Government of New Brunswick

The average North American will see 350,000 television commercials before leaving high school. Under the constant barrage of advertising, we sometimes forget that the true value of a gift lies in the thought behind it. Not all of us feel we have the time or ability to make most of the presents we give, as earlier generations did. Yet some of the most welcome gifts are simple and made by hand.

In the past, store-bought presents were less common than they are today ... but they were made to last and chosen with great care. If you are purchasing gifts this year, look back to those earlier times.

Stretch your imagination to match the gift to the individual and give less, but give thoughtfully. For children, this may mean trying for the one special gift they really want.

Here’s something else to think about at the store. Half of all paper consumed in North America, and one-third of all the plastic produced, is used just for packaging. As consumers, we can make the choice to avoid over-packaged items: toys in cardboard and plastic 'blister packs', for example, or small containers of toiletries elaborately packaged as gift sets. Talk to your store manager or write to the manufacturer about your packaging concerns: if consumers refuse to accept excessive packaging, it won't stay on the market for long.

Making a List

The environment definitely benefits when we are more conscientious consumers, and it's likely that there are quite a few people on your shopping list who would be glad to join you in simplifying the season by cutting back a bit.

Here are a few gift-giving ideas that are easy on the environment and your pocketbook, and that come from the heart.

  • Exchange cards or share a potluck supper instead of giving presents to each of a group of people... at work, for example, or in your neighbourhood.
  • Make a rule to find gifts at a flea market or second-hand shop.
  • Draw the name of one person for whom to buy or make a gift.
  • Set a price limit, or agree to make donations to charities instead.
  • To a very special person, give a treasured book or heirloom. Or plan a special outing together as an alternative to the usual gift exchange.
  • Give one gift to a whole family, or give only to young children.
  • On special occasions, very young children are often flooded with gifts of toys and clothing they'll soon outgrow. Rather than adding to the overwhelming pile of packages, consider a small cash gift to be put towards the child's education fund, music lessons or some special outing.


Season´s Greetings

Make your own greeting cards. Very personal greetings might include an old family recipe, an original poem, a 'family portrait' drawn by a child, or a paper ornament (cut-out snowflakes or a chain of snowmen) to print your message on.

If you prefer to buy greeting cards, look for those printed (locally, if available) on recycled paper, or those that save paper by folding to make their own envelope. Consider buying your cards from charities or local conservation groups, for twice the good deed.

Telephone calls, or electronic messages to friends who are 'plugged in', are a very personal way to send season's greetings, and don't create any paper waste at all.


From Me to You

Gifts made by hand have always been valued as a very personal sign of affection, of time and commitment. By making gifts from household materials, we can reduce waste and eliminate packaging.

Consult your library for books and magazines featuring craft ideas for all ages. Even small children can create greeting cards and wrapping paper, help to decorate cookies, and make simple crafts. There are many low-cost ideas for making home-made gifts, including those that are lightweight for mailing to faraway family and friends.

Here are some simple ideas to help get your imagination going.

  • For the birdwatcher: reuse clean glass jars for a gift of birdseed, bought in bulk. Decorate the lids with pictures cut from old greeting cards or cover them in scraps of bright fabric.
  • Oranges studded with whole cloves, with a ribbon or yarn hanger, make spicy pomanders to scent a closet.
  • Sturdy home-made bean bags make long-lasting and low-cost toys for children of any age. Or think of other toys for creative play: simple sock puppets, wooden blocks, or home-made play dough, for example.
  • For a very young child: cut windows and a door in a sturdy appliance box and trim it with bright water-based paints to make an indoor playhouse. If you like, add rummagesale clothing and accessories for dressing up to make-believe.
  • Make a multi-year calendar, using your own artwork or that of children in the family.
  • Cut a piece of cardboard about 7.6 cm2 (3 inches square) from a saved grocery box , and draw one of the Hebrew letters for Nun, Hay, Gimel, and Shin in each corner of the square. Push a short pencil through the centre of the square, and friends or family will be able to spin the dreidl!
  • Your time can be the best gift of all. With a piece of paper and a pen, anyone can make personalized coupons' pledging companionship or practical help. Give new parents an evening of babysitting. Supply seniors with an afternoon of housework, transportation, or gardening. Offer to type a student’s essays.
  • Home-made treats are always welcome. For lasting pleasure, give those that can be bottled, frozen or otherwise kept for use after the feasting season has passed.
Green Gifts

The next best thing to making presents at home is any gift that doesn't create waste or consume more of our natural resources. Avoid disposable flashlights, razors, cameras, etc., and try to steer away from gifts made of plastic or those requiring batteries. Poorly constructed products soon end up in the landfill, as do those trendy items that last only as long as the fashion. Where possible, buy locally produced products ... they don't consume energy in shipping ... and look for the high quality that means they'll get years of good use.

As you shop, decide whether the gifts you choose will help the recipient towards an earth-friendly lifestyle. Be aware, however, that anything you buy does have some impact on the environment. That means that an energy-saving pressure cooker is a good ‘green’ gift only if the recipient will use it.

Here are a few possibilities to consider:

  • A monthly bus pass may encourage the recipient to use public transit, rather than taking a car to run errands.
  • To make it easier to turn down the heat indoors, give an automatic thermostat, an old-fashioned draft-stopper, a hand-knit sweater, or perhaps a 'snuggle kit' of a hot water bottle, socks, and a book. Remember that quilts were originally designed as a practical way to reuse leftover bits of fabric, and there's nothing as comforting on a cold evening.
  • A gardener with 'cabin fever' might welcome a gift certificate from a garden centre, or everything needed to plant a windowsill herb garden. Spider plants, chrysanthemums, Chinese evergreens, peace lilies, and English ivy are among the houseplants particularly good at purifying and adding humidity to the air. Narcissus and other hardy flowering bulbs give holiday blooms, and then can be planted outdoors the following season for years of spring flowers.
  • Try a gift for active enjoyment of our environment in winter: snowshoes, skis or ski wax, mittens and ear muffs, skates, waterproof hiking boots, or a good old-fashioned toboggan.
  • Bicycle helmets and racks, a water bottle or thermos, guidebooks to trails, birds, or wildflowers, a multi-purpose knife or compass, and a sturdy backpack are all practical gifts for the outdoors type.
  • A compost bin is a great gift, making it possible to recycle up to onethird of household garbage. Young children can decorate plastic tubs, too, for use as containers to collect compostable kitchen wastes.
  • Other 'green' gifts include water-saving attachments for plumbing fixtures, automatic timers for lights and car block heaters, cloth shopping totes, or a ceramic mug.
  • There are many environmental and conservation groups dedicated to protecting and conserving the spaces and species that that make up our environment. Consider making a contribution to one of these groups, in a friend's or family member's name. Your contribution might help preserve an important wild life sanctuary, provide environmental education for school children, or protect a rare plant species.