For gift-givers seeking an alternative to conventional store-bought fare, here are three personalized approaches to consider during the festive season.
1. SUPPORT A CHARITY.
Canada is welcoming its first large-scale arrival of refugees as part of the federal government's commitment to Syrian refugee resettlement. But there are still two million children in refugee camps in the five countries around Syria, and 5.6 million children displaced in Syria, said Sharon Avery, chief development officer at UNICEF Canada.
The UN aid agency has the biggest humanitarian warehouse in the world in Copenhagen. It is also the largest procurer of vaccines, inoculating 40 per cent of the world's children, Avery said.
Individuals are contributing on a small and mass scale to kids in need in Syria and elsewhere through its survival gifts campaign. A peanut paste to treat malnutrition called Plumpy'Nut is a favourite purchase, and birth registration and contribution to a girl's education are also popular options, Avery said, noting more than 12,000 items to date have been sold within Canada.
Instead of bottles of wine or gift baskets, a new donor opted to purchase $6,000 worth of survival gifts as client presents.
"She just said that it feels like the right thing to do this year," said Avery.
Natalie Coulter is offering outreach through her local community centre with family hampers stocked for the less fortunate.
In addition to giving back at a local level, it's also a way to open up discussion with one's own kids about need and poverty, said Coulter, assistant professor in the department of communication studies at York University.
"Kids can think about what they have and they don't have, and what other people have and don't have."
2. PROVIDE A SERVICE.
Ready to offer a voucher for a free car wash? A month of throwing out the trash or shovelling snow? Or perhaps you want to share your skill for knitting.
Giving gifts of time or experience are among the suggestions to "Simplify the Holidays" in a free e-booklet provided by the Center for a New American Dream.
An online registry developed by the organization offers the chance to formalize such requests.
There are about 500 Canadians among the thousands using SoKind, said Edna Rienzi, director of the Beyond Consumerism Program at the Center for a New American Dream.
"A lot of people get married when they're older or they just don't want a house full of clutter or fancy china," she said from Fairfax, Va. "It's completely customizable and you can put any kind of gift you want in there.
"New parents will register for homemade meals, for someone to come and walk their dog, for help baby-proofing their house."
3. DO IT YOURSELF.
With the holidays being so busy, most people find it difficult to fit in time for shopping, let alone make gifts.
But depending on what it is, it can be quite easy.
"It probably takes you less time to make a gift than it does to go to the mall, park, get the gift ... do that whole process," said Nikki Fotheringham, a Toronto-based author and green living blogger.
"And secondly, you don't have to be a talented artist to make gifts — or a carpenter."
Fotheringham offers tips and tutorials for making items from cosmetics to candleholders as editor-in-chief of Greenmoxie, an online lifestyles magazine centred on greener living.
She's fond of antique teacups, which can be repurposed into candles with the addition of wax, a wick and some essential oil for scent. Among the favourite gifts she has received is a personalized mug made by her cousin as a child.
Individuals can follow suit by using ceramic paint to decorate a mug or plate, allowing the dish to dry for at least 24 hours. Those opting for permanent marking should bake the dish in a 180 C (350 F) oven for 30 minutes and allow to cool before using.
Another unique gift is to create Christmas ornaments from used items.
"Maybe you have some buttons lying around at home. Just make a pyramid from biggest to smallest," said Fotheringham.
"Usually I have little bells or stars that I put on the top. And I string a little ribbon through the hole and I have the perfect upcycled Christmas ornament."
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