by Irena Djuric

This Friday morning, shoppers will be camped out in parking lots and pressed up against store doors with a hunger for the things turkey and cranberry sauce just can’t satisfy: rock-bottom deals.

Those who have been in the Black Friday trenches before will testify that “it unveils the beast hidden within,” and we’ll take their word for it. While how you spend this Friday is up to you (we won’t be there at 5AM to check, for fear of our lives), we at Sprout Chicago would like to take a moment to promote thoughtfulness over tackiness, exuberance over excess, and old fashioned giving over gadgetry.

Here are a few of our suggestions for holiday shoppers:

ONE GIFT IS ENOUGH, BUT YOU GET POINTS FOR STYLE

Some of my most memorable Christmas mornings were those when I only got one gift. I was young, and my parents were immigrants without much money. For that reason, the gifts that they did give each Christmas were a heartfelt effort to present something special. My favorite surprise one Christmas was a large box which, after excited tearing at the wrapping paper, turned out to be a piano keyboard stand.

“We know you love music,” my dad explained, “but we didn’t have enough money to get both a keyboard and a keyboard stand, so we had to buy only one. They both cost about the same amount of money, so we thought that this Christmas you could get the stand, and next Christmas we’ll save money and be able to buy the keyboard.”

I couldn’t believe their logic! Why wouldn’t they get the keyboard first this year, if it costs the same as the stand? I meekly nodded OK and thanked them for the keyboard stand, wondering why they didn’t think more like I did.

And then…surprise! It turned out that the cherished keyboard was hidden in another wrapped box in the closet, but they weren’t about to give that to me right away and miss the chance to make a great memory. I will always remember that gift – and how it was given – fondly.

Remember that the goal of giving isn’t to unleash a flood of presents or re-carpet the floor with wrapping paper. Aim to create a meaningful moment instead, even with one gift. Given with love, spunk, and a bit of charm, the memory will far outlast the present.

CHERISH EXPERIENCES OVER OBJECTS

A mother I met at a soup kitchen years ago didn’t have the money to buy her kids Christmas presents. I was surprised when her little girl came bounding up to me one day at the kitchen to announce, “We have the best mom in the world! You’ll never guess what we’re getting for Christmas!”

She went on to explain enthusiastically, “Each of us gets special time with her. So, she’s going to teach me how to sew a dress, and she’s going to take my brother on a hike through the woods…It’s going to be the best Christmas EVER!”

This little girl didn’t seem to notice that she was missing out on an ipod, a wii, or a new cell phone: she just couldn’t contain her excitement at the prospect of spending meaningful time with mom!

Consider investing in experiences rather than presents: concert tickets in lieu of an ipod, a night at a film festival rather than a DVD, for example. The time you spend together will be the source of memories, laughter, and fond retellings for years to come whereas gadgets will be mere amusements until next year’s models come along.

GIVE IN THE OTHER DIRECTION

One of my good friends insists that by the time someone is 18 years old, they should have figured out what charitable causes are important to them and be contributing their time or money in support of their chosen projects. I heard this bit of advice when I was 20 years old and was so inspired that I spent the night researching various charities to make up for lost time. I decided to support the Surfrider Foundation because the oceans have always been an important source of inspiration for me. I didn’t have very much to send at the time – it must have only been $25 – but it felt good to contribute to an effort larger than myself.

Have you thought about what causes and issues are important to you? Make an effort to find out. Become an advocate for that cause. Even if you only have something small to contribute, do so as a vote of confidence in the organization’s mission. Consider making this a yearly tradition and invite the whole family to participate. Contribute to a worthy cause in the name of someone on your shopping list, or ask that others give to your favorite charity in lieu of purchasing the usual presents. A bit of selfless giving over the holidays is infectious!

REMEMBER WHERE ‘STUFF’ COMES FROM AND WHERE IT’S GOING

For those who haven’t seen it, Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff is essential viewing and a great primer on where ‘stuff’ comes from and at what cost to our environment, communities, and values. Follow up with some background information about the plastic soup brewing in the Pacific, and you’ll have a rather sobering picture of how excessive consumption is affecting our world.

Still, if the holidays don’t have the same sparkle for you without a few goodies under the tree, then please be a considerate shopper. We suggest Chicagoans checking out Green Heart Shop’s Green Friday event, for a start. Or, support your favorite artists on sites like Etsy (or Regretsy for those seeking something edgier).

Happy holidays, and happy giving!

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