Monday, October 26, 2009

What is your $ buying?

I couldn't help but smirk at the irony of receiving both The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World and two gift catalogs of another sort today. One catalog offers to help families improve their nutrition and generate income in sustainable ways. The other two catalogs offer beautiful educational toys.
Picture from
(Do you think they'd let me trade a goat for that little boy? Is he not the most precious thing EVER?)
For $120 with Heifer International I can send a goat who can provide up to a gallon of rich, nutritious milk each day, a goat who can nanny two or three kids each year. Or I can take my $120 and buy a magical mushroom-shaped playhouse.

For $150 with Heifer International I can provide a llama to a family in the Andes Mountains of South America. This llama can provide wool to make clothes and blankets to sell and make a modest living. The family who owns it can make a modest living, not the llama. That would be some llama. Or I can use that $150 and purchase 54 pieces of colorful wood so my little guys can build to their hearts content.
For $100 I can send five flocks of chicks to provide thousands of eggs for children. Did you know that just a few eggs a week can make a life or death difference to children who will die from a zinc deficiency? Or maybe I should take my $100 and buy two wee little mohair mice and a tiny little mouse house.

Oh, you don't spend that much money on toys for your children for Christmas? Good, me either! Well, for only $20 you can buy a rabbit which will provide valuable manure to make nutrient rich soil, boosting crop productivity and nutrition in an organic and sustainable way. Or I can spend my $20 on three wooden trucks and three wooden cars.

The *point* of all of this is that we I feel a sense of duty when it comes to buying Christmas presents. There is nothing inherently wrong about buying gifts for our children. But what if we gave to those in need first and then bought for our own with what was left over instead of the other way around? What if instead of exchanging gifts with our third cousin twice removed our families pooled our resources and sent a heifer to a family who is currently living on $1 a day?

I know people who are crazy with a capital INSANE about Christmas. I know families who spend $500 or more just on their children. I know women who stand in the aisles of Target bemoaning that fact that they spent $76.94 on child A and so now must find something, anything, that costs $13.61 for child B to make it "even".

I said a hearty "Amen" when I read what Jaime wrote: "We started thinking about this a few years ago when we were walking through a Target trying desperately to find a gift for under $15 for my mom before I had to ship off the box of presents. I ended up getting her some crappy mittens and a matching hat. She lives in Texas. She doesn’t need these. They were crappy. They were $15. She took them back. You get my point. I wasn’t giving her a gift because I loved her. I wasn’t buying something that she would love. I was trying to get her $15 spent so I could check her off our list."

Even when I think about our own previous spending for our children. We typically buy three gifts for each child to remember the three gifts Jesus received. We typically buy a new game or puzzle, a new book and one toy. Guess where those things end up by the next Christmas? Broken, lost or at Goodwill.

When I started really thinking about this, the idea of a tyrannical up rise of pajama-ed little boys came to mind. What kind of parent that was able to would choose to not buy their children presents? Especially these beautiful educational toys? Did I mention some of them were handmade in Germany? And then I thought "who made them think they were entitled to gifts on December 25? And if not made them think this, allowed them to continue to believe it?"

I am so thankful to my beautiful sister-in-law who suggested that we "not exchange gifts this year. Not even for the children. Not even from Grandma. Got it, Grandma? We mean it. No gifts." There may have even been some finger shaking in there.

Now, I am not suggesting that you just wait until December 25 and announce as you hear the pitter patter of tiny feet running down the stairs "Surprise! Instead of buying you presents we sent chickens to Sri Lanka!" No, sit down with your children. Maybe even tell them how much money you budgeted for their Christmas gifts and let them decide a charity to spend it on. Maybe you could even look through the catalog, the one with the beautiful, handmade in Germany, educational toys and brainstorm ways to make some of these things yourself or jump start your local economy and commission a local wood smith or seamstress to make these things for you. Then send the savings off to your favorite charity or missionary family.

What if we only cut our gift spending in half and sent the other half in the form of big stinky animals to families who will be grateful for a bowl of rice this December 25 (don't get me started on the whole feast and food thing, that's another post for another day)? And what if next December we cut that half in half again? What if the next time someone buys something from you or repays you money that they owe you, you asked them to make a donation to your favorite missionary family?

What would happen? Would the earth stop spinning on its axis? Would children everywhere turn to pillars of salt? No, of course not, but you would teaching your children a lesson they'll never find under a tree or in a catalog.


  1. Once again I am reminded why we are friends. I have been thinking of this very thing. We have 3 birthdays and Christmas this time of year and you know how it goes. Thank you for making me think again.
    Love You, HLS :)

  2. I agree... although it is hard to swallow. I would love to do this and have read all the info. myself. My favorite line is "crazy with a capital INSANE." It cracked me up. Thanks for the post. I feel guilty so I guess that's good. :)

  3. you speak my heart so eloquently. I have such issues with holiday buying. I try to fake myself out by buying it all year long, not allll at once, but when the pile of gifts is sitting in the middle of our floor, I just cringe.

    as soon as my flu-ridden brain can function a bit better, we will be having this discussion again. I am thinking about discussing it with our children AFTER opening gifts this year. We can discuss alternatives for future years.

    off to take more herbs and nyquil for good measure!

  4. AMEN!
    We are slowly getting to this - and it has been one of the biggest blessings of the Christmas season.
    Less stress AND the more time to enjoy the
    True Reason for the Season!


I love to hear your thoughts and reflections!