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Sustainable, Ethical and Meaningful Gift Giving this Holiday Season

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Queen's U chapter.

The end of fall semester is filled with joy, not just from finishing final essays and exams, but also from the fast-approaching holiday season! If you’re anything like me, the holidays tend to sneak up on you out of nowhere because you’ve been so busy with school. Suddenly, it’s December and you haven’t purchased any of your gifts. Buying gifts is hard enough when you’re a student on a tight budget, but adding a time crunch and attempts at more sustainable consumption to the equation can make the holidays even more stressful. I’m writing this as a gentle reminder that the holidays will be here before you know it and to provide guidance about sustainable and ethical gift-giving this holiday season. I also hope to start a discussion on why it’s important that the gifts you give this season reflect important values like sustainability and ethical consumption. 

One of the best ways to avoid buying last-minute gifts from places like Amazon is to plan your gifts early. I like to start by making a list of each person I want to give a present to a few weeks before exam season kicks into high gear. Starting this list early means you can brainstorm gift ideas over a couple of weeks, which not only keeps you organized but also gives you the opportunity to really consider what the people in your life would appreciate the most. Starting holiday planning early eases the stress of thinking of gifts for everyone, and it gives you the time to research how you can make your presents as sustainable and ethically sourced as possible. Jot down a couple of ideas for each person, and throughout November and early December you can be on the lookout for the items at local small businesses, or you can start sourcing supplies (if you’re going to make the gifts yourself)!

A rule of thumb for the holiday season is ‘quality over quantity.’ Over the past few years (as I’ve started reducing the number of gifts I give) I’ve noticed that the gifts I give to my loved ones now are a lot more meaningful and special than before. The time put into brainstorming a super meaningful present goes a long way. In my experience, gift-giving is not just about the physical present, but also the thought, time and effort that goes into it. These things represent how much you care for someone as much as the tangible present itself. One of my tricks to giving meaningful gifts is to listen to what my loved ones talk about throughout the year, especially near the holidays, but not to explicitly ask them for gift ideas. While a Christmas list can help you choose a gift for a loved one who may be hard to shop for, I’ve noticed that the best gifts are the ones that reflect how much you’ve really been listening to and paying attention to your loved ones. 

It can be intimidating to think of shopping sustainably and ethically this holiday season if you haven’t prioritized those things in the past. Sustainable and ethical gift-giving isn’t just about shopping exclusively at eco-friendly stores, it’s about rethinking our relationship with presents and the holidays. While shopping at eco-friendly stores and local businesses is a great way to prioritize sustainability and ethical consumption, you can also achieve these things by being creative with what you already have. This can look like saving the paper shopping bags you get throughout the year to decorate and use as gift bags, gifting books from your bookshelf to your loved ones, making homemade gifts with things you’ve got around the house, and so much more! This holiday season I’m planning on doing all the above to reduce the amount of consumerism I participate in this year. I’ve been knitting gifts for my family members since September with yarn I’ve had forever. 

The holidays are a time to rest, connect with loved ones, and practice gratitude. Our society has commercialized the holiday season to the extreme, and the holidays have become the most profitable time of the year for companies driving climate change. Giving meaningful, sustainable gifts this year is a powerful way to reconnect with the holidays beyond mass consumerism. This type of conscious, deeply thoughtful gift-giving doesn’t only impact the people you’re giving gifts to or encourage a more sustainable approach to consumption around the holidays. I’ve found that the process of thinking of a gift, finding the perfect pieces, putting the gift together, and seeing the reaction of your loved one gives you a sense of joy and pride that is hard to put into words. It’s as much a gift for you as it is for them. So, when you’re done writing your seemingly endless final papers, put on your favourite holiday movie (mine is either Love Actually or White Christmas) and find joy in gift-giving this holiday season.

Abby McLean

Queen's U '23

My name is Abby McLean and I’m a fourth-year student at Queen’s University. I am majoring in Global Development Studies and taking elective courses focusing on history! I’m passionate about social justice, sustainable fashion, travel, and writing! I try to live everyday as my most authentic self and foster creativity and self-expression in everything I do!