Our Christmas presents and climate justice: Global trash or life-giving treasure?

Nini Mappo
Posted December 18, 2020 from Kenya
Some of the handbags I have received as presents from a friend over the last few years. Ironically, I have only used a nappy bag for the last six years, and these recently live in my bath tub awaiting possible use maybe in two years, maybe never? Hence, I don't need another handbag this Christmas! (1/1)

 

A home-raised chicken to break the year-long vegetarian diet, making chapati if we got enough cooking oil, (chapati is a fried flat bread) candy and biscuits at Sunday school, and a new dress if funds permitted were village rituals that made Christmas special.

Being as it is that Christmas was the only time we got a new garment each (barring for school uniform,) I gleefully looked forward to wearing my new dress and reveling in its stiffness and scent of newness. It would not be washed for days to preserve that celebratory feel that spelled Christmas.

We children were also wise enough to commiserate with friends who hadn’t received any new clothes, knowing that such a misfortune might befall us the following year. Still, there was the special expensive Christmas food guaranteed to dissipate all of a child's forlornness in a moment.

For this reason, Christmas presents were always meaningful, well used, and needed.

Not so my current scenario.

 

When I was grafted into an Australian family that enjoys giving gifts 10 years ago, I was no longer the little girl anticipating her annual Christmas dress. I had everything I needed and could even make my own chapati and dresses if need be. In short, I appreciated gifts only if they served a purpose, but the stream of Christmas gifts in my new home did not seem very purposeful.

Instead of the excited anticipation of growing up years, I began to approach Christmas with dread. The dread of being obligated to buy presents for others, nice stuff they didn’t need but must be given in honor of family tradition. (a job that is now permanently delegated to my husband). The dread of receiving presents I didn’t need, but that still called for thankfulness because they’d come from a place of love. The dread of witnessing such waste in unnecessary reciprocal gifting when the world I know hungered and hurt and the environment bore the brunt of the excesses of the festive season. 

 

For a glimpse into Christmas waste, besides the gifts, the festive season hurts the environment significantly with its wrapping boxes, bubble wrap, wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, name tags, cookie tins, plastic packaging, party crackers, Christmas trees, leftover food and drink, and much more.  To make matters worse, the environment is already reeling from all the medical and hygiene-related waste created by Coronavirus management response this year.

 

Since I received many presents I didn’t need, Christmas on this side of the big blue pond seemed to be about stuff, and stuff stresses me out. My Christmas presents became a burden for which I’d struggle to find value, use, and space in my home. This struggle siphoned out the joy which the gifts were intended to impart in the first place.

 

Although I was granted the freedom to re-gift what I couldn’t use, everyone in my circles is already drowning in stuff, and it would be a double standard to gift another with an item for which you have little value. This Christmas stress intensified as I got children who would receive presents from various friends and family members, and my uneasiness around Christmas gifting intensified.

 

Here's how my family does presents: you receive your present in a circle, everyone watches as you open it and waits for your excitement in acknowledgment of your present. It’s a tidy endearing Christmas tradition that has survived into the siblings' adulthood. It is now being passed on to our children and infuses present giving with nostalgia, camaraderie, and childlike delight.

But here’s the thing about me: I don’t know how to pretend and couldn't summon enough excitement for something devoid of tangible value no matter how much love oozes out of it. Perhaps gifts are only my love language if they serve a felt need.

 

On the advent of Christmas about six years ago, I really needed a solution to my dilemma concerning Christmas presents. I wanted to honor the Christmas culture of my new family without denouncing my own or appearing ungrateful. I thus decided to ask my ‘kris-kringle’ (secret Santa) buyer to donate the value of my gift to a needy family in my village in lieu of my Christmas present. This would buy a Christmas meal, school supplies, and meet some miscellaneous needs of two families. It was simply a gift to give us a good cheer by putting a smile in the recipient’s heart while erasing my discomfort and dread at the same time. It worked, and it set me free to enjoy Christmas!

I also invited my family to consider donating their gifts to a charity of their choice.

I had expected this proposition to be met with resistance because Christmas family traditions are embedded deep in a family’s identity and are hard to shift. But my family welcomed my idea and, for accountability, donated their Christmas gifts to Meaningful Gifts.

Through meaningful gifts, over the years, we have gifted goats, chickens, and seeds for planting to families in South East Asia and parts of Africa to promote nutrition and economic empowerment. Our Christmas presents have kickstarted businesses, contributed to the building of toilet facilities, and the drilling of wells to promote sanitation, health, and wellbeing, among other community benefits.

 

Empowering others with our Christmas presents has expanded our awareness and compassion towards the needs in our world and equipped recipient families with skills to care for the environment through the training on sustainable farming and living that accompanies Meaningful Gifts.

My family members still have the freedom to order a Christmas present if they prefer, and some still do, but it has been a great encouragement to see my white family, wholly unaware of the economic disadvantages of most people in the world, give up something dear to them to give others a better Christmas.

 

For my children, I have received in kind gifts instead of more plastic toys whose short lifetime confirms them as trash long before children’s hopeful fingers frantically tear off the wrappings.

Some gifts we have received include Zoo memberships where children have learned about animals, species by regions, vulnerability indices, and efforts to fight extinction. They are too young to comprehend but still delight in what they can grasp.

Tickets to the Aquarium where marine species and conservation programs would intrigue and entertain curious minds, and Toy library membership for 12-month access to a wide variety of shared toys have been other sustainable gift options. Besides saving the planet from more waste, these gifts immerse us in our communities to engage with our world. They teach the children to belong with others beyond owning stuff, and to contribute to and care for the spaces in which they belong.  

 

I have not done away with presents entirely. I believe there is room for that, especially for children. What I am trying to do is create an avenue for more meaningful gifts that involve less eventual rubbish while still preserving the freedom to purchase or receive what will serve a useful purpose.

Further, instead of dreading Christmas, I look forward to it as a time to create a little change, impact others, and invite my family to do the same.

 

Since charity begins at home, and World Pulse is my home online, this year, I shared a story by a World Pulse sister that resonated with my childhood Christmas needs with some family members. On reading it, they chose to donate their Christmas gifts to the sister’s initiative instead of their usual charity. This means that World Pulse is doing important work that others are ready to support as we create more awareness.

 

Perhaps with time, World Pulse could set up a ‘Christmas gift depository’ in the future where members who wish to donate their Christmas presents to a grassroots initiative can do so. These would be presents to meet an immediate felt need, put a smile on another’s face, and give a good cheer all around. It would be an avenue for those of us who are thus minded to create a resounding impact around Christmas time, instead of, well, acquiring more stuff .

Moreover, it would be a small way to preserve the environment from getting hurt by what we don’t need. You see, to care for mother earth, we must first be content with what she has already given us so that, in humility and gratitude, we refrain from asking anything of her that hints on entitlement or callousness.

As for me, a marginalized girl I’ve met only through a single photograph, who has as many hopes and dreams as I ever nurtured at her age, will be smiling this Christmas in place of another handbag to grace my bathtub. I have found another perfect Christmas present for myself through World Pulse, and my ‘Christmas stuff’ just got injected with a little more life!

 

This story was submitted in response to #OurImpact.

Comments 26

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Prozoe
Dec 18, 2020
Dec 18, 2020

Beloved Nini

It has been a while since I popped in and as always I pop in and run into a story that sounds like an echo of my own voice. I completely relate to this story, and I am deeply inspired by the degree to which you dealt with your gift delima. If more of us would look at what we have, that we don't need through your eyes, there would be so many more solutions to problems aching to be solved.

WHEN I was growing up, things were identical to what you describing from your village, and now that I am a mom, I am making it a point to teach my girls about the importance of gifting with purpose, in fact Christmas time in our home is a time to gift to others. That is our little Ludidi Tradition. Should the girls wish to gift us, it has to be personalized, something they made. Something intentional, because the value to it is undeniable.

Thank you for reminding us of the impact of purpose and the shape the world can take once we open ourselves up to the world's needs and recognize our ability to play part in eliminating them, one necessary and purposeful gift at a time.

You are truly a fire

#BigLove

Nini Mappo
Dec 30, 2020
Dec 30, 2020

Yaaay my sister from another mother in another place, but in tandem in the spirit!
How you do Christmas gifts reminds me of your post about art for change. Because this too is art for inside our change.

Keep transforming and resisting culture. Although it's not really resisting, but digging up, roots and all, and displacing unhelpful traditions with life giving ones.

Much love to you and your family as you head into the new year. May the year be for you as beautiful as the promises of our faithful Father of Light!
Hugs and sparkles!

jomarieb.earth
Dec 21, 2020
Dec 21, 2020

Dearest Nini,
I totally have experience for many years with many layers of Christmas gift drama. It's supposed to be a season to be jolly, but can be very stressful depending on family traditions and what you want to do for your own household. Christmas for children is different than Christmas for adults. Most of my friends are doing gift cards for their kids, because the kids like to shop online these days. Amazon has everything and delivers. So it's a family affair.
Most adults communicate with each other what they want. Mostly because adults get regifting all wrong. You aren't supposed to give the gift to the same person that gave you that same gift. It was getting really bad, and pissing people off. My best friend did it to me. Office colleagues did it. There were rampant "Thanks for what I gave you" moments. A few years ago I stopped giving gifts and I send very nice cards with very thoughtful words handwritten inside. I use my money to donate or to microfinance women's small businesses internationally, which is a pet project of mine. I always give myself a nice gift every year. Something I wouldn't normally buy, but can really use and appreciate. I always give to my mother gifts that will make a difference and improve her life.
When you think about the traditions of Christmas sometimes I think they are really weird, even though I grew up with massive capitalistic Christmases.
Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer was a story created by May Company department store so that mothers could leave their children at the story time room and shop. It became a traditional story and song. Capitalism as its best!
Why do we receive Jesus birthday presents? And throw a great party for ourselves for Jesus birthday? I understand the spirit, but the act is weird. Why is there a tree in the house? Picked according to perfection, decorated and waiting to die. Jesus and Santa share the same importance on the same day. My friends from Lebanon don't celebrate Christmas until January 6th. The dates are different because of the Roman Empire and Constantine's campaign for Christianity. (I won't go into it now.)
Everyone has to do what make sense for their household. I prefer to observe the more religious aspects than the material.
I feel that Christmas needs to be adjusted from capitalism and commerce to spirituality, humility, compassion and love. Those should be the gifts, and should start from baby age, like when Jesus was born.
Big holiday hug...JoMarie

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Dec 21, 2020
Dec 21, 2020

Dear JoMarie, I love those questions. Keep them coming. Write a post about it. That would be wonderful to read. :)

jomarieb.earth
Dec 22, 2020
Dec 22, 2020

I don't want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas. LoL!

Nini Mappo
Dec 31, 2020
Dec 31, 2020

Hello sis JoMarie :)
I love the depth of knowledge and insight you inject into my posts!
As I read the thread of comments it's wonderful to see that I wrote the story of so many of us, as everyone inserts their Christmas experiences and expands the story!

I always wondered how a deer got a red nose! Now I know, thanks to you :)

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Dec 21, 2020
Dec 21, 2020

Hello, dear Nini,

This is such a wonderful narrative of how you spent Christmas in your village and how your Christmas is observed in Australia. Reading your story, I wonder how Christmas is celebrated in other parts of the world, and what are cultural practices they have.

For one, in the Philippines, Christmas songs start playing in public places on September 1 and end on January 6. The "ber" months mark the Christmas season here, and there are various ways our culture celebrates it that it will take a whole post to share some of them.

Thank you for sharing how abundant countries like Australia celebrate Christmas. I can imagine the stress, especially we don't want to disappoint people (as a giver and receiver).

It's a great suggestion to give to our sisters here as a celebration of Christmas. I also agree that all the Christmas decorations and excesses hurt our environment more. Imagine how many Christmas lights the world need to set-up, that's a lot of energy to contribute to global warming.

My family and I have simple Christmas celebrations since we move from place to place. This week we will just cook spaghetti, and open the wine my husband's officemate gave him.

Thank you for stirring a new topic to talk about, dear. You are such a generous sister. One of the things I am grateful this year is I met you. I thank God everytime I think about you. :)

Stay amazing, and yes, "stay sparkly!" Merry Christmas to you and your men.

Nini Mappo
Dec 31, 2020
Dec 31, 2020

Thank you, sis Kaye Kaye :)
You make me smile when I think of you!
I'm happy that you could sneak in a celebration in spite of the disruption of moving and resettling!

May this year be for you and your family as beautiful as the promises of God !
"I bless you with joy and peace and love that won't let go,
I bless you with strength and power and fire in your soul..."

Words of a song, and my prayer for you in the new year.
Love you girl, xx :)

Dawn Arteaga
Dec 22, 2020
Dec 22, 2020

Nini - thank you for sharing your, very relatable, discomfort with excessive STUFF. I also get so overwhelmed with gifts in the same way that you have described here and really struggle with it. My mom and sister definitely have "gifts" as a love language and can get very offended when I don't value the items they give me in the way they expect me to. It creates such a burden to hang on to extra items in my home that I don't need and that just feel like clutter.

I also really love your idea about setting up a fund on World Pulse. Fundraising and sharing funds is something that is so tricky and not something we are currently well set up to distribute, but we could do a better job of curating projects and people who could use the funds for good -- we know this community is impacting SO many people in some of the most hard-to-reach and vulnerable communities around the globe. I shared this idea and your post with the staff team for us to think through as we develop 2021 plans. Maybe we can call it the Nini fund :)

Big hugs to you and sending lots of love for a peaceful Christmas!

Nini Mappo
Dec 31, 2020
Dec 31, 2020

Dear Dawn,
It is affirming to see that this story resonates with so many of us regardless of background.
I hope that Christmas was still enjoyable in spite of the conflict around gifts in you family :)

Thank you so much for taking my suggestion to heart and forwarding it to the team for consideration even with the challenge of funds disbursement. Ha ha Nini fund made me smile:)
I'm sure whatever name it's given its going to impact so many within World Pulse networks.

Thank you again and all the very best for the new year!!
Love and hugs of hope.

Tamarack Verrall
Dec 22, 2020
Dec 22, 2020

Nini dear Sister,
Thank you for writing about the excesses, waste and environmental damage that all too surround Christmas. It takes courage to speak out on it, but you have created a solid path with great examples of what can be changed. To send what you can to sisters who can really use what is sent. I love that you suggest that gifts of money or needed goods be sent directly to World Pulse sisters. What we know is that World Pulse sisters make important change possible, and so much more possible with good funding. The more we can funnel funds from people we know have so much extra, to World Pulse sisters for their work, so often responding to emergencies, the closer we are to the world we imagine and know is possible.
Much love,
Tam

Nini Mappo
Dec 31, 2020
Dec 31, 2020

Dear sis Tam,
Thank you for always acknowledging, adding value, and pointing back to to the urgency of the work we are involved in.
All the very best for the coming year for your family, your work, and the vision we all share for a better world!

valem
Dec 23, 2020
Dec 23, 2020

dear sister Nini hope your good.
I am so happy to read your post it reminded me of how Christmas was celebrated in our village when we were young my mother tried to buy us clothes, a big rooster was slaughtered that day the main food for the day was rice. this food was cooked in different designs
rice pilau , some coconut rice and some cooked with oil and water only the children found spiritual peace in the presence of any kind of food.
Valem

Nini Mappo
Dec 31, 2020
Dec 31, 2020

Dear sis Valem,

It warms my heart to read of our shared Christmas experiences! I hope that you had a meaningful Christmas, and pray that the coming year is for you as beautiful as the promises of God!

Queen Sheba D Cisse
Dec 23, 2020
Dec 23, 2020

Greetings my dear Nini, what a good project you are involved in.
The story describes I believe what millions have come to realize. If we observe the state of the world today and the mentality of mankind we can study where we need much improvement and can do better by benefitting the needy populations on earth.
Holidays without compassion for the suffering of others and what really matters has depleted us and failed us to greed and consumerism. Let us not blame the holidays but focus on the intention of the human heart and spirit of giving and that you have laid out before us here.
You are fortunate to have the opportunity and experiences to know the difference of the word " purpose meaningful" and what I would say downright " a bunch of nonsense".
GOD be with you and your endeavors... sending hugs to you,
sincerely,

Mama Queen.

Nini Mappo
Dec 31, 2020
Dec 31, 2020

Dear Mama Queen,
Thank you so much for valuing this attempt to change culture from as you so aptly say, greed and consumerism to that of contentment, generosity and compassion.
I appreciate the love and blessings, and wish you all of God's blessings and peaceful presence in the coming year.

I send you hugs of hope!

Queen Sheba D Cisse
Dec 31, 2020
Dec 31, 2020

Thank you my dear Nini,
we advocate change for the betterment of humanity, it no doubts takes time, nevertheless it's so worth it!
Happy blessed New Year 2021 to you and family.
Hugs to you onward,
Mama Queen.

J Brenda Lanyero
Dec 26, 2020
Dec 26, 2020

Dear Nini.
Thank you for sharing about Christmas. I think as a child, my Christmas experience was just like yours. It was mostly a new dress with no shoes and would shine so much after smearing cooking oil...no chapati though. It was mother trying to make all these possible and bringing all the neighbours together and they would dance and I would present my "choir" to sing to them but all that ended after she passed away...I no longer celebrate Christmas as it is her birthday too.

I love the part of giving/donating the Christmas gifts which can do more than just a Christmas gift but a lot more thus saving mother earth through wastage.

It is very true how one gift can feed about 5 families on Christmas and even still have some money left to do other things. This is so typical of my village.

Thank you for the initiative and I love the fact that you don't pretend to like something.

Very educative, encouraging and full of love spread outside a family...giving to another grassroot family has had me teary...pure love which brings joy :)

Sisterhood love and hugs.

Nini Mappo
Dec 31, 2020
Dec 31, 2020

Hello J Brenda,
I'm glad to hear our shared experiences around Christmas and across borders!

Thank you for valuing this new perspective to doing Christmas. I pray that God's blessing infuses it with life and abundance.

I hope you had a meaningful Christmas and may the coming year be for you as beautiful as the promises of God!
Love and hugs

Adriana Greenblatt
Dec 27, 2020
Dec 27, 2020

Nini! I love love love this post, thank you for sharing. This! "I have not done away with presents entirely. I believe there is room for that, especially for children. What I am trying to do is create an avenue for more meaningful gifts that involve less eventual rubbish while still preserving the freedom to purchase or receive what will serve a useful purpose. Further, instead of dreading Christmas, I look forward to it as a time to create a little change, impact others, and invite my family to do the same." Your post resonated so deeply on so many levels. The pressure of performing pretend reactions, the discomfort of excess while also wanting to allow others the joy of the giving. It is a beautiful paradox you describe and have such an interesting perspective from your experience cross-continents! Thank you for sharing this. Know that your post has been an inspiration of reflection this year on my end, and I see from so many other women here. I love the idea of setting up a World Pulse fund. Thanks to this reflection you inspired, I have shared a request for funding this year to the Canadian Women's Foundation who funds sexual assault services needed this year during COVID, and thinking of ways to balance out the joy of giving and letting others experience that joy, with giving to them in a way that is is alignment with my values. This is clearly an important conversation you raised, and gratitude for you, your call to share deep truth that needs to be discussed out loud, keep speaking, and sharing from the inside out, you are change in action Nini. Big Big Big holiday hugs from freezing cold Montreal Nini!!
Adriana

Nini Mappo
Dec 31, 2020
Dec 31, 2020

Dear Adriana,
I always love your responses to my posts. I thought today that I should collate them into a story because they have a life of their own and I don't want to forget them or keep looking for them!!

I appreciate your readiness to internalise new ideas and challenge yourself! Well done for actioning that request for funding! I'm so encouraged to see this post already 'bearing fruit'.

Thank you for walking my journeys with me, questioning with me, discovering with me, testing new grounds with me growing with me....
I appreciate you lots, and your humility which facilitates your readiness to learn from others.

Thank you for all the sparkles you share through your comments.
I'm sending sparkles and hugs of hope for the new year!

KABAHENDA KIGGUNDU
Dec 28, 2020
Dec 28, 2020

My dear Nini,
Your compassion, thoughtfulness, sincerity, humility, love and care for the human race and the environment shine through your writings.
Like you, I come from Africa where most families would be very lucky and privileged to have a Christmas "feast" usually made of local food plus rice, meat, non-alcoholic drinks for children, beer and wine for adults, and yes, a new dress and pair of shoes for children!
When I first arrived in Canada many years ago, I was shocked to see the fuss, commercialization and wastefulness that accompanies the Christmas season!
It stresses me out not only because of all the gift-buying and wrapping, but also because my gifts have to be "worthy" in order to conform to my family values!

I know friends whose basements are full of expensive toys that children no longer care about but which could fill a nursery school library in Africa!

I commend you for your initiative (Meaningful gifts) which brings a smile to the face of so many people and which is more impactful than expendable items.

I love the idea of a "Christmas gift depository" as that would bring a smile to an adult and or a child's face and make their Christmas an occasion for receiving love, kindness and happiness.
There are many valuable lessons to be learned from your story and I thank you very much for sharing.

Nini Mappo
Dec 31, 2020
Dec 31, 2020

Thank you, sis Kabahenda.
How are you recently? I hope that a semblance of calm has been restored in your household. Thank you for seeing value in the ideas expressed in my story. Sometimes freedom is just a different perspective away, and a change of perspective can free us of stuff while helping others in greater need.

I hope that you had a memorable Christmas and sending you hugs of hope for the new year!

Millynairi
Dec 29, 2020
Dec 29, 2020

Dear Nini,
This reminds me of the then days when we expected new garments every Christmas. I remember mum used to shop for our garments months earlier when the prices were still fair because around Christmastime the prices were very high and the garments had to be kept safely to be worn during Christmas day. I remember one time the garments were bought in the month of November and thieves came and stole everything just two weeks to Christmas. Everyone was so sad but we learnt our lesson. Yes, and the chapatis during Christmas in almost all homes..lol. Thanks for sharing.

Nini Mappo
Dec 31, 2020
Dec 31, 2020

Haha Milly, it's lovely how our stories are uniform around Christmas. I can imagine the disappointed faces after the clothes were stolen. But you survived and look how well adorned you are right now!

I'm in love with the yellow and you look so lovely :)
Sending you new year's wishes. May 2021 be to you as beautiful as the promises of God!

Millynairi
Jan 04
Jan 04

Amen and thanks Nini.