Have Yourself an Ethical Little Christmas

I deeply admire some families who choose to not give gifts at all when Christmas rolls around.  I think it is an incredibly real and sacrificial way to preserve what Christmas is truly about.  As for our family – we do exchange gifts, but we do it carefully.  And as always, we’re a work in progress.  This year I made a firm commitment to myself and God – I was going to have a store-less Christmas.  I wanted so much to give gifts that were not only meaningful and unique – but ethical.  And yes, I’m one of those crazy anti-big-corporation people.  I am.  I admit it.  I fight hard-headed to stay away from places like Wal-mart.  (By the way, did you know Wal-mart is the #3 worst corporation in the world, especially for global ethics and justice?  They use child labour.  Yes, they do.)  But it’s not just about boycotting big companies or making a point.

I care deeply about people so I think hard on what I purchase and what that purchase means.  I’ve been rocked to the core and so deeply convicted about this lately.  It pains me to shop.  I literally hate stores right now. 

When we are asked to love our neighbour, we need to be fully aware and open to WHO our neighbour IS.  Our neighbour is the farmer in Columbia who has a family that is starving because he is being exploited by a large coffee company.  He works his hands raw but he still has no food… yet we sip steaming cups around our lavishly decorated holiday dining tables and thank Jesus for our meal…

Our neighbour is that beautiful girl-child who is forced to work 13 hours a day in a sweat shop in China, sewing the clothing we buy cheap for our children.  The dress our daughter the same age wears to our Church Christmas pageant.  Yes, the hem was measured and sewn after a hard smack on the face and the shout, “No talking back!” rang out at 1am.  And the girl is only 10.  She has no one and she is payed 1/4 the required minimum wage, if she is paid at all.

Our neighbour is the young boy of 12 who painfully stiches soccer balls through bloody fingers in a dark and dingy factory.   We gush as our boy opens the gift of a new ball for the spring season, but that gift comes with a high price for a friend far from here.

Our neighbour is the single mother who sleeps on a hard cement floor of a workshop, unable to leave due to her abusive boss and excessive working hours and conditions.  She sews clothing for major labels, the kind the rich buy.  But she’s living below the poverty line, unable to cloth or feed her own child.

This is reality. And so, this is Christmas.  The West lines the stores – fools with big pocket books and we turn a blind eye to our neighbours.  The tears burn my cheeks at the very thought of it.  The dillussion.  The illness.  The sin.  The complete and utter disgust that ripples through my body to think of the power my purchases have.  The way I’ve contributed to child labour, unfair treatment of my friends and my neighbours.  The weight is heavy, but nothing compaired to theirs.

With every dollar we spend this
Christmas (and always) we have the
ability to either exploit or empower
our neighbours. 
I don’t think there is anything wrong with blessing our friends and family members with Christmas gifts.  It’s a joyful, wonderful time of year for so many families, including ours.  But please, friends, may we choose wisdom this season and always.  Our purchases have very real implications in this world and I believe we will be held accountable for where we spent our money and what kind of companies we supported here on earth.  Ignorance is not an option.  We are called to live lives on purpose.  That means what we buy matters.
 Choose to empower and bring hope to your neighbours this Christmas.  Here are some of the things I’ve implemented to help us purchase ethically this Christmas…
1.  Research the stores you shop at and the brands you are considering purchasing.  Look for ethically sound companies by researching online and consulting books like the Better World Shopping Guide.  Be aware of their ratings and what kind of labour they use in the fabricatio of their products.  Also, what agendas do they support and what to they believe in as a corporation?  As we’ve done, you could consider not shopping at stores at all.
2.  Purchase through organizations who are empowering people through fair trade and better than fair trade alliances.  This year, every single gift I bought (minus a few educational books, etc. for our children) came from either a local artisan who was supporting a ministry or from a ministry who was helping to support friends and neighbours overseas and in developing countries. A beautiful treasure box from India, a pair of leg warmers from a family in Nepal who knit and make better than fair trade wages through a small organization, necklaces and Christmas cards from a Ugandan organization so close to my heart, hand-made pottery from a beautiful lady rich in generosity and God’s love, handmade items from a an inspiring and talented immigrant woman, unique serving spoons from a Kenyan ministry, and the list goes on.   Some examples of places/groups I love – Tutalea, African Soles, Ten Thousand Villages.  I’m sure many of you have tons you could tell me about, and I’d love for you to mention ideas in the comments or email me!
3.  Don’t be afraid to stop buying certain brands and stop shopping certain stores.  Yes, it may inconvenience you.  But, truly, what are the important things in life?  For me – knowing that my purchases are loving, trumps any ‘inconvenience’ in my own little life.
And that’s really what it’s about – being loving with our purchases.  Loving our neighbour means knowing how what we’ve piled beside the cash register affects our friends half-way around the world.  
Source – Ten Thousand Villages, Ugandan women, preparing to weave artisan baskets.
Let us choose to make an eternal impact this year by choosing gifts that reach a loving hand to those in need rather than taking from and expoiting those who God has entrusted to us to love as sisters and brothers.
In Grace –


  • Cassandra

    Hi Kelly – I’ve now received two links to the same site from you on my comments. Thanks for sending me this information. I understand that many Christians believe the roots of “Christmas” are evil. The truth is, the roots of almost everything we do are evil. Thank goodness for a God who is full of Grace. You are taking all this information from a website and we ought be careful what we believe when we read from blogs. (I know! I write one! And I'm only one person…).

    Sure, there might might be some connections to ancient Rome, the gods, etc… as most things DO hold roots there. My thoughts – let us glorify God in this. I don’t think it is unpleasing to God that Christians want to celebrate when Jesus came to the earth. No… it didn’t happen on Dec. 25th, but we are selecting a day. The thought of completely tossing Christmas out the window because it might have some pagan tie-ins seems really, really extreme. We are not honoring pagan gods on this day, but Christians are giving the glory to Jesus.

    I understand there might be room for evaluating particular customs and why we do them… and trying to take the materialism out of this time of year. Many (every one I’ve had) pastors talk specifically about the 3 wise men coming later and not really being a ‘correct’ part of the scene…

    We don’t celebrate Halloween because of it’s clear occult connections. There is no glory to God on Halloween. He is nowhere – He is no part of it. The glory is to ghouls and witches and satan. Therfor, we choose to stand apart and not be part of it. Some Christians participate. To each their own. God is a God a grace, amen. As our children grow and are not scared of this holiday, we will find ways to bless people through it… rather than giving satan the upper hand and hiding from it.

    Christmas – it’s to each person’s convictions. Some people are convicted to not celebrate it (very few). Some people choose to embrace it and give God the glory – blessing people and bringing His name to the mainstream. I think as Christians, we need to find a balance between saying ‘no’ to what is unholy for us (we are convicted about) and standing where no one can relate to us – making Christianity very legalistic. There are certain things the bible is clear about – others, are left to our judgment, and yep, we’re going to mess up because we’re sinners. Thank you Jesus, that you forgive us and shower mercy and grace on all of us!

  • Kristin

    Very interesting post!

    I'm a big advocate of handmade, anyway, so most of the gifts I'm giving this year are handmade. Except for my dad's, which was ordered from a small US company.

    I also hate Walmart. We used to shop there regularly, but then my dad read some stuff about the company. His dislike of the store spread to me and my mom. Now we only go in there maybe twice a year. I can't explain it, and it sounds strange, but I get a bad feeling when I'm in that store.

    Could you please give me the links to some websites about which companies and brands to avoid? I really don't even know where to start looking. I did find the Better World Shopper site already. 🙂


  • dschondog

    Dear Cassandra,

    I am visiting here from Ann's because you posted right after me on her site yesterday. I like to visit my neighbors when I can. This is quite a site here! Bravo for you! I used to teach a Freshman Course at Messiah College called "Am I my Neighbor's Keeper?" It was a whole semester on looking at poverty and what God says about it and what we can do about it, etc. I've written some posts about our escapades and greatest lessons learned during those days.

    Anyway, I wanted to say that in an corporation there is good and bad (dah?) and decision-makers throughout organizations that make the best choices in places where all the choices are crappy. I wanted to post a link to my blog about a good thing Wal-Mart does. They are also linking with sustainable agriculturalists to provide a market for organic goods and they are telling their clerks this year they can say "Merry Christmas."

    Bless you for your efforts. The issues are extremely complex. Perhaps if more of us wrestled with them, they would become less so.

  • Katie @ Imperfect People

    Ummmm yea so we should be friends. I feel the same way but feel like such a freak anytime I mention social justice people think I'm crazy. I am all about buying second hand which means we support causes like goodwill or our neighbors yard sale instead of…who knows what. I LOVE your heart!

  • Monica @ In The Whisper

    Hey Cassandra,

    I stumbled across your blog from a Twitter link. This is the first post I've read, but it's so along the same lines I think!

    Here's my problem, we are a big family with a very small income. Most of the things marketed in fair trade circles are truly luxury items for us: purses, jewelry, home decor, etc. I want to avoid buying my boys, say, underwear and jeans that are made in sweatshops. I have yet to find a resource for finding these items. Do you know of anything?

    Glad to "meet" you. We have much in common!

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