I used to be a Black Friday shopper.
One year, I waited in line outside for the 2am “Door Buster” deals and then wandered around Toys’R’Us for another three hours until the 5am “Early Bird” bargains began. Then after a quick refueling at the local Panera bakery, I embraced the chaos at a few other stores.
I loved strategizing with my girlfriends, and the energy of the crowds was both intimidating and empowering. Not to mention, we saved a lot of money. I still curl up each holiday season under my $5 fuzzy snowflake blanket from Kohl’s circa 2009, and my kids still bounce through the summer on the $40 pogo stick I snagged for $15 that same year. Once, I remember waiting in the parking lot for my husband’s direct deposit paycheck to show up in our bank account so I could keep shopping.
Back then I would have called myself a “Christmas Buff.” I was the kid who came home from college and did all the decorating for my mom. I can remember sitting in 10th grade study hall planning my work hours and counting the shopping days until Christmas. Even as a working mother, I was an enthusiastic coordinator of the little shoppers holiday shop at my children’s school. I wanted them to experience the joy of giving and spend time thinking of others during the holiday season.
We joked that the school holiday shop was like “Black Friday for kindergarteners.” I took days off work, and it was pure chaos for two weeks in December. My entire life would be put on hold as I tried to keep up with the enthusiastic holiday spirit of 600 grade-school students. One year I even wrote notes to my kids’ teachers, apologizing because I hadn’t been able to help them with homework all week as I was frantically shopping for more inventory every evening.
Each year I would say “I’m never doing that again!” And three years ago I really meant it. Laying on the couch, mind-numbingly exhausted after the final day of the school holiday shop, I stared at my kids and thought to myself “What am I teaching them?” This holiday shop isn’t about the joy of giving; it’s about the chaos of consumption. What message am I sending when I give up my sanity for two weeks each year just to help them stock up on mass-produced junk? At school they learn about recycling, sustainability, taking action for good and being a citizen of the world. Where does that fit into this version of holiday giving?
So, I guess I’m not a “Christmas Buff” anymore. Somewhere between Black Friday 2012 and Giving Tuesday 2015, the holidays have changed for me. Now it’s less about what I can buy and more about what I can give and, most importantly, what I can teach with my giving. Below are some of the ways our family has tried to embrace a new kind of holiday spirit over the last several years, and I hope you will share ideas of your own!
- Gifts That Give Back: Our school holiday shop now supports Drink Local, Drink Tap. Last year the kids were able to donate $1,000 from the proceeds of items they made and sold at our hand-made and upcycle focused “Good Gift Holiday Shop” event. Whether it’s notecards or a t-shirt from your favorite animal rescue group or a keepsake print from an art museum, these are all ways that a portion of the money you spend can be used for good. Look up your favorite charity online or call and ask how you can support them with your gift-giving this year.
- Gifts of Time: Think museum memberships, zoo passes, batting cage tokens, movie gift cards, theater tickets or local sporting events. Our family has given and received all of these gifts, and the enjoyment of spending time with loved ones lasts much longer than Christmas morning. One year our Great Lakes Science Museum membership also got our family of five into similar centers in Toledo, Baltimore and Columbus. No Black Friday bargain could ever match that gift in terms of savings or enjoyment!
- Sustainable Gifts: Here in Cleveland, we LOVE the mission of The Upcycle Parts Supply and Collective Upcycle—a holiday pop-up shop where all of the gifts you buy support local artists who focus on creative reuse. From hand-crafted wooden toys and refurbished furniture to art work, jewelry and much more—this is one way to turn giving into good this holiday season. Shopping at neighborhood shops and consignment boutiques will also keep more of your money local. That’s like doing triple the good through holiday giving!
- Consumable Gifts: Give a batch of Granny’s favorite home-made turtles or a framed copy of a cherished family recipe with all the necessary supplies. Add a chef’s hat and a personalized apron for the littlest cooks in the family!
- Gifts of Action: My mom loves when we donate or volunteer our time instead of buying her something expensive. And then our gift to her is a framed photo of her grandchildren doing good in her name. One year this included 60 cans of food donated to the local food shelter, and recently my sister-in-law and her kids sponsored the adoption fee for a senior dog who was then adopted just in time for a warm Christmas with his new family. Two years ago our ten-year-old son helped me clean apartments for families in temporary housing. I promise you, he will remember that experience for years to come, and the conversations we had that day are priceless.
- When All Else Fails, Ask the Kids: Maybe this should have been first on the list. If your kids are anything like mine, they have plenty of ideas for how you can do things better. It’s time to benefit from this annoying tendency by challenging them to come up with better gift ideas for loved ones using the suggestions above. Another way to make this strategy work is by listening closely to their questions, worries and concerns. My five-year-old daughter saw a show once and asked about kids in a shelter who were eating fruit snacks and donuts for lunch. We talked for a bit about why a family might need to live in a shelter, and then I asked her what she thought we could do to help. She said we should go to the store and buy them some healthy food. So we did. Lauren filled more bags than she could carry with food and diapers, and we donated everything to a local women’s shelter.
I’d love to hear your ideas for non-traditional ways to celebrate the holiday. Please comment below and share this post if you’re committed to making the kind of meaningful holiday memories that you can’t buy in a store! @PamelaTuros