As Christians, we often refer to Jesus as the Greatest Gift of All—the true gift, the one that keeps on giving. But the fact that God has already given the greatest gift doesn’t stop most of us from wanting to get in on the gift-giving spirit this time of year.
The desire to give is a result of being created in His image. So by all means, give away!
Just keep in mind that all earthly gifts aren’t created equal. There’s a full spectrum of options when it comes to what we can choose to give to the people who matter most in our lives, and there are several factors to consider when we shop.
Our first thought, quite appropriately, is usually the recipient. We should spend time thinking about who they really are, what we value about them and what they enjoy. (The Golden Rule does not really apply to gift-giving—don’t give to others what you would have them give to you!) But there are other considerations to keep in mind like your budget, the people who made the gifts you’re giving and the general wellbeing of God’s creation.
Overwhelmed? Here are three general gift categories, along with some resources and ideas, to help you find your way.
Gifts of Your Time and Presence
The gift of Emmanuel is the gift of presence—of God with us, dwelling among us. When we set aside time to spend with the people in our lives, we are giving a gift of our presence—of listening, laughter, connection and grace. In today’s busy world, this is often the most rare and valued type of gift. Try one of these ideas, and put the money you might have spent on a traditional gift toward a charity of your choice:
1) Create a coupon book for six or 10 coffee dates at a local cafe—your treat.
2) Grab a local deal through Groupon or similar services and buy two tickets to a cultural or sports event you’d like to attend with a family member or friend, and make a day of it.
3) Give friends with young children a gift certificate to a local restaurant, and offer to babysit while they go out on a date. They get quality time together, and you get bonding time with their kids.
4) Create a menu for a meal you’d like to cook for a friend, giving them the gift of your culinary skills as well as your company during dinner. Better yet—use local ingredients, for a gift that also benefits farmers and the environment!
Gifts That Help Others
It’s often hard to come up with anything the people on our gift lists really want or need, yet the world is filled with people who are desperately in need of basic things we take for granted. There are multiple organizations that help you give gifts in the name of someone that ultimately help people around the world. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
5) Nothing “keeps it real” like bodily excrements and toilets. Give a latrine in a friend’s name through Blood:Water Mission’s Deck the Stalls project—a gift that’s sure to get a good laugh, as well as keep people healthy and alive in Northern Rwanda. (Price point: $50)
6) By supporting Living Water International, you are helping people around the world get access to clean, safe water—a simple, though essential, basic for life. What’s especially great about this gift is it gets your friend or family member involved: You give them a gift card, which they then go online to “redeem,” learning about then choosing the water project in the country of their choice. (Price point: starting at $10)
7) You’ve probably heard about World Vision, an organization that’s been helping children around the world since 1950, but you might be surprised by the number of ways you can contribute. Search their gift catalog for an idea that matches your gift recipient’s interests—maybe give two soccer balls to kids in a Third World country ($14), or a solar lantern that allows students to read and study after dark ($16). (Price point: starting at $10)
8) Christmas is a wonderful season for many children, but for the hundreds of thousands of children who are orphans—many who have special needs—it’s difficult to see the hope and joy. Show Hope’s online catalog provides many gift options, whether you want to help support a “forever family” for an orphan in a specific country, or contribute toward a child’s everyday necessities. (Price point: starting at $14)
Gifts That Support Creation and Global Creators
Sometimes you just want to give your loved ones something tangible—something that can be wrapped and placed under the tree. There are plenty of ways to meet that objective while still showing your support and respect for God’s creation—not just the earth, but also the people who labored to make the gift. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
9) Consumable gifts—especially those that offer a jolt of caffeine—are always a good choice. Fair-trade coffee, tea and chocolate can be found at every food co-op and natural food store, as well as many gift and grocery stores.
10) Just about every gift you might think of giving—from clothing and jewelry to housewares and toys—are available as fair-trade options that support artisans who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed. And as a bonus, the gifts tend to be more unique and diverse!) Visit the Ten Thousand Villages website to either shop online or locate a store near you.
11) Buying from local musicians, artists and craftspeople is another great way to give gifts that directly support those who created them. If you don’t have a local holiday market or gallery for area artisans to sell their wares, you can always get blissfully lost in the thousands of options over at etsy, the online marketplace for handmade items of every kind.
12) Demonstrating respect and care for the earth is a great way to give a gift that keeps on giving to future generations. Many fair-trade gifts are also eco-friendly, so you can start there, or if you Google “green gifts,” you’ll get more ideas than you could possibly use. Treehugger’s Gift Guide is worth checking out—organized into helpful categories (kids, animal lovers, geeks, foodies, etc.).
Happy shopping and giving! Whatever direction you end up going in with your gifts, don’t forget to slow down and give those less tangible gifts, as well, like love, joy, peace and time. Those are the gifts that are most likely to be returned—in the best possible way.
Kristin Tennant has been making a living as a freelance writer for 10 years. She lives with her husband Jason and their three daughters in Urbana, Illinois, where she leads a weekly Bible & Beer discussion, plays her viola at church, and loves sharing meals and conversation with friends. She blogs at Halfway to Normal, and you can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.