The weeks before Christmas pose challenges to most of us, no matter what beliefs we hold.
Even the most balanced of us can lose our way during this time of frantic busyness, hectic schedules and our culture beaming messages at us that we must spend more.
I would prefer that people give money to those who lack the basics of life rather than to buy more stuff for me. I’m fortunate enough to be able to buy all the material things I need. It’s likely other people on your gift list feel the same way.
How can we as ELCA members best use our gift-giving dollars?
Our first impulse might be to give our money to various large charitable organizations in honor of our loved ones. But I am haunted by all the charities that are underfunded. I am haunted by the gaping needs in the world. And, of course, we know that there’s plenty of need here in our own country.
Some people who give money to charities in lieu of gifts enjoy matching the charity to the personality of the gift recipient. Some families choose one charity and give all their gift budgets to the one charity.
So many charities
The hard part can be choosing the charity.
Philosophers like Peter Singer would encourage us to send our charitable dollars to charities who serve the developing world, where our dollars go farther. Organizations like ELCA World Hunger have long histories of delivering our donations efficiently to areas of the globe with great need.
There are a number of other ELCA ministries to choose from, including:
- ELCA Missionary Sponsorship offers the opportunity to communicate with, pray for and financially support an ELCA missionary.
- ELCA Fund for Leaders is a way for you to support qualified students preparing for ordained or rostered lay ministry through one of the eight ELCA seminaries.
- ELCA Disaster Response uses your gifts to allow for a quick and nimble response immediately after a disaster, even before donations begin to arrive.
All of these ministries and more can be supported through ELCA Good Gifts, a creative way to “buy” gifts — from goats to water wells — that help change lives.
Other ways to give
But what about the people on our list who aren’t as charitably minded?
Maybe instead of a gift, we could give an experience. Why not give our loved ones a retreat at an ELCA camp? Many camps have shorter week-end retreats that are affordably priced.
We can give theater or ballet tickets — or movie tickets if the budget is tighter.
The gift of time together can also be a good idea. Gift recipients can be taken out for a dinner, to a museum or a movie — in February, when life calms down and we need a treat to make it through the rest of winter.
Magazine subscriptions are a gift that gives throughout the year. A book of devotions could do the same thing, while nourishing your gift recipients on a daily basis.
This year, we might want to give gifts that help support local businesses so that they survive. We can give any number of gift cards to local businesses, such as car mechanics, gym memberships, hair stylists, boutiques, bookstores, restaurants or movie theaters.
We can also support local artists. Even if a major work of art is too expensive, there are likely more budget-friendly items, such as a set of note cards or a beautiful pottery mug.
Buying books from local authors helps support their work.
One year, my family had a lot of fun giving handmade gifts. But most of us don’t have time between now and Christmas to prepare such gifts. Luckily, other crafts people have been making them. Check out church craft fairs, where there are beautiful objects to suit all sorts of budgets — and the sales support congregational ministries.
And when we can, buying fair-trade products helps support people in developing nations.
However we choose to approach our gift giving, remember to create a budget before shopping. It’s easy to get caught up in the good feelings that spending money on others can produce.
It’s simple to whip out our credit cards and worry about how we’ll pay for it later. Unfortunately, when we do that, many of us will still be paying for those Christmas presents next summer. And that will mean we don’t have that money available for other worthy causes throughout the rest of the year.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott is a lifelong Lutheran, a college teacher and department head. She has taught a variety of English and creative writing classes for the last 20 years.