Three Tips for Sane Christmas Shopping

With the Christmas shopping season in full swing, I’ve been revisiting my thoughts about how my daily purchases impact the rest of the world.

I first dealt with the subject earlier this year when a clothing factory crumbled in Bangladesh, killing workers who were assembling clothing for the fashion industry. At that time, I wrote a guest article for the Her.meneutics blog on Christianity Today, wrestling with my part in the problem of worker wages and conditions.

Photo credit: dave416/Flickr

Besides worker injustice, another concern I have about gift-giving is consumerism.

Possessions have become a false god in our age and our culture. Too often, we buy into the lie that our possessions make us happy and safe. No wonder, then, that our temptation at Christmas is to shower our children with too many toys and indulge ourselves with luxuries that we don’t need and can’t afford!

Confronting Consumerism

Some Christians have decided to do away with gift-giving because of the stranglehold of consumerism. I don’t condemn families that make this radical, counter-cultural move. However, I do think there is a way to give gifts at Christmas in a way that is truly honoring to God.

I don’t think that gift-giving is inherently bad. It can be a wonderful experience! I give presents to my children and other family members at Christmas, because I love them. It’s also a way that we remember the gifts that the Magi gave to Jesus. And don’t forget the most wonderful gift that was given to mankind at Christmas: Christ himself!

Tips for Sane Shopping

There are a few guidelines that are helping me to give gifts well this season, without guilt and without bowing to consumerism.

1. Shop with Justice in Mind.

If you haven’t ever wondered where a product was made, and under what conditions, start asking. This pursuit doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. To start, just wonder.

When I started wondering about clothing manufacturing, I found a website called Better World Shopper. They use 20 years of data to rank companies on social and environmental responsibility, offering lists such as clothing, baby care, and electronics. For me, checking this website has become an easy first step in shopping.

Another great shopping idea is to look at businesses that have a charity model built into their work. Look for a fair trade Christmas bazaar in your hometown, or visit websites of companies like Trade As One, Azizi Life, Krochet Kids or Noonday Collection.

Photo credit: Stephanie Bond/Flickr

2. Shop with Love.

Shopping with love sounds trite, but it’s easy to lose our grasp on why we want to give a gift in the first place. What makes your friend or family member feel most loved? It’s tempting to show our love by giving expensive things, or too many things. But most of us feel more loved by thoughtfulness than by big spending.

What could you give your loved one that shows you have really thought about him or her, rather than just checked them off a list? Sometimes the most thoughtful gift isn’t a material thing at all. Consider an act of service, a heartfelt letter, the gift of spending time together, or a purchase on their behalf from the Food for the Hungry gift catalog.

3. Shop with Moderation.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing about gift-giving in a culture shackled by consumerism is the temptation toward excess.  Too quickly, Christmas can become synonymous only with gift-giving. We can become overwhelmed by the task of shopping or throw ourselves into debt.

To keep the presents from monopolizing Christmas in our house, my husband and I put a three-gift limit on what we give our children.  We also have a budget for how much we spend on one another. Most importantly, we revel in every aspect of Christmas—togetherness, celebrating Jesus, and being generous and hospitable.

How will you incorporate these themes into your gift-giving this year?

About Wendy McMahan

Wendy McMahan is grateful for her front row seat in watching God “reconcile all things to Himself.” (Colossians 1:20) She still can’t believe that she gets to participate in His story every day. Wendy and her husband are proud parents to two daughters and have been foster parents to children of all ages. Wendy serves as Director of Church Engagement at Food for the Hungry. She hosts the Poverty Unlocked podcast.

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