"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6
I love Christmas. I love everything about it - the decorations, the lights, the food, the time with friends and family, and, I'll be honest, the presents. I love buying gifts for other people, finding something that makes me think of my friends and family and being able to spoil them in ways I don't normally get to. I enjoy receiving gifts myself as well. I guess I'm selfish that way. But for the last few years, I've been trying really hard not to let all those fun things overshadow Christ in my celebration of the Christmas season. The Advent season so easily becomes about a chocolate per day while counting down until Christmas, but it means so much more.
Advent is a season of waiting. A friend got me thinking more about my efforts to reflect on Jesus earlier this week when, studying the beginning of Luke, he asked, "What were the people at the beginning of Luke waiting for, and what are you waiting for this advent season?"
The next day I took some time and thought, what am I waiting for? And I don't mean Christmas festivities. Mary and Zechariah were waiting for the Lord's salvation to come to all people. Salvation has come, but we're still waiting. Waiting for the restoration of the Kingdom of God. Waiting for the day that justice will reign, when everyone will get what they deserve, and we will all live in perfect relationship with God and with each other.
We eagerly await the day when Christ returns in his glory and brings justice to earth. Until then, we can only do our best to do justice in our own lives. So, I've decided to do what I can to make sure the gifts I give this year not only do not harm others, but actually benefit those in need around the world. In the process, I've found some really amazing, unique companies that not only make beautiful products, but also do their part to build up and empower those in need around the world. If you're looking for a way to give gifts that benefit others and really hold some meaning this year, here are 10 ideas for you:
1. Madeinafreeworld.com features multiple different companies who are going above and beyond to ensure that their supply chains are free of forced labour and other human rights abuses. http://www.madeinafreeworld.com
2. Greenheartshop.org is a US company with a ton of unique Fair Trade items. This site is great if you have a PO Box in the States, or a friend who can ship it to you, as they don't ship to Canada. http://www.greenheartshop.org
3. Buy local items. I know I've said before that I like to buy products that are benefiting those who need it most, and those who need it most aren't generally in the Vancouver area, but it's still great to support local artisans. I just wouldn't do it exclusively. There are a ton of great local artisans around the Vancouver area, many of whom are making products that benefit charities, or are eco-friendly. Check out Etsy for local and handmade items. http://www.etsy.com
4.Ten Thousand Villages. There are a handful of these stores around BC's Lower Mainland, but you can also shop online at http://www.tenthousandvillages.com . These stores carry some really unique items, all fair trade. You can find everything from decorations, to cookbooks, to bags and jewellery.
5. Give in someone's name. I know everyone likes to have gifts to unwrap on Christmas morning, but more and more charities are coming up with alternative Christmas gift ideas. The Wellspring Foundation for Education, my favourite charity, is working to empower a new generation of Rwandan and Burundian leaders through a values-based, quality education. They've seen massive amounts of transformation in Rwanda in the last 10 years and are just moving into Burundi. They have an alternative giving program where you can donate in the name of a loved one, and then a PDF Certificate will pop up, which you can then give to the person to show them how you honoured both them and those in need this Christmas. http://www.thewellspringfoundation.org/donate/alternative-giving/
6. Dignify.ca is a website that sells hand-made, fair-trade Kantha quilts. These beautiful blankets are made by Bangladeshi women who are working to replace their income working in the sex trade. Who wouldn't want a cozy quilt for Christmas, especially knowing that it was helping a woman get out of prostitution? http://www.dignify.ca
7. Modavanti.com - this website has everything. Clothing, jewellery, bags, athletic wear, leather gifts and stocking stuffers, exclusively featuring brands that pay and treat their labourers fairly and are environmentally friendly. http://www.modavanti.com
8. 31bits.com - If there's a jewellery lover on your list, this site is a must. Beautiful, unique jewellery, handmade by women in Kenya who receive a sustainable income and holistic education through the 31 bits program. All the jewellery, though made with famous East African paper beads, are made with a western audience in mind. http://www.31bits.com
9. Thesparrowstudio.com - This site also ships to the USA only, but, if you're a friend of mine, let me know if you see something you love, as I have access to a small stash! The handmade items on this website are made by women who benefit from a ministry called "More than Sparrows" in Kigali, Rwanda. The Sparrow Studio is a cooperative made up of 35 Rwandan women, all HIV+ and working to replace their income in the sex trade. http://www.thesparrowstudio.com
10. The Me to We store sells items made by Mothers from the Masai people group in Kenya. All their products are made with locally sourced materials, recycled paper and packaging, and organic cotton. shop.metowe.com/metowestore/
This Christmas, I want to remember and honour Christ in my celebration by choosing gifts that do justice. There are tons of ways out there to give gifts this Christmas while remember those in need, and ensuring that your purchased do more good than harm. These are just a few ways. If you know of others, feel free to comment so that others can hear about them as well!