Craig and Marc Kielburger, founders of Free the Children and Me to We, seek solutions to significant social problems. In Brain Storm they explore an issue, solicit informed opinions or new ideas from experts, then throw open the discussion to Globe readers.
In theory, Christmas is about time spent with loved ones, not great deals on electronics. Yet, in reality, many of us struggle with the holiday paradox of giving to others without succumbing to the trappings of mass consumption. The emerging phenomenon of socially conscious gifting – making donations in lieu of presents, or buying fair-trade artisan products that provide income for people living in poverty – help to find a balance between the mindless mall shopping spree and the Buy Nothing Christmas movement.
Yet despite efforts to minimize the Christmas clutter, we all still have those relatives or friends who insist on stuffing our stockings with gag trinkets or sweaters we'll never wear. How do we convince Aunt Beatrice that the only gift we really want is to spend time with her – and possibly a plate of her famous butter tarts? And is abstaining from our culture's annual buying binge unfair to those families and communities who rely on retail for their livelihood?
This week's question: How do we reconcile the holiday spirit of giving with the avoidance of material excess?
Tim Kasser, author of The High Price of Materialism
My academic analysis shows that people report the highest holiday well-being when they de-emphasize the materialistic aspects of the season and instead focus on being with their families and practising their religion. People are also happier when they use organic or locally grown foods in their meals and give charitable donations or environmentally friendly gifts as presents. Such findings clearly suggest that having a "merry Christmas" depends on expressing a different set of values than those encouraged by consumerism.
Alan C. Middleton, assistant professor of marketing at York University and executive director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre
It is one of those interesting contradictions of the contemporary world that we worry about excesses of spending and materialism at a time when a lot of the spending is for gifts for others. Theoretically, this is a "good thing" as it represents generosity and thinking of others. It's about balance and motivation. Give more to organizations that need it, and give presents to those who don't expect it – then that crass commercialism around us doesn't appear quite so exploitative.
Louise Fox, owner of The Etiquette Ladies and host of MannersTV.com
We can only control our own behaviour when it comes to decisions about gift giving, and as a thoughtful, considerate person we must always respect the feelings and beliefs of others. Make your thoughts on gift exchange known to family and friends. You may choose to spend time with the person – arrange a get-together, afternoon tea or a night out in lieu of a gift exchange. If your wishes are not respected and you receive a material gift, acknowledge the giver with a thank you, plan a garage sale and donate the profits to the charity of your choice.
Aiden Enns, co-founder of BuyNothingChristmas.org
Love is expressed through thoughtfulness. It's not thoughtful to give generic, unwanted and soon-to-be obsolete objects as a sign of our love. We now think of the environment, workers' conditions, empowerment of local communities, reverence for hand-crafted items when we give a gift. It's hard to disrupt social conventions, but in practising a Buy Nothing Christmas, I'm telling people that the absurd is possible: It is possible to buy nothing and still show generosity in a consumer society.
Have your say in the comment section.