Should we keep buying more stuff for our friends and family that they don’t really need? The holidays often bring on either the guilt of having enough money to buy expensive gifts or the stress of paying for them if you don’t. Then there is the question of ethical shopping: Where did these gifts come from? What resources were used? How far where they shipped? How much did the workers get paid? Were they bought from corporations? Do these gifts build community values or further materialistic desire, especially in children? Are they helping to usher in a new economy or keeping us chained to the old economy?

My grandparents chose a different route – each donating for years to the other’s favorite charity – inspiring me to think differently about my holiday spending habits. As I started making gifts because of financial hardship, I found people tend to appreciate more personal, handmade gifts. I also began to think of gifts that I could give to my community, like volunteering to serve food for the homeless over the holidays, which expand the concept of holiday gift giving outside my close network of friends and family.

Here are some ideas how you can have a more shareable holiday:

  1. Give away a service, like a massage, a day-off of childcare, planting a kitchen garden, cooking a special meal…Create a gift certificate with the details of your  services, which can be received by your friends or passed on to other people who need those services.

(Gift certificate from Jenny Kenny of Crafty Jenny)

  1. Make a personal, handmade gift (think about using recycled materials), like a CD of your favorite music, a recycled collage card with your favorite recipe in it, your favorite winter tea blend, a kombucha kit, a yoga bag or bike reflector vest. Even better, host a party with your friends to share recycled materials and skills for making gifts together.
  1. Teach something like how to fix a bike flat, tune up a computer, crochet winter hats for the homeless, make herbal tinctures or bake gluten-free cookies.
  1. Donate time or money to your friend’s favorite charity or community project and send them a card with the details of the gift.
  1. Start a gift circle with your friends where people meet regularly to express needs and offers. Send a holiday card to your community, explaining gift circles and inviting them to come to your first gathering.
  1. Create a community free box at a local hangout or Stranger Exchange with books, clothes and other knick-knacks to encourage anonymous gift giving.
  1. Make Pay It Forward or Smile cards and give them away with gifts and random acts of kindness. The card passes on with each person who receives the next gift.
  1. Hold a Really Really Free Market with an anti-consumerist theme before Christmas to exchange gifts that can be given to friends and protest the mainstream economy.


  1. Start a free skool and send a voucher to your friends for the class you will teach to kick it off. Teach people to fish and the gifts keep flowing.
  1. Start a Timebank, an online directory and offer and request system that expands the possibility of gift giving to a whole town, region or community.
Mira Luna


Mira Luna |

Mira Luna is a long time social and environmental justice activist, community organizer and journalist, working to develop an alternative economy. She co-founded Bay Area Community Exchange, a regional open