Nett Giving at Christmas

This is an emotional and reactionary topic that requires clinical and intellectual honesty. I am talking about gifts but specifically want to focus on the events of the 25th of December or the evening before, and for those still practising the pre-Reformation period custom, such as in some European countries, the 6th of December.  I’m referring to the traditional ceremony whereby families will gather at the assigned distribution point and apply in assembly-line fashion the unpack-stack-repeat procedure to a small mountain of wastefully wrapped and mostly useless gifts.

This procedure encourages materialism and consumerism in children and perpetuates the throwaway mentality. It re-enforces that Christmas is about material things not about thoughtfulness and the sharing of time and experiences with family. In my own family, I’ve seen some obscene situations on Christmas morning. Children were seen shredding through wrapping paper, disregarding cards (about the only nice aspect of a present) and often unknowing of the giver, hurling the junk over the shoulder and moving on to the next piece of rubbish. It is a brutal and disheartening exercise when one considers the children are the future. All that wrapping and all those presents took many resources to make, only to come down your chimney for a quick stopover at Christmas on their way to the landfill.


Is it really giving?

Do we need to ask ourselves if this way of giving is REALLY giving? If you find yourself giving something with one hand and then taking away with the other, albeit unbeknownst to you, then is it in fact giving? This is my angle on the modern-day gift giving spectacle that is Christmas.

Here, I must raise the concept of nett giving. You buy and give a junk present to a child. On the face of it that is giving. Behind the scenes though, perhaps in Bangladesh, there is an exploited child producing it, using up resources and creating toxins in the process, and then a shipping company burns oil and fuel to get it to you in the developed world. Then there is consumerism and dissatisfaction encouraged in the child receiving the present, and then you’ve got clutter, landfill and pollution at the end of it all. Not to mention all the lost opportunities to use Christmas for something more wholesome. So, with all of that in mind, is it still giving? I propose that in terms of the nett effect, you are actually taking away from your child, his or her world and future when it doesn’t have to be this way.


It’s not about stuff

Without buying junk, there are other things with which you can be generous. The key is to avoid buying material gifts and instead make, do, share or experience something. This teaches kids the value of time and creativity and to favour quality over quantity. Think of something that constitutes nett giving, something that adds value. Isn’t that giving? Some might say I’m a cheapskate, that I’m ruining the spirit of Christmas or that I am a killjoy. But let’s be real. Consumerism doesn’t bring joy, experiences and connection do, so in fact by giving thoughtless material gifts, that is what kills the joy. I am talking about being a “createjoy”.

It might take a few years to get children out of the junk-present habit and start experiencing the alternatives.  I think they’ll learn to prefer and remember something that is useful or that brings them lasting joy. I recall one family Christmas my brother made my sister something unusual. He fashioned a pencil holder using an egg carton and various items of bling to decorate it. Perhaps this gift was somewhat useless, as my sister was about forty years old, but this gift was free, it was made creatively and thoughtfully from junk, and it came with more immediate comedy and long-term appreciation than anything else that year. And it’s certainly the only present that I can remember from that year.


Ideas for nett giving

Here are some suggestions for gifts, not just for kids, that do not require material stuff and that will surely bring joy or utility or both.

Gift an education. Gift something that will last and is fun. Think about pottery courses, cooking classes, golf lessons, and art or photography classes. Often folks want to try new things but are reluctant to spend money themselves. Memberships are also useful. Kids might enjoy a membership at an adventure club, waterpark, science museum. Anything that gets them outside or learning. You can gift experiences like family balloon rides or fun days out. Check out the good ideas at

Save some People. You could gift a sponsorship of a child in the third world, have your child start a pen pal relationship with someone not so fortunate, to teach them humility and appreciation, who knows where a pen pal relationship with someone like this might go. This kind of consideration may help them get off of consumerism too. See or Or if you know something specific is needed, kill two birds with one stone, help your recipient and buy it from a charity store. 2nd hand is so often more unique and better quality anyway.

Save an entire species. Adopt a polar bear or a snow leopard in the name of your friends and family with the World Wildlife Fund or my favorite is to help save the Orangutans in Sumatra, The kids who were with me in the bus last Christmas will never forget these animals; it brought them closer to the reality. Now when someone says Palm Oil kills orangutans to them, it’s not just a slogan.

Inspire Healthy Habits. If you know someone uses a particular product, why not encourage them to start buying a conscientious version of it. For them, buy fair trade coffee or chocolate, or other products that are people and earth friendly. provides vital, fair trade income to Third World artisans in Africa, why not lend them a hand.

And then there is common-sense stuff. Encourage the use of recycled wrapping paper, or use old newspapers and magazines. This can even be fun as the kids cut out and make montage wrapping paper. Store bought wrapping paper is completely unnecessary.

These ideas will all facilitate you nett giving something, that will not take from the planet, other folks and the future of your children. And I guarantee each will have a longer lasting memory than all the thoughtless, impersonal, plastic crap often bought just to fill a stocking.