This post may be coming late given that Christmas is less than a week away, but I'd like to take a moment to make a brief post about gift-giving this year. I've seen a lot of campaigns going around on social media, encouraging people to buy certain products and to shop at certain stores. There are several principles that are important in consumption, and I'd like to articulate them here alongside some practical advice.
First, all of the responsible ways to shop have been effectively co-opted by the retail industry. Public relations departments and firms, though something called "corporate social responsibility", have taken the path of least resistance to make either minimal change or change in name only to create the appearance that the product or service is more ethical than it indeed is. This is all purposefully designed to make us feel much less empty for immersing ourselves into consumer culture overdrive. It's virtually impossible to stay on top of this one, but it pays to be vigilant and do your best. There is no way to eliminate all the exploitation from your purchases, but that doesn't mean you should try.
Perhaps the most common recommendation from consumer watchdogs is "buying local". While this is certainly important, it's necessary to understand what exactly this means. Buying local can mean rather different things to different people, but the premise is generally to support your local economy. This is generally viewed as positive because there is minimal effect on the environment through transportation and players in the local economy are more active in terms of production, something which is increasingly being out-sourced - an entirely unsustainable practice.
As such, people will often shop at their local stores, foregoing Wal-Mart and Target. While this is presumably a good move, it's important to remember that it's not just the store - it's the product. Buying products made in China and Bangladesh at a local store only goes part way, for numerous reasons. The ecological cost of transportation is huge and the benefit to your local economy is going to be much smaller than buying something locally produced.
Another important angle is combating accumulation. It's no secret that the holiday season is full of excess, but why not keep that in check by buying gifts that people can actually use rather than getting them impractical stuff just because you feel compelled to get them something? The vast majority of North Americans have far more material possessions than they need already, so ask yourself if something actually needs what you are considering purchasing.
Most importantly, remember that it's the thought that really counts. Taking time out of your busy life to thank someone and show them that they are worth it is often all someone really needs. Instead of buying a gift for everyone, why not give your time? Spend time doing something you enjoy together or make them something that they could not have made themselves. Also, consider making a donation to charity in their name, or going to volunteer together. These are all more meaningful experiences than using your money to buy something and it will be guaranteed to be better than spending hours in a mall.
This should be a time of the year to relax and get away from the grind, though unfortunately it is rarely the case. I hope that your holidays are safe and enjoyable regardless of how you intend to gift for your loved ones. All the best!