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Green your Gift List

EVERYBODY LOVES PREZZIES. There. It's out. And I'd be the last person in the world to try and convince you otherwise. But (cue the cheesy music) perhaps we've lost sight of the real point of gift giving. It was never supposed to be about price and status. A good gift is something that proves that you've HEARD the recepient. That you care. And even if it's a luxury item, it should be something that the person will cherish and use. NOT something that's going to end up on a dusty shelf by February.

I'll admit I think the best gifts are homemade. To me, the time and love and effort in a handmade item mean so much more than even a well-thought-out store item. Of course, I care about craftsmanship. You can't just slap a few layers of paint on a piece of paper and call it homemade art. Again, it's about the thoughtfulness an effort that goes into things that makes all the difference. A messy painting may not mean much if it comes from your adult sister--but it probably would mean the world if it depicts your three-year-old's favourite bedtime story. You see what I mean?

Before we get into the actual gift guide, I want to explain how I thought up this piece. I was doing something thinking around eco-friendly gifts. I grew up in India and although I was raised Hindu, we always celebrated Christmas with a tree and gifts. Thing is, all these years later, the memories I cherish the most were not of the gifts themselves. I honestly can't remember a single one--although I was quite thrilled with them at the time. What I remember is the setting up of the tree. The fun we had making sweets at home. The stories my Dad would tell us on Christmas eve. And of course, the scrawny Indian dude in a Santa suit with a pillow tummy who would make the rounds of the neighbourhood delivering prezzies our parents had bought.

So how can you create the sort of memories that will warm your child's heart when she's all grown and living in a foreign land? I have a few ideas...

This is a photo from an article in the Boston Globe about the return of simplicity and charity in gift giving. That's sort of the spirit that I think many Montrealers are trying to rekindle.

But how to do convince your 11 year old that it's cool to get a second hand gift when all his friends are getting scads of overpackaged plastic made-in-China doo-dads? It's tough, but it's important to have conversations about the economy and our collective impact on the environment. Of course, ultimately you know that no matter how well thought out your arguments, they're not going to be as convincing as that of another kid. A kid like Soliel Pariseau. She's the one with whom I shot my TV piece.
So here's a list of Soleil's ideas:

1. Used toys: Given how many toys the average child receives these days, it's not surprising that many rejected, forgotten jouets aren't in fact, used at all. There's a great little store on the corner of St Hubert and Bellechasse that opened this week. It's called Les Lutins Verts and they sell used dollies and train sets and such. They also repair beloved toys and will allow toy exchanges. Here's the address: 6214, rue Saint-Hubert. Phone: (514) 303-8718

2. Homemade preserves and honey:
Homemade goodies, whether cakes or preserves or your famous curry risotto, are always useful. In a world full of chemical crap pretending to be food, it's lovely to have something wholesome and homemade in a larder or fridge. Obviously, it's a good idea to match the item with the person (no triple layer cakes for someone who's trying to lose weight.. that sort of thing) Plus, check for allergies.
As for honey, Soleil has the genius idea of buying wild, organic honey at the local farmer's market. She then puts it in pretty jars, ties ribbons on and voila! A sweet and useful prezzie.

3. Second hand clothes:
I have to admit I was a little taken aback at the thought of buying someone a used present. Then again, after seeing that darling hand-knit baby sweater, I have to ask myself--"why not?" If it's in good condition (and I can't tell you how many times I've found clothes with their tags still on at the Salvation Army), just give it a good wash and wrap it in a scarf (also used). That way you'll have a gift within a gift and no wrapping paper to throw away.

4. Hi-Tech goodies: If your loved one is hankering for an ipod or some other such sexy gadget, consider buying refurbished instead of brand new. It even makes economic sense--they're cheaper and often come with the same warranty as a brand new piece. I bought my ipod nano almost 2 years ago off ebay. I paid 60% of the going price and I've never had a problem with it. Always check the vendor's feedback. And if you don't trust ebay, try the Apple online.

5. Video games: For all you gamers (or gamer lovers), here's a way to get your fix without trashing the planet. Plus you get to save some cash. Soleil's family has come up with a novel way of feeding Zachary's frenzy: they buy him coupons that he uses to rent games at the local video store. This also allows him to try out games with no pressure. If he ends up loving a game, they buy it used at E B Games. They have stores all over the city and will usually sell used games for between $5 and $10 off the brand new price. Plus you can bring your game back when you're done for in-store credit towards a fresh one. Game on!

6. Rubbing the right way: Okay, Soleil is DEFINITELY onto something with this one. She's bought her mum a voucher for a massage and a facial. Services tend to have a lower impact on the environment than actual physical objects. And one of the most memorable presents I've received was an hour floating in one of the salt water eggs at L'Ovarium. Not for everyone, but I loved it! Massages or a visit to a naturopath (I love mine--Ginette Pelletier at Ki) would probably be quite welcome at this stressful time of year.

7. Homemade coupon: THESE are my favourites! If you lack the money to hire a massotherapist or cleaning service, simply vounteer your time (and a small handmade coupon). Get creative with crayons, felt pens, stamps or your printer and shower your loved ones with coupons for quality time. Among the most popular are: housework, babysitting, meals, dog-walking, love slave (what? what? It's true!). You can even create a booklet with a variety of services included. In my house we even have a "Get out of Jail Free" card that we ping back and forth every time one of us messes up.

8. Help someone who isn't having fun this season: This is my favourite gift for the person who has everything. Sponsor a child through Unicef or any number of like organizations. Make a charitable donation to your local library or animal rescue network on behalf of a loved one. Sponsor a rescued farm animal (I helped a turkey named Apollo!)

9. For girls: For girls who are about to hit menarche or women in their childbearing years, consider a Divacup. It's not very expensive and it will save the ladies a TON of money in the long run. Not to mention the incredible benefit to the planet. If you think the Divacup is inappropriate, you can find loads more earth- and user-friendly girlie products at La Loba. The address is 6293 St-Hubert. Phone number: (514) 509-2818

I'll be posting more ideas here as they come to me. Don't forget to come back next week for green gift wrapping ideas. And obviously, I want to hear what you're doing to green your Xmas list! Leave me a comment or call our talkback line: (514) 597-5626

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Comments (2)

Ali P in the QC


Home made candies and chocolates were a big hit for me. For a few years each family on my list received a large-ish tin filled with home made but very special cookies and bon bons. I kept track and repeated the most popular selections and switched out the less favoured for something new and exciting.
Its not too late for jams, jellies, and preserves either. Not everything needs to be made with summer season produce like berries and peaches, which are here and gone so quickly! I did a faux apricot jam one year with carrots and almond flavoring (From Company's Coming "Preserves" cook book). It sounds weird but was very good! Soup or cookie mixes in a jar and prettily decorated are also great and inexpensive gifts on their own or accompanied by a nice cookware gift.
Reusable travel mug and coffee shop gift certificate combinations are always appreciated by the hot drinks person on your list and the mug keeps paper cups and plastic lids out of the landfill.
Oh gosh..I've writ a book here...LOL!

Posted December 9, 2008 01:38 PM

r boyer


What do you think of the original Christmas tree made entirely of recycled bicycle parts that stands outside the restaurant strip on trendy Bernard Street in Outremont ? Passersby are all commenting on this original work of art/Christmas decoration. Most seem to think it is ingenious. I think it's a real winner. The artist, Devon Griffiths, is a waitress from one of the restaurants. Her boss asked her to create something different to highlight the season and she came up with this! Be sure to take a look and let us know your opinion.

Posted December 15, 2008 09:05 PM

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