A warm fuzzy feeling
It has become relatively commonplace for poor students to club together to get a friend a really nice present that none of them can practically afford on their own. People often continue to organise presents in this way even when they are no longer poor students, because it just makes sense — especially when the gift-givers don’t know the recipient very well. Most people would rather receive one or two nice gifts (which were quietly suggested by close friends in the know) than seventeen pairs of socks and scented bath salts — and most people would rather contribute to a gift which they know the recipient will like than spend a stressful day hunting for something which is original, yet generically inoffensive, and not a duplicate of something the recipient already has.
Gift vouchers have also changed the way people give presents. You can now get someone a gift which fits their interests without knowing exactly what they have in their collection.
Not everyone is comfortable with these recent gift-giving traditions, however. Some people consider participation in shared gifts to be a social faux-pas — they may be concerned that they will be seen as cheap, or not sufficiently invested in their friends’ lives to be able to pick out the perfect gift for them by themselves. Vouchers are also seen as impersonal; not much better than slipping a hundred bucks into an envelope. It has taken me a long time to convince my parents that I really do consider book vouchers to be the best present ever.
Alternative gift-giving is likely to encounter even more resistance. See, it works like this: you donate money to a charitable organisation, which uses it to buy a useful gift for a person who really needs it. You get some kind of card which says “I gave someone a $thing on your behalf”. The present that you give to your friend is a warm fuzzy feeling.
I think the reason that this is taking a while to catch on is that not everyone considers a warm fuzzy feeling to be a real present. I can think of only two or three people off the top of my head who know about this and have said that they think it’s a neat idea. If you don’t know that someone would appreciate receiving such a gift, you probably won’t give it to them — it seems too much like getting them something that you want.
Therefore, just in time for the gift-giving season, I have made a handy icon which you can display on your blog / personal wiki / other online place of habitation if you would like to indicate your support of this idea. If you don’t like cows, or think my icon-making skills suck, please make some more icons.
I support alternative gift-giving. I have a lot of stuff, and I don’t really need more stuff. If you give something to a person in need on my behalf, you will absolutely be giving me a real present.
Here are some links to alternative gift-giving sites. I don’t have a particular preference. Feel free to donate to a completely different organisation (like TAC, or the SPCA) and make a home-brewed card.
- Heifer South Africa — give livestock to people in rural areas
- Gifts 4 Good — a wide selection of gifts
- Make Christmas Matter — a wide selection of gifts