Christmas: The Solution

As you might be able to tell from reading my blog entry Thankful for Thanksgiving (or the ensuing comments), I’m disillusioned with Christmas–or, as the PC Police would have me say, “the holiday season.”

I realized more than ever this year that I don’t want more things. I moved out of my condo to temporary storage and then to a temporary residence and then back to my condo. In the process of all those packings and repackings, I realized how much stuff I have that I never use and really don’t need. Despite all that, I still have several boxes in storage–why do we even need storage? Storage means “stuff that we’re afraid to admit that we never use.”

In addition, I don’t want to buy things for people any more. Our economy isn’t failing because people aren’t buying things–it’s failing because Americans got so used to buying tons of stuff we don’t need or can’t afford, like houses or new cars or clones of our old pets.

This doesn’t mean I’m cheap. I love to buy lunches for friends. I love to treat people. I love to share in experiences with people.

This all leaves me in a conundrum when it comes to buying Christmas presents for my family. Especially because I understand that I shouldn’t transplant my beliefs and struggles with consumerism onto them (although, they’re pretty close to being on the same page. Everyone in my family is extremely fiscally responsible).

Last Christmas I went through this struggle, perhaps on a slightly lower level. And I came up with a decent solution: I bought my family a Wii. Sure, it’s a material object (but it’s small!). But my motivations behind the present went much deeper than the actual game console. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I shop almost exclusively online. But that didn’t work for the Wii last year. I had to wake up early–on a Saturday–go to Target, and wait in line in the cold just for a chance at the Wii. Pretty ridiculous, but it meant something to me, and I think it meant something to my family. Plus, the Wii truly is a great social game console. Instead of watching a movie when we’re home, we’re on the Wii, and the living room is filled with laughter and mirth.

That brings me to this year. I guess I could buy a new game for the Wii…didn’t think of that until just now. That aside, here’s the real solution for giving something that matters: I’m going to give my family members gift certificates to Kiva.

Kiva is a microlending site. Go to Kiva and you’ll understand in about 5 seconds. Basically, you lend money to someone in a third-world country who needs some funds for a project. Like, you might give a wannabe farmer in Kenya $50 so he can buy a cow. These are people trying to be responsible for their futures, but they need a little help to get started, and then they’ll pay you back (not guaranteed, but I think something like 95% of Kiva loans are repaid).

Paired with each gift certificate, I’m going to offer some suggestions to each family member about some Kiva loan possibilities that I think fit with their interests and passions. That makes each one personal.

What I consider the genius behind this gift is that some farmer in Africa is helped by it AND my family members ultimately get some cash in their pockets (they’ll get the money when the loans are repaid). Thus it’s different to the gift that no one wants, a donation to some foundation in their name.

I haven’t actually bought these gift certificates, so if a reader has a better idea, let me know. I’m open to your thoughts.