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The Buy-Nothing Holiday Challenge

Mary Liepold

By Mary Liepold
Editor in Chief

It’s November, the month of Thanksgiving, soon to be followed by the official month of giving. When the weather gets cool we anticipate sacred ceremonies and family gatherings and festive meals and gifts. Here in the US, the official gift-buying season begins the day after Thanksgiving.

That same day, November 25, will be celebrated by activists in the US as Buy Nothing Day. In the rest of the world BND is Saturday November 26. Social and environmental activists―and others who are paying attention―know that while many people in the world lack basic necessities, the excess stuff some of us buy creates big problems for them and our planet. This 2009 video, The Story of Stuff, sums it up rather neatly.

Now I’m definitely an activist, but I also like stuff. We’re all material girls, after all, living in a material world. And whether we’re Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, other, or unaffiliated, we all love giving and getting gifts. This month’s feature suggests a range of options for gifting without greed or regret. We hope you’ll find a new idea or a new resource, or be reminded of one you hadn’t thought of for a while. Please share your best ideas with us too, this month and through the year.

Give a Contribution

Instead of more stuff, give the person who has everything a contribution to a nonprofit organization she supports, like Peace X Peace. Most nonprofits are in a double bind this year, caught between soaring demand for their services and dwindling inputs. They’ll send a lovely card to the person you want to honor acknowledging your gift. You’ll even get a tax deduction!

Credit: Susan Simon

Give Stuff That Gives Back

The range and variety of fair traded goods is growing all the time. Much, probably most of these goods are produced by women and marketed by women- or family-owned businesses. Ugandan Mireme Kawomera, or Delicious Peace Coffee, made by a cooperative of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian growers, is one excellent example. I keep my freezer stocked with it so I can grab a bag for a hostess gift.  (If you’d rather present a bottle of wine, you can find fair trade ones here for the US and here for the UK.) Then there’s chocolate. Need I say more? (Maybe just that fair trade, like natural, organic, and other attractive labels, can be misused. Learn as much as you can about the products you buy.)

Make It Yourself

You don’t have to be an artist or a domestic goddess to create homemade gifts. Root cuttings from your prettiest houseplants. Go pluck whatever’s still growing outside and pop the stems into an empty bottle to dry. Arrange them in interesting salvaged containers, in various combinations, and add a ribbon or your own artistic touch to each one. Or count the ways you love that important person in your life and take time to write them down. It could be a letter, or it could take the form of a poem or a prayer of gratitude. Gather up old family photos, make copies, and assemble a one-of-a-kind album. Or put it on Facebook to share with your extended family! The possibilities are endless.

Lavish Time and Attention

Some of my all-time favorite presents have been promises: lunches with my busy daughter, backyard trimming and hauling by my sons, a night at a favorite vegetarian restaurant with my unregenerate meat and potatoes man. Our lives are so full that we all sometimes give presents knowing our presence is what the recipient really craves. Make this the year you get face to face more often.

Repair, Restore, Recycle, and Repurpose

For at least a decade, I’ve been wishing that somebody would scoop up all my broken jewelry and repair the delicate little cords, fastenings, and findings. It may still happen! I’d rather have those old pieces than anything new I could possibly buy or be given. Most of them came from the aftermarket to begin with, so I didn’t grieve when the beads went rolling, but I still miss my broken-in bling (and if that’s a contradiction in terms, I’m happy with it).

Maybe someone you know has a similar wish? Fact is, most old things are far better made than their new equivalents, and even objects that no longer have a practical use can be charmingly repurposed. Open your mind instead of your wallet, blow away the dust, and consider the possibilities. Just don’t forget to share your ideas

If you live in a culture of scarcity instead of a culture of excess, I’d like to hear how that affects the way you think about gifts. And if you feel called to shop as a way to boost the slumping economy, speak up! But if it’s 55 shopping days until Christmas and you’ve already recycled way too many catalogs, you might welcome a few more alternatives.

An Occupy Wall Street protest

Give an Experience!

Tickets for a thoughtfully selected show, concert, spa treatment, or weekend retreat provide pleasant anticipation and show the recipients you know what makes them happy. Chances are you’ll make them extra happy if you buy one for yourself and join the fun―or include an offer to provide loving child or parent care, so the busy caregiver can enjoy a stress-free getaway.

Children and adults can both prepare certificates or coupon books for practical or imaginative gifts of self. Brainstorm together for ideas, and expect a few surprises. My favorite adults have asked for pies, backrubs, Scrabble matches, weed-pulling, and even an hour of reading aloud. (Yes, grown-ups enjoy it too!)

Few things make me happier than sharing a story, a concert, a poem, a play, or a film I love with a person I love. Being given an experience that has moved someone else comes close, though, and when I love it as much as my friend does, we’ve formed a powerful bond.

Since we’re starting well ahead of the seasonal rush, you have plenty of time to order gently used copies and read, watch, or listen to them yourself, if you like, before you give them away. You may want to copy a favorite poem or short story out by hand, or make a recording of yourself reading it. Many items in the common domain can be downloaded for free. Again, it’s the thoughtful selection and your personal touch that make the gift shine.

Sample Our Favorites

"The Other Wise Man" might make a wonderful present...

What follows is an eclectic list of titles I love to share along with suggestions from colleagues and friends. Some are new this year and some have been time-tested, like the trio I’ve enjoyed giving as Christmas gifts over the years: the radio opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, Henry Van Dyke’s The Other Wise Man, and the children’s book A Certain Small Shepherd. All three can be called sentimental, and certainly dated, but they pluck my heartstrings and they might pluck yours. The classic O’Henry short story “The Gift of the Magi” is another heart-tugging Christmas classic.

My fiction picks for the year are Colm McCann’s Let the Great World Spin and Rafi Zabar’s highly un-ordinary The Bear Comes Home. Nonfiction high-water marks are John Paul Lederach’s The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace and Carolyn Moorehead’s Human Cargo, an unforgettable immersion in the refugee experience.

Yasmina Mrabet, our Connection Point manager, recommends the classic Orientalism by Edward Said and anything by Laila Ahmed and Fatima Mernissi. Her favorite songs include “Didi” and “Aicha” by Cheb Khaled.

My musical idols include Pete Seeger, Sweet Honey in the Rock, the late lamented Miriam Makeba, and the Fado diva Mariza. Kim Weichel, our CEO, is an accomplished musician with too many musical favorites to list. Her recommended reads include A Woman Among Warlords, by Malalai Joya; Spiritual Envy, by Michael Krasny; Rock the Casbah, by Robin Wright; and The Social Animal, by David Brooks. Her husband Carl suggests Adil Zulfikarpasic’s The Bosniak, a personal view of Bosnian Muslim history in the 20th century.

... or give the gift of music!

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (a novel about the civil war in Nigeria), is a favorite of our Blog and Social Media Manager Caroline Anderson. My book club liked it too. Caroline also enjoyed Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni. Her music choices include Jens Lekman’s “An Argument with Myself” and Swell Season’s “Strict Joy.” (A new documentary about the duo was just released.) Caroline also enjoys the Swedish jazz singer Sarah Riedel’s album “Memories of a Lost Lane,” and recently saw her in person at the Kennedy Center.

In the Peace X Peace online Community’s book discussion, Zoneziwoh recommends the 2010 Women, Peace, and Security. This serious, important book and the others in its series are expensive to buy, but Googlebooks shares a fair amount of text online. You can also download the poem “We Are Well with Each Other,” developed cooperatively by the Detroit-area Women’s Interfaith Solutions, or WISDOM.

Videos: Look and Learn

There are lots of ways to give movies as gifts, and not all of them involve money – or popcorn. (It’s great stuff, though, and very inexpensive if you avoid the microwave kind!) A world of films is waiting to be enjoyed, and more of them are more widely available than ever before.

Our quick survey mixes it up, with old titles and new ones, indies and Hollywood hits, classic documentaries and―if there’s any such thing―pure entertainment. Documentaries proliferated again this year. From full-length feature films to YouTube-style shorts, they play an ever-expanding role in telling the stories the world needs to know. If you follow PeaceTimes, you’ve already seen the Catalyst videos, close-up conversations with some of the peacebuilders in Patricia Smith’s book Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women. The newest video will be posted this week.

Leymah Gbowee, subject of the documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell"

You’ve also heard lots from us about Pray the Devil Back to Hell (in a short version, part of the ongoing Women, War, & Peace PBS series, featuring Nobel Peace Prize awardee Leymah Gbowee) and Budrus, co-produced by our Palestinian sister Rulah Salameh, who also assisted in the production of Sixty Years. If you still haven’t seen either one, by all means make it a gift to yourself and then, if you choose, to another peacebuilder.

In film as in other genres, the line between fiction and nonfiction is smudgier than ever. Full-length documentaries pop up at neighborhood cinemas, and fictional films take on serious issues, often with memorable results. I, for one, am not complaining; I love being educated while I’m entertained, and vice versa. I’ll see any documentary Michael Moore cares to produce because I care about the issues he cares about, and if he fudges here and there, I forgive him. (I left both Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and Food Inc. wishing Moore had made it, so it would have been more fun to watch.) On the flip side, Blood Diamond is one example among many of a fiction that illuminates a justice issue and makes it stick.

Anyone who’s following the Occupy Wall Street movement in its local and international manifestations, or even just mildly curious about it, will appreciate Inside Job and Canadian activist Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. (The former won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary.) Your giftee may not agree with what they see, but they’ll definitely learn something.

Share the story of the suffragists this holiday season.

If you care about restorative justice, consider Concrete, Steel and Paint. If you’re an anti-nuclear activist, or know one, find a copy of Jang Aur Aman (War and Peace), by Anand Patwardan. Young peacebuilders on your list have probably not seen In Our Hands, an inspiring documentary about a 1982 peace demonstration with music by James Taylor, Holly Near, Pete Seeger, and other stars. Iron Jawed Angels, about the suffragists of 100 years ago, might be news to male peacebuilders and young people of both genders. Its Hollywood gloss sometimes seems anachronistic, but it’s well worth seeing.

Peace X Peace Community members recommend Maria Full of Grace, about the plight of migrants, The Syrian Bride, Lemon Tree, Seraphine, and anything by Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta. The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree, both classics, are set in the Middle East. Two notable 2011 films take place in the same broad region, Incendies and the Cannes Grand Prix winner Of Gods and Men. (We profiled Jon Kiser, who wrote the book the latter is based on, in the June 2011 PeaceTimes.)

Caroline Anderson’s personal picks include Submarine, which she describes as a coming-of-age story from Wales, and Bright Star:  “a little old, but very underrated, one of my favorites―about Keats.” My all-time favorite movie is probably West Side Story, with O Brother. Where Art Thou as a somewhat more recent second. But that’s just today. I’ll think of more tomorrow. And I really want to hear about YOUR favorites. Please comment, and please add your notes to the Community discussion too. Happy viewing, and happy giving!

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