I'm pleased as punch with all the terrific and eco-friendly alternatives to gift buying, gift giving, and even gift wrapping that are cropping up both in stores and on the Internet these days. I don't know whether it's a result of increased environmental awareness, the prolonged economic recession, or both, but there are so many alternatives now to the commercial consumerism trend that has dominated Christmases past that it has become hard-- even for those who equate Christmas with presents and presents only-- for people not to consider the impact of their purchases!
When it comes to buying gifts, the options are as varied as the gift givers themselves; there's bound to be something for everybody! For the person who has everything, a donation can be made in their honor to any number of charities. Whether it's a charity that holds special significance for the gift recipient or an organization that puts the money toward a more specific purpose, such as rescuing a penguin or providing seeds for farmers in Africa, the gesture is appreciated and the money is put to good use. While these aren't always the most exciting gifts to receive, I really think it is more representative of the true meaning of Christmas than, say, a Play Station, because you're giving for the sake of giving and helping those in need, even though you're not getting anything (tangible) in return.
Another option would be to purchase fair-trade goods or seek out companies that are pledging to donate a portion of their profits to a specific cause or charity. I managed to do both when I bought fair-trade coffee for my brother-in-law; not only were workers in a far-away country getting a living wage for their product, a part of the proceeds went to feeding orphans as well! Then, of course, are the artisans and companies that use recovered, reclaimed, or recycled goods to make new and one-of-a-kind merchandise. They turn trash back into treasure by making purses out of old seat belts or colorful necklaces out of discarded magazines; the offerings are quite varied, and very creative!
When it comes to wrapping all these environmentally responsible, one-of-a-kind gifts, there are a number of equally Earth-friendly options available. I purchased a number of decorative gift boxes back in January; they already look like they've been wrapped, so I just add a bow and call it a day! Same goes for gift bags... I don't think I've ever purchased a new one of these, I've just repurposed the bags from gifts that I've received!
And for those odd or irregularly shaped items that just won't fit in a box or a bag, consider using butcher's paper instead of traditional wrapping paper (which is not recyclable!). Dress it up by adding a bow, and save a tag by writing directly on the paper! Some people have suggested purchasing fabric remnants and using those in place of wrapping paper; maybe if I'm at a craft store during their after-Christmas clearance sale, perhaps I'll look into it. I've also lobbied for saving and reusing gift tags (the tie-on tags, not the sticky tags-- I'm not that bad!) because it requires minimal storage and will save time when labeling gifts for next Christmas.
So what are you doing in the name of conservation this Christmas? I think my favorite idea this season has been the second-hand Christmas my sister is having with her husband and in-laws. All the gifts have to be a hand-me-down or a "regift", or from a second-hand or antique store or a garage sale. That's one sure-fire way to avoid the mall-- I can't wait to hear what they got! I think if I were to participate in a gift swap like that, I would throw the option of supporting charities or purchasing fair-trade or repurposed goods into the mix; now that would be a conservationist's Christmas!