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Published on December 7th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans

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Green Holiday Gift Exchange

Holiday gifting may be a much-anticipated delight for children, but for adults, it can end up being little more than yet another social expectation to fulfill, both on the giving and receiving end.  We all know how much time and money is wasted on purchasing holiday gifts that give little pleasure, objects that in aggregate create a huge carbon footprint.

What if your family and friends agreed to change the rules in order to bring more sanity, more joy, and less waste into your holiday celebration?  Let’s explore some tried and true ideas for arranging holiday gift exchanges and easing the tensions surrounding holiday giving . . .

How to Arrange a Gift Exchange

  • Invite friends and family members over for a holiday treat baking, soap making, or wreath-lacing extravaganza.  Turn on some festive tunes, put out a tray of snacks, and invite each person to get creative with the project at hand.  At the end, everyone takes home a reusable shopping bag filled with goodies.
  • Host a holiday gift exchange with neighbors, family, and friends using the gifting tips below.  Ask everyone to bring a dish for an evening of fun and feasting.
  • If you’d like to host a holiday party and you don’t want to leave your kids out of the fun, have two rooms active—one for adult socializing and gift exchange, and the other devoted to a “holiday workshop” where kids can decorate cookies, assemble gingerbread houses, or design natural ornaments and holiday cards with non-toxic paints.

Fun Gift Exchange Ideas

Its fun to set some limits in advance to see how each person runs with it.  Here are some fun ideas:

Tiny Gifts. Each gift can only cost, say, a dollar.  These can be surprisingly creative and funny.  If this feels too limiting, try three or five related gifts, but they each have to cost a dollar.

Lottery. With this method, each person only buys one gift and receives one gift.  An easy way to manage this: get all the adults in the family or friend group to pick a name out of a hat (if it‘s their spouse they have to put it back in).

Made By The Giver. You may take home some funny-looking hot pads, but they will carry the essence of the person who made them, something unobtainable with money.

White Elephant. The rules for white elephant exchanges are simple: everyone brings one elaborately wrapped object from home that they do not want or use.  After the first person has chosen and unwrapped one, the next person can choose either the first person’s present or a wrapped present.  Each person, in turn, gets to choose from those presents already chosen and unwrapped, or from the pile.  Any specific present can change hands three times, after which it is out of play.  Go around the circle until everyone either has what they want or can’t get it because it has changed hands three times.  There are great advantages to this silly exercise:

  • First, it’s the best kind of recycling: reuse.
  • Second, it’s a lot of fun.  Who would have thought your cousin was actually looking for a tortilla press?  Or that an old purse full of costume jewelry would be pounced on by your aunt the preschool teacher?  Or how much people would laugh at your grandmother having to figure what to do with that bowling ball she got stuck with?

In Honor Of. All presents are to a charitable cause in the name of the giftee(s).  It’s always a good idea to discuss donation gift-giving with your friends in advance of making such a gesture to ensure that they will truly appreciate the sentiment behind the gift.  Here are some organizations to get you started:

Here’s hoping this season’s holiday gift-giving creates harmony, laughter, and many warm memories.





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