Tired of all the commercialism in Christmas? Appalled by the crass consumerism that often seems to characterize the season? Looking for alternative ways of giving gifts that are uplifting and help others?
You're in luck -- many church-related organizations offer unique ways to show you care, and make a difference in the lives of others at Christmastime. Below find a few ideas; most of the groups have many other gift suggestions for you to buy in the name of others, or for yourself.
Want to help people in Winnipeg who are homeless? For just $3.11 you can buy a hearty Christmas dinner for those who depend on Siloam Mission. Go to www.siloam.ca.
If you're planning to do all your shopping online, but still want to support the Salvation Army, you can still put your donation in a kettle -- a virtual kettle, that is. You can also sponsor your own virtual kettle and invite your friends and family to also donate. Go to fillthekettle.com.
Through Mennonite Central Committee you can provide people in the developing world with clean drinking water. Just $10 will help provide equipment for wells in Mozambique and Tanzania, and $40 will help train people to maintain wells and cisterns in Cambodia and Bolivia. Go to http://mcccanada.ca.
For $2, you can provide a farmer in the developing world with a fruit tree sapling through Presbyterian World Service & Development. For $10 you can provide training for a farmer in soil and water conservation, and $57 helps a woman start a small vegetable garden. Go to presbyterian.ca/pwsd.
You can provide a child in Nicaragua with an education for a year for $100 through Canadian Lutheran World Relief. For $50, you can provide enough seedlings to plant trees in two hectares of deforested land in Zambia. Go to http://clwr.donorshops.com.
If you want to help women in the developing world, $40 will help provide six months of literacy classes for women in India and Rwanda through Canadian Baptist Ministries. For $75, you can buy a bike for a development worker or pastor so they can visit projects in remote places in Africa or Asia. Go to www.cbmin.org.
For $40, you can help provide education for orphans in China through the United Church of Canada. For $10 you can buy 10 chickens for young orphan girls in Mozambique so they can sell the eggs and use them for food. $10 also provides a school or personal kit for one girl. Go to www.giftswithvision.ca.
Worldwide, an estimated 870 million people don't have enough to eat. $11 buys an emergency food ration for one person for a month through Canadian Foodgrains Bank; $55 buys enough food for a family of five for the same time period. Go to www.foodgrainsbank.ca
Here's something different for Christmas; through ADRA Canada, the international development agency of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, you can buy a worm farm and chickens for $20 for a family greenhouse in Mongolia. A worm farm sounds icky, but it's really useful; the worms are fed from family food scraps, producing excellent fertilizer. Best of all, you get to give a gift card that says: "Sorry I only got you this card. You have no idea how hard it is to wrap a chicken and a worm farm." Go to www.adra.ca/
Through the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund of the Anglican Church you can provide job training for women in Burundi for $65 and support HIV/AIDS Orphans in South Africa for $40. Go to pwrdf.org.
World Vision offers an array of gift options for people in the developing world, including two mosquito nets for children for $30, an HIV and AIDS care kit for $60, and a chance to stock a medical clinic for $100. Go to www.worldvision.ca.
If you prefer to do your shopping in person, you can do that Dec. 2 at the fifth annual Just Christmas Fair Trade Global Market at John Black United Church, 898 Henderson Hwy.
The Market, sponsored by five United Churches in northeast Winnipeg, features fair trade crafts, jewelry, honey and other products or gifts that support people in Canada and the developing world. It runs from 2 to 5 PM and includes children's activities.
After all that shopping, maybe you'd like to read a good book and listen to a CD -- and support local authors and artists. One good book is God's Mind in that Music, by Jamie Howison. Howison, a jazz lover and priest at St. benedict's table here in Winnipeg, explores the theological insights expressed in the music of jazz legend John Coltrane. Go to godsmindinthatmusic.com/home.
Then, gift buying finished, and book and hot chocolate in hand, you can put on Keening for the Dawn, a new Christmas CD from Winnipeg singer-songwriter Steve Bell. It's described as a "deep and beautiful recovery of the season of advent, of the darkness and longing that come before, and give their depth, to joy." Available at keening.stevebell.com.
Altogether, it sounds like a great way to celebrate Christmas to me.