I used to be a Black Friday shopper.
One year, I waited in line outside for the 2 a.m. “Door Buster” deals and then wandered around Toys’R’Us for another three hours until 5 a.m. “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. I still curl up each holiday season under my $5 fuzzy snowflake blanket from Kohl’s circa 2009, but the $40 pogo stick I snagged for $15 and the “buy one, get one free” Lego-shaped Wii remotes are long gone.
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 calculating my paychecks 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 with homework all week as I was frantically shopping for more inventory each evening.
Each year, I would say, “I’m never doing that again!” And 6 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!
Buy less. Give more. Boycott Black Friday and Cyber Monday! Join WISH Cleveland and 36 local nonprofits for #GivingTuesdayCLE, part of an international giving movement that takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Thirty-six is our lucky number, so we’re challenging Cleveland’s everyday local heroes to make a $36 difference in their community this holiday season. Donate $36 or 36 cans of food to the local food pantry. Bake 3 dozen cookies to share with your neighbors. Or Text WISHCLE to 44-321 and support our citywide equitable giving campaign. You can also join us online or in person for our #GivingTuesdayCLE party at RED Space on Nov. 27.
Gifts That Give Back: The Campus International “Good Gift Holiday Shop” supports a student entrepreneur program and local nonprofit organizations. Last year, the kids were able to donate $1,000 from the proceeds of items they made and sold at our handmade 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, consider how a portion of the money you spend can be used for the greater 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 Shop —a nonprofit store where every purchase supports local artists who focus on creative reuse. Along with selling unique handmade creations, the shop is also challenging us to rethink gift wrap this holiday season. Why waste money (and natural resources) on something you know you’re going to throw away? You can get creative with old maps, newspaper, colorful tins, blueprints, fabric samples, scarves and many other things you already have in your home.
Food is Love: Give a batch of Granny’s favorite homemade 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: Grandma Sherri loves when we donate or volunteer our time instead of buying her something expensive that she doesn’t really need. And then our gift to her is a framed photo of her grandchildren doing good in her name. One year, my kids picked out 60 cans of food to donate to the local food shelter and my brother’s family sponsored the adoption fee for a senior dog. Five years ago my (then) 10-year-old son helped me clean apartments for families moving into temporary housing just in time for the holidays. 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. You can 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. Years ago, my (then) 5-year-old daughter voiced concern about a news clip showing kids in a shelter eating fruit snacks and donuts for lunch. We talked about some of the reasons a family might need to live in temporary housing, and she asked to go to the store and buy them some healthy food. So we did.