Christmas used to be a time of great joy and anticipation, starting with my grandfather's exquisitely decorated Christmas trees in the 1970s and 80s, with an ornament on every branch.
Pop-Pop had an extensive and marvelous collection of German and other holiday decorations on the mantel and throughout the house. My brother and I would be up very early before the adults were awake and peer excitedly through his stairwell at the glittering mountain of gifts.
My mom was a single mother and usually said, "this Christmas I won't be able to afford to give you many gifts this year," but the number of presents still appeared to be a generous amount in our eyes.
We liked giving each other gag gifts like fake dog poop, fake vomit, and the mechanical "Laugh/Clown Bag." This was back when plastic toys sold in the United States were still made in the USA or perhaps in Japan, and were not outsourced to China and other countries.
Christmas took on a different meaning after my brother Rob died unexpectedly in 2002. The innocence and wonder of our usual Christmas traditions were somehow lost. More than one Christmas since Rob died, my mom and I didn't have the motivation to decorate, and once or twice we didn't get together for Christmas at all.
Last year, during Christmas 2015, I got a lot of gifts from mom and remembered thinking that if Rob were alive, he would have gotten at least half of this year's "stash." That made me feel a little guilty. I conveyed this to my mom and also expressed my disgust at the sheer number of things made in China these days, most likely by underpaid or exploited workers. Christmas was just not the same imagining workers on a Chinese assembly line making fake vomit all day.
Reflecting on Rob's generosity and desire to help those in need, I suggested to mom that for Christmas this year, we not buy anything made in China. We agreed that every item could be upcycled, recycled (even as a "re-gift from last year's stocking), handmade, fair trade, or otherwise not made in China. I found fair trade shea butter soaps made by women villagers in Turkey, handmade crafts on Etsy, secondhand treasures from thrift stores, and saved "re-gifts" from previous years' stockings (some passed down from many years). I also baked or created homemade gifts such as decoupaged boxes and other art.
My mom and I found meaning in finding and creating stocking presents that reflect the true value of Christmas and our family. We look forward to getting together for an early Christmas during Thanksgiving week of 2016.
I'm sharing my story in part because I want to inspire others not to buy things made in China, and instead to make or buy more meaningful gifts. I encourage folks to check out New Dream's new More Fun Less Stuff Gift Catalog, which has hundreds of great alternative gift ideas, as well as other Simplify the Holidays resources for celebrating a more meaningful and joyful holiday season.
You can also create a holiday wishlist on New Dream's SoKind Registry to encourage your family and friends to give gifts of time, handmade goods, charitable donations, as well as useful items that you actually need.
Anne G. Liversidge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.