) directly stimulate the local economy, providing income for people who live and work locally. Heck, the eggnog you buy can even do some good. Consider the difference between Organic Valley (a farmer-owned, democratically run cooperative) versus Horizon (owned by food giant Dean Foods Inc.). You can read the whole story in Jim Hightower's book, Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow. I'll share the story with you in a subsequent post.

Even though the cost of gasoline has magically dropped rather dramatically (for now), it's still a drain on the wallet, besides the challenge of finding a parking space. Beyond the usual catalog shopping there are some wonderful alternatives that focus on fair trade and sustainability.

One of those is
SERRV International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating poverty by representing artisans and farmers in developing countries, selling their goods, and paying them a fair wage. SERRV has an online catalog with a wide variety of crafts, jewelry and food (including some amazing chocolate). We're talking real fair trade here people!

You know how frustrated you get when you get one of those ties that you will never wear and end up standing in the returns line forever. Well, how about giving the gift that people won't (and can't) take back and even better, it keeps on giving (literally). Heifer International is a non-profit organization that helps struggling families all over the world lift themselves out of poverty. They provide a wide variety of (appropriate) livestock to impoverished, undernourished families around the globe, including the United States. Recipients trained in animal care and environmentally sound agricultural practices lift themselves out of poverty to become self-reliant, and agree to "Pass on the Gift" - to share offspring of their animals with others in need. As recipients share their livestock and their knowledge with others, an expanding network of hope and dignity is created that reaches around the world in an endless chain (and has often healed broken communities). You can choose a "gift" from their online catalog to honor someone special and let them know about their gift with a special Heifer gift card.

Or, perhaps you know someone who is passionate about a particular organization doing good works in the world. Give a contribution in that person's honor and send (or sometimes the organization will send) a card describing your gift. There are so many possibilities; I've only described a few to get you started.

Well, by now I'm sure you get the idea. Instead of succumbing to the mind numbing commercialization that this season brings, show your subversive side; choose a gift that makes a difference in people's lives and brings some measure of justice and peace to the world. It does make a difference, especially if you pass along the idea to everyone you know and meet. Just think - If enough people avoided products made by people who don't make enough to get by or work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions (just so someone in the corporate office can make a ton of money), it might just bring enough pressure to bear to change their working conditions and provide them with a livable wage.

May your holidays be subversive and bright!



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