47 Christmas Gifts that can Change the World


8 November 2014 by thaliakr

How can something as (potentially) shallow as Christmas shopping be a great way to make a difference in the world?

Easy :) If we aspire to living a life where our actions reflect our values, then how we spend our time and money on Christmas gifts can make a real impact on people beyond the friends and family on our list.

47 Christmas Gifts that can Change the World | Sacraparental.com

Turn Christmas values into Christmassy actions

If your values happen to spring from a Christian commitment, this is where confrontational biblical authors like James come in:

126 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

214 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

It’s all very well knowing stuff about God, as the Biblical writers often say, but it’s really what you do with that knowledge, to make the world a bit more like heaven, that counts.

So alongside our stories of stables and mangers and angels, let’s make sure we model and explain the connection between ‘beliefs’ (whatever they are) and actions for the kids in our lives. One great way to do this is to put our Christmassy values – sacred or secular – into practice in our Christmas giving.

'Every time you spend money you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want' Anna Lappe | And see Sacraparental.com for 47 Christmas (or other) gift ideas that can change the world!

I’ve been thinking (and asking Facebook and Twitter) about all the different kinds of ways our gift-giving can make the world a better place, not just for us and our gift-recipients, but in a wider sense. Thanks for your dozens of ideas!

It seems to me there are a bunch of different ways we can get extra bang for our Christmas shopping buck:

  • being conscious consumers: buying with our ethics in mind and sending our money somewhere worthy – supporting businesses with high standards in terms of fairtrade, eco-friendliness, animal welfare, industrial relations, gender equality and so on
  • giving things people really need that won’t be wasted
  • considering plenty of free or thrifty options that show our love
  • making charitable donations as a Christmas gift
  • giving gifts that will make the world a better place as well as make the recipients feel loved.

Here are some specific ideas for doing those things – and I’d love you to add your ideas in the comments below, please!

Choose information over surprise

I do like a good surprise present. But I also like getting things I actually want. It’s a juggle.

The biggest reason for all the materials, labour, transport and opportunity cost of your kindly-meant Christmas present to be a complete waste is this: the recipient doesn’t actually want it.

So check first. Ask for a list of ideas, or check with a partner, parent or friend for inside info.

Almost anything you buy to give to someone is made up of precious resources, laboured over by real people, and transported (from, say, mine to refinery to factory to wholesaler to retailer to you!) at cost to the environment. So don’t let all that go to waste for the sake of a gamble.

Give non-toy Christmas gifts to kids

For present ideas for kids that are thrifty, eco-friendly and foster great things in kids, Lucy at Lulastic and the Hippy Shake has a wonderful post with Sixty Great Gift Alternatives to Toys.

A few toys can be fantastic, but the fact is most of us have MORE than a few; many of us have homes filled to the brim to toys and we can’t take any more! Too many toys can push a child’s imagination right under the bed and will eventually wreck the planet our children have got to enjoy for the rest of their lives. (Read my thoughts on that here.)

But friends, Aunties, grandparents and neighbours want to show loooove! It’s the kid’s BIRTHDAY! It’s CHRISTMAS!

Well. Thank goodness for this here list. There are so many alternatives. Millions (okay, here there are sixty but I’m sure we’ve still only scratched the surface!) of ways to show you care, and for the most part they fire a child’s imagination and cause less havoc for the environment. Many of them are free, or cheap and plenty of them can be found in charity shops. There is a common theme of taking children seriously- of trusting them and their abilities, of giving them tools to create.

[Read more at Lulastic]

Her 60 crowd-sourced ideas (she asked Twitter, ‘what’s the best non-toy gift you were given as a kid?’) are grouped under the headings:

  • Working
  • Making
  • Culturising (arts and culture)
  • Experiencing

Check out the full list here. It’s flipping brilliant.

sixty gift alternatives to toys lulastic

Rachel at Nourishing Minimalism has an overlapping list of 18 non-toy ideas to check out too.

Buy locally-made gifts from small businesses

A huge number of people are now turning their arts-and-craftiness or technical know-how into small retail businesses, often fitting the making-and-selling around raising kids, or being social activists, or working in other jobs they like less than their business.

Support these guys! Buying locally has the advantage (usually) of less fossil-fuel usage on shipping, it supports the economy where you live, and rewards the thoughtful creativity of your neighbours. Many of these businesses are eco-friendly in other ways, and they’re unlikely to be exploiting their workers (except their hard-working selves!) or engaging in unfair trade.

A crazy alphabet t-shirt from Auckland designer Carmel Wonder (available worldwide) would be great on your shopping list!

A crazy alphabet t-shirt from Auckland designer Carmel Wonder (available worldwide) would be great on your shopping list!

Laura Giddey wrote a great guest post last year featuring a bunch of great local businesses based in Auckland and beyond, making everything from cushions to cupcakes. Check out her list and the other ideas in the comments, and start thinking of options near you.

If you’d like to write a guest post featuring creators you know, I’d love to hear from you!

Buy ‘ethical’ gifts

Everyone has ‘ethics’, whether they’re worthy or reprehensible, but what we usually mean by ‘buying ethically’ is taking into account much more than price and shininess of products and services.

If you need to buy some Christmas cards, you could stock up at the supermarket, where your money goes to a multinational stationery company, or you could instead go to a charity or fairtrade shop, and buy cards where money from the purchase price is guaranteed to go to, say, cancer research or to fair wages in a developing community.

In London there’s a brilliant Fair Christmas Fayre each year on Oxford St. If you know of something similar somewhere else, please add it below.

My top tip is to buy as many presents as you are going to actually purchase from a fairtrade shop like Trade Aid (add a link in the comments to the equivalent where you are, please!).

For a couple of family birthdays, I recently sent a bunch of treats from Trade Aid – ordered online with free delivery, even! The package was a mixture of:

  • fairtrade chocolate: paying a fair wage to otherwise exploited cocoa and sugar farmers, and packed in compostable packaging (also extremely delicious)
  • fairtrade soap: wonderful-smelling, made from simple, eco-friendly ingredients, in recycled packaging, supporting a business in South India
  • fairtrade olive oil: made by farmers in Palestine
  • a couple of notebooks for these artistic family members: made from recycled and scrap materials, supporting a business in Bangladesh

(Actually, the soap, chocolate and olive oil from Trade Aid are staples in our grocery shopping, too – we try to send some of our grocery budget in this direction regularly.)

Trade Aid also has a lovely selection of homeware (tea sets, cushions, storage baskets, blankets, and so on), lots of things for kids, and more. I seriously reckon you could do all your Christmas shopping in this one place (or even do it online with free delivery!).

In New Zealand, you can find businesses that sell fairtrade items, or products made with other ethical priorities, by visiting the nifty Conscious Consumers website. (Overseas equivalents, friends?)

And here are a few more specific ideas of ‘ethical’ gifts that will make a real difference to someone you don’t know as well as someone you do:

  • TOMS shoes (you buy one pair and they give one pair away to a shoeless child – thanks Karen and Glen for this idea and the next)
  • Freeset bags and t-shirts (made by women in India as a path out of sexual slavery)
  • Beautiful leather satchels and other products from The Loyal Workshop, also made by artisans as a means of escape from the Indian sex trade
  • Add links to other specific products you know of in the comments, please!

Get your craft on

Pinterest is your friend if you’d like to make a present with your fair hands.

I found these easy gift ideas sites in two minutes of Pinteresting:

Or if you just want one reliable source, head over to Lulastic for lots of clever, thrifty and easy ideas in this post: 20 Handmade Gifts for Grown-ups.

20 handmade gifts for grown-ups - such a cool collection | Lulastic and the Hippyshake

Check out Lucy’s crafty ideas at Lulastic and the Hippyshake

Please leave your ideas and things you’ve made in the past in the comments below :)

Give home-made food treats

If you are known for your healthy home-made muesli, your (no-one would guess that they’re) sugar-free treats, or your gosh-that-seems-like-more-work-than-I-can-cope-with kombucha why not share the love with everyone else?

Angela's Orange Cocoa Balls via The Sponge

Angela’s Orange Cocoa Balls via The Sponge

Of course you can also just give plain old treats – they don’t have to be healthy :)

Whatever they are, home-made food gifts are win-win-win. They take time but usually much less money than normal Christmas shopping, they radiate love and kindness with every bite, and they might even help your friends and family get interested in something that will benefit their health for the following year. Include a recipe card with the gift if that’s part of the plan!

I know lots of you will already do this – could you please tell us in the comments what kinds of things you’ve made as gifts?

A variation is to give a pretty jar with the ingredients layered so you’re giving a fun, easy baking experience to someone (good idea, Catherine). Here’s a collection of recipe ideas (very easy to adapt the process to your favourite recipes), including my favourite (to look at online!):

Chocolate Chip and Oat Quickbread, via Sunset.com

Chocolate Chip and Oat Quickbread, via Sunset.com

Give home-made potions or starter packs too

You know how I made that awesome home-made dishwashing detergent? It took me six years to work my way up to that level of hippie home-cleaning. It’s not that it was hard, just that the mental energy required was always a bit too much.

Green Cleaning! Including - gasp! - home-made dishwasher powder | Sacraparental.com | #green #cleaning #home made #dishwasher detergent

If you have made a breakthrough in some kind of eco-cleaning or similar area, help your friends to jump the mental energy hurdle with a little gift pack.

You could give a sample of your own home-made batch, along with containers of the ingredients and clear instructions, so they can try it out with no effort, then not need to even go shopping if they want to carry on.

Give a child the chance to give

This was a great idea from Daina: how about giving a child in your life $20 and an hour of your time to spend on food to give to your local food bank or women’s refuge? Or for a present for someone they don’t know through a present-giving charity in your town?

Maybe they could choose things to make up a pack for Operation Christmas Child or, as Angela suggested, 4 The Kidz (which provides snuggle packs for kids undergoing forensic examinations), or perhaps to the child of someone in prison through Prison Fellowship (thanks, Anna).

Give Christmas vouchers for your personal time (including hospitality)

Think about what you have to offer the world, and offer it.

Write in a Christmas card that you would like to offer two or four (or whatever) hours of your time to:

  • proofread (if you have students in your circle)
  • massage
  • babysit
  • do some home maintenance
  • cook
  • clean
  • do mechanical work
  • garden
  • sew or mend

I reckon a special subset of this is hospitality. Do you know people who really appreciate coming to your house for company and/or a good feed? Maybe people who live alone, or students who live on spaghetti, or someone who’s a bit shy or socially awkward.

Give them a card inviting them for ten meals over the next year. This should make it really clear they are welcome in your home, and could be a gesture that means a great deal.

Donate a Christmas gift to a third party

My father-in-law is brilliant at giving things to African communities (where he used to volunteer) on behalf of family members via Send a Cow.

The idea is that you donate a specific thing to a specific place – maybe you purchase a medical kit or school fees for a child or a goat for a family – and give a card to your friend saying that you’ve done that on their behalf. So they don’t get a present as such, but the warm glowy feeling of being part of something generous and life-changing.

Most major charities that work in the developing world now have a system like this, so just google your favourite and see what you can help with (feel free to link to your faves in the comments).

Since becoming aware of the excellent, vital work that Partners Relief & Development does in Burma, I’m keen on buying some presents from their gift catalogue this year.

Change the world with your Christmas shopping! | Sacraparental.com

Who could resist this duck!? Head to the Partners gift catalogue for more cool pics and gift ideas.

Pledge to a business start-up

In a slightly different category (thanks, Jess, for the idea) maybe you could pledge to a social enterprise start-up business to get off the ground?

Check out Spark my Potential or Kickstarter or another crowdfunding platform to see if there’s something that looks like a good fit with your gift recipient – maybe they’d be tickled to be part of getting a business off the ground.

Give Christmas gifts that equip your friends for world-changing

Darcy suggested an inspiring book, Living More With Less, by Doris Janzen. Anything you can give someone that will help them (in a way that suits their temperament and situation – not just nagging, or passive aggressive hints, right?!) take the next step to making the world a better place themselves is a gift that keeps on giving.

Ask your friends and family what would be most helpful in this category. Are they keen to take up gardening or fitness in the new year? Is there something you can give them that will help?

Or, as Laurenne suggested on Facebook, how about giving things that will help people cut down on waste, like reusable lunchboxes, shopping bags, sandwich wrappers (home-made, even!) or drink bottles?


Ok, what else? I know you will all be founts of information and ideas. What have you given or been given that made a difference beyond a warm feeling of generosity? Pop your ideas in the comments below!

Please feel free to keep in touch with Sacraparental throughout Advent by following Sacraparental on Facebook (daily extras), signing up for email updates (the box at the top right) and/or following me on Pinterest (the Advent and Christmas boards will be particularly relevant just now, and I also have one called Change the World).

47 Christmas Gifts that can Change the World | Sacraparental.com


22 thoughts on “47 Christmas Gifts that can Change the World

  1. Daina says:

    What a fabulous list! I will definitely be checking out some of those links over the next little while :)

  2. laurennehopkins says:

    Love this Thalia! Some great ideas, we are hoping to have a completely ethical / homemade Christmas so I’ll be referring to this lots I think!

    I think its so important to be mindful of where we put our money, £5 spent in a charity shop instead of a department store means you know your money is actually doing some good rather than just further lining the pockets of the rich!

    I am having a bit of a struggle with family at the moment though, we are pretty anti-consumerist but our families, well… Aren’t. Despite me having a word about not getting much for our kids this year after they bought soooo much last year (especially my parents and my grandparents) they keep mentioning they’ve got things to put away for Xmas and it has already reached an riduclous unnecessary amount. Really pains me, its so excessive and I really don’t want my girls to grow up thinking Xmas is just about piles of presents. *sigh*

    Interested to know how you deal with this! L x

    • becca says:

      I am in the same boat. I am reading this hoping for inspiration on a gift for my mother who is extremely materialistic. She has so much already, literally piles of belongings, that I can’t think of a single category of gift (clothing, jewelry, housewares, you name it) that wouldn’t feel like I’m wasting money. We discussed a charitable donation in her name, but I know she would not appreciate that at all. I’m stumped. I am looking forward to reading the list of handmade gift ideas for something that won’t just get tossed aside and lost in the shuffle.

    • Laurenne and Becca – so hard to have such different approaches to your present-giving wider family.

      For my two cents, I think a) you can only be responsible for your own choices and b) while Christmas is the showcase for the difference in values, it’s probably not a good place to start trying to change people’s minds – it has such intense feelings and values attached.

      Having said that, if you wanted to tackle the question (for next year’s Christmas, probably!), perhaps a place to start would be a frank conversation saying something like a) thanks for how generous you always are to us/our kids, b) the kids don’t need much in the way of toys this year (they’re growing up/we have no space/etc), c) what we’d really love and appreciate would be … (name something from Lulastic’s non-toy list, like swimming lessons, a season ticket to the science centre, a holiday with the grandparents…)

      Becca, I find for ‘the person who has everything’ the gift categories that make most sense to me are consumables – either food-related (and home-made would work well) or experience – tickets to a show or a voucher for a day out with you doing something special. Or books!

  3. kiwienzian says:

    Hi Talia,

    I *love* giving presents, and I have lots of people to give presents to, as my illness means we get heaps of help from heaps of people and I like to give them presents at Christmas as part of showing my appreciation. I don’t have much energy, so I start early (generally around June/July) and potter away at it as I’m able.

    I like to sew, and I particularly like to sew using ‘rubbish’ (or stuff that otherwise would be). So currently I’m in the middle of sewing this toiletries bag out of thermal-backed (and hence waterproof) material cut off our curtains (we bought curtains that were remaindered and were too long for our windows: I’m using these scraps to sew with).

    My husband has a lot of T-shirts that have worn out all at once, so I’ve used 7 of them to make 3 Christmas presents: two of these scarves (instructions for tying the square knot they use here) and a bath mat like this (backed with hessian from an old coffee sack – I’ve learned the hard way that, if you don’t back these mats, when you wash them they just turn into one big knot).

    From off-cut bits of felt from other projects I made a set of tropical fish fridge magnets, with the magnets culled from surplus ‘self denial’ boxes from Tranzsend’s 2013 appeal.  And for my husband I’m hoping to make him a pannier for his cargo bike using fused plastic bags (if I can get enough plastic bags – it’s taking millions!).

    I’ve also just finished an ‘eco travel lid‘ for my cousin – it looks like a large shower cap and you use it to cover plates of food when you go places, rather than using glad wrap.  The outer is fair trade cotton (from a lady in Nelson who doesn’t seem to have a website yet) and the inside is gore-tex (!) – cut from a jacket that got damaged beyond wearability.

    One awesome find for this year has been ‘get textbooks‘ – despite the name, what they actually are is a website where you can find used books from zillions of other websites overseas, sorted by how much it costs to ship them to NZ.  It’s awesome!  I spend a lot of my time listening to audio books and keep a note of those I particularly like.  After going through my list and thinking who else would like various books I entered them into ‘get textbooks’ and was able to find all of them for $10-$15 each :-)

    Most other people are getting home-made food – either jams and chutneys that we’ve made during the year (we try to put a couple of lots into pretty jars each time we make anything), biscuits or chocolate sauce.

  4. kiwienzian says:

    Oh, and my Mum likes having people over and feeding them baking but can’t always manage the baking. I make her shortbread dough, form it into logs and freeze them wrapped in gladwrap. When she wants to cook it she semi-thaws it in the microwave, slices it into rounds with a sharp knife then bakes it on an ungreased tray. She really likes it :-) I expect you could do that with lots of biscuit doughs.

  5. Frank says:

    Love this! We try to give foodie gifts, but struggle to find ones for non foodie family members. I’d love some easy ideas a preschooler could make that aren’t junkie trinkets. This year we’ll do homemade drinking chocolate for his preschool teachers and beeswax fabric food wraps for family.
    I’d also love some ideas for teenage boys that aren’t iTunes vouchers! Last year we gave my nephew stand up paddle board lessons which I thought was pretty cool, but apparently not…

  6. Caroline says:

    Thanks for the link to Freeset – I haven’t seen that site before and I love their products! That’s some of my Christmas shopping organised then!

  7. kiwienzian says:

    Hi Talia,

    I’ve been thinking about your positive comments on TOMS shoes and was wondering if you were aware of the criticisms about them that seem common in the Aid and Development world?

    There are a bunch of things that people don’t like about them. The one that feels most significant to me, is that giving shoes away puts local shoe-sellers out of business. I don’t know if this has actually been observed with TOMS shoes, but it’s definitely been observed with the giving-away of other goods that actually are locally available and seems to me to be a real problem.

    They are also criticised because they’re not doing anything to deal with the root causes of poverty (which, in turn, can cause shoe-less-ness) and, indeed, have a business model in the West that actually depends on the continuance of poverty to sell their shoes.

    People also say that they preferentially give their shoes away through Christian aid organisations (which is probably just practical) and preferentially give them to Christian children (which seems more problematic).

    You can see these criticisms fleshed out a bit more at these links:


    However, the TOMS folk seem to genuinely care and have heard these criticisms and responded to them. In particular, they’re trying to move to manufacture in some of the countries in which they give shoes away in order to provide jobs and hence actually do something about poverty (addressing that second concern). That doesn’t really help with the idea that just giving stuff away distorts local markets, though. For these reasons I, personally, don’t support them and instead buy shoes that are either second hand (what mine tend to be), fair trade (which has never actually worked out) or made in sweat shops (something I like to choose ahead of made in NZ as I figure no one would choose to work in a sweat shop unless their alternatives were hideous, and I want to keep them away from whatever those alternative are).

    –Heather :-)

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