Are you dreading Christmas shopping, feeling overwhelmed by the stress of the season? Do you want to come up with some really imaginative presents this year? Christianity has uncovered the pick of the gifts out there
Shopping for Christmas presents. You either love it or hate it. Sadly, I find myself in the latter category. Yes, I know it’s good to give and wonderful to find something you know they’ll love, etc etc... but I find spotting good presents, year after year, a bit of a trauma.
And I’m not alone. Around half of us give unwanted Christmas pressies every year according to international development charity Practical Action. Perhaps we’re not attentive enough to the interests of our friends and family? Perhaps we’re just too disorganised, or we secretly really enjoy that last minute sprint around the petrol station/nearest late-opening retail outlet on Christmas Eve?
Well, whatever it is, this year it’s time to say “no” to the pressure to buy any old stuff just because it’s Christmas. If we’re not careful, the pressure will churn us up into frenzied consumer junkies who race wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth through the high streets of Britain. And with money being tight, it’s a good time to rethink how we spend it.
So enough philosophising, let’s get practical. If you can’t persuade your partner or mum to do all the Christmas shopping (a great trick if you can achieve it), what else is out there to help us give sincere and considered gifts that will make a real difference to somebody without blowing the budget?
Gifts under £10
For stocking fillers and unique gifts, you could try Created, the new name for Tearcraft. The website is brimming with lively and colourful Fairtrade gift ideas and each item is hand crafted by skilled workers in some of the world’s poorest communities. Gifts include treats for men, jewellery, animal themed items and toys for children. They come in a range of prices from a just few pennies upwards. My favourite is the Funky Purse made from reject crisp packets, £9 of brightly coloured, extremely useful fun! www.createdgifts.org
Family to family presents can be a great way of showing you care without going to unnecessary expense and giving unwanted gifts. You could do things a little differently and give something early in December, such as Christmas Unpacked (£3.50) – a family book which explains what Christmas is really all about. It has three weeks of Bible readings with Dr Luke who explains God’s rescue plan, who the rescuer is and why we need rescuing. www.thegoodbook.co.uk
A Christmas Carol Special Edition (£4.85, Standard Publishing) tells Charles Dickens’ celebrated Christmas time tale but with added value. Running notes by Stephen Skelton explain Dickens’ own faith and how the story was inspired by Jesus’ teaching. If you are still racking your brain for fun and ethical family pressies, log on to www.traidcraftshop.co.uk for a huge range of fairtrade gifts from clothes to wine and homeware. Traidcraft sells products from more than 100 producer groups in over 30 countries. Every purchase you make from the website has a direct impact on the lives of producers in the developing world. My favourites are the Half moon flowers purses (£8), the dragonfly bracelets (£10) and four recycled wine glasses (£10).
Is it time to get your hands on what could be another Rick Warren classic? In The Hope You Need (Zondervan) Warren, founder of Saddleback Church in California, looks at discovering the power in the Lord’s Prayer. A snip at £9.99.
Gifts under £25
Now we’re getting serious. But before you spend away, it’s a good idea to find out where your money will be going after you’ve made your purchase.
www.heavensattic.co.uk has beautiful jewellery, gorgeous accessories and cute gifts sourced from disadvantaged communities and the profits are shared with various charities all listed on its website. I love the chunky leather Flower Cuff Bracelet (£10, pictured) and Winterberries handbag (£25, pictured).
More books. I am a book fan, can you tell? Faith in the Fool (£12.95, DLT) by Angela Ashwin, is for Christians who ‘want to delight in faith and life’, as well as for those who live with doubt, those who feel vulnerable and ‘foolish’ as Christians in a cynical world, and people on the edge of church who want to explore who Jesus is.
This is possibly my favourite category. Choosing to give something which money can’t buy forces you to think carefully about what you are giving and, most wonderfully, it is about sacrificing your time to make a treat for someone else. Last year I made mini boozy Christmas puddings for each family member.
Admittedly, the idea came because I am a huge fan of the rich fruit pud (and would gladly receive any such gifts this year!) but I hope the time I spent preparing and decorating the yummy treats made the loved ones in my life feel special.
And there are plenty of other creative things you can make and give besides scrumptious food. Songwriters and musical readers may want to compose a song for someone (make them swoon!) Perhaps you are a bit of an artist – why not let your creative talent loose instead of going to the shops? If you’ve got loads of photos saved digitally you could print a few out and put together a photo album of memories. It involves a bit of thought and time, but see what you can come up with.
Wonderful Ewes, Gorgeous Goats and Fluffy Ducks are some of the Christmas gifts available to give to people in need in the world through Practical Action’s ‘Practical Presents’. There are many gifts starting from £8 and all go to poor communities in East and Southern Africa, Asia and Latin American. Stephen Harvey of Practical Action says: “Unwanted gifts end up forgotten about in the back of people’s cupboards every year, and two thirds of people have said they would rather receive one less Christmas gift and have a charitable donation made instead.” Once you’ve bought your gift, you’ll be sent a pack about what you have given and how it helps. www.practicalpresents.org.uk
Christian charity Send a Cow has many ‘virtual gifts’ to help people in need in Africa, from training in crop growing, animal care and business skills, to livestock. Happily, you can now create an online gift list, thus avoiding any awkward present-opening moments ever again! Oh the genius. Your friends can browse and buy from your chosen items, be it a cockerel for a fiver, a sheep for £24, or a local cow for £120, all go to a worthy cause and you escape the pain of receiving yet another pair of socks. Send a Cow founding farmer and programme coordinator
David Bragg says: “Give an animal as a gift, and the family who receive it will pass the first female offspring to another family in need. Give training in animal care and the knowledge will be passed on from family to family. Give bees, and the money made from honey will be shared with others in need. It goes on and on.” www.sendacow.org/gifts
Ever wanted to be a midwife but couldn’t handle the pressure/ sight of blood/screaming? Well, why not fulfil your dreams with the original Deliver a Baby gift? £58 pays for a mum to deliver her baby in a safe and hygienic health centre in Makoka, Zambia.
This gift, available at World Vision’s Must Have Gifts will make a real difference to that mum and baby. Other imaginative presents on the site include a School Loo for Senegal at £34 and a Llama for a farming family in Bolivia at £45. Each gift is directly requested by the community projects World Vision is working with. www.musthavegifts.org
Gifts children can give
It’s good to involve the whole family in giving as well as receiving. Children may be interested to know that they can help another child who is perhaps even the same age as them. Sponsor a Child schemes are a great way for families to work together in helping others and many charities run such programmes. Toybox, established to help street children in Latin America, provides The Toybox Child Sponsorship Ambassador Scheme.
From £21 a month, sponsors’ money pays for a child to go to school, get off the streets and rebuild their lives. Toybox provides alternative presents like PlayTime, a £5 gift to give hard working children the chance to play in safety. It also sells inexpensive trinkets which some saved-up pocket money could afford. Nice little treats include chunky knit beanie hats, bracelets and treasure boxes, ranging from around £3 to £5. www.toybox.org
World Share Gift of Hope also provides a huge range of alternative gifts at little cost – ideal presents a child could give. A songbook for children in Cambodia costs £3.50. A pair of £4 leech-proof socks will protect an Indonesian missionary from leeches as he or she treks through swamps and jungles to reach needy people in remote villages. For loads more ideas visit www.worldshare.org.uk and click on Gift of Hope 2009.
Not many of us are in a position to splash out, but the benefits of making a large gift purchase (with a small group or church, for example) is worth considering. For instance, a payment of £860 can give two malnourished Guatemalan children a vital 30-day stay at a healthcare clinic with www.presentaid.org (part of Christian Aid).
The gift of a well will help a community in Senegal establish good irrigation to farm and feed its people. At £1,356, this gift is perhaps equal to a monthly wage for some in the UK. www.musthavegifts.org
A corporate gift of £6,500 will pay for a Tuin to carry poor families in rural Nepal over rocky mountains and fast flowing rivers to access medical treatment. The Tuin, a cage and pulley system, lets people travel across the valleys safely to reach the help they need. www.practicalpresents.org
Did you know you could buy a whole farm for an African family for £2,000? For this money, Send A Cow can provide a whole farmyard, including livestock, tools, training and practical ongoing support for the recipients. Lorraine Finnigan from Send A Cow says: “This is a gift that will benefit people of all ages and help provide security, good health and prosperity for years to come.”
These gifts might be a struggle for individual but could be perfect for a generous church or business. It’s food for thought as we prepare ourselves for a comparatively rich, plentiful Christmas. Happy giving.
Ideas for children
Children are bombarded with advertisements all the time, but the effects of pester power are never stronger than at Christmas. Consequently, Santa, presents and the latest toys often become the focus for kids, leaving them with little understanding of what Jesus has to do with it all.
Including a collection of Christian DVDs, books and other things in your children’s gifts this year might give them a different perspective on the festive season.
Here’s the pick of the bunch…
My First Read and Learn Countdown Christmas is a book aimed at toddlers (2-5 years). The book is similar to an advent calendar, journeying from 1st December to Christmas Day with facts and activities suited for each day. Two special features of the book are the verses and little prayers with small fill out spaces, encouraging little ones to pray and read the Bible.
The Friends and Heroes DVDs are a fun series of cartoon episodes that will definitely occupy your kids and best of all edify them with Bible stories and the life of Jesus. The DVDs have fantastic graphics and follow the adventures of two friends as they fight for justice with relatable themes.
The famous VeggieTales, a DVD with singing vegetables is another resource your little ones will fall in love with. In the latest release our vegetable friends tell the story of Saint Nicolas with moral ideas on joyful giving. The animated musical will certainly get your children laughing and singing along to the quirky songs.
What’s more fun for children than making things and getting creative? The Good Green Christmas, a craft book with cheap and simple ideas teaches kids how to make Christmas decorations, stockings and even includes cool recipes for dessert treats. This is an ideal gift and gives kids plenty of tasks over the Christmas holidays.
Finally, a recommended resource is The Jesus Storybook Bible. It will get your kids loving the word of God and its simple layout and colourful pictures enables children to easily read along with the audio CDs. The CDs aim to teach your kids Bible stories and will easily read your kids to sleep. This storybook is for ages 5-10, it is a wonderful gift and sure to become a family treasure.