5 shopping challenges to consider this holiday season

Some Canadians plan to celebrate the season a little differently, such as buying only Canadian-made gifts, purchasing presents that benefit charitable causes, or by not shopping at all.

Canadians celebrate their festivities in eco-friendly, charitable ways

Canadians are expecting to spend nearly $1,200 this holiday season, according to a recent survey conducted by the Royal Bank of Canada. (iStockphoto)

It's a long-standing tradition to spread holiday joy with presents for your friends and family – which these days ranges from the latest electronic gadget to a gift certificate at a high-end boutique.

But some Canadians plan to celebrate the season a little differently.

In an effort to stretch their dollars or reduce the amount of waste, they're challenging themselves — by keeping their Christmas purchases to Canadian-made goods, for example, or cutting back their holiday spending budget. Or not buying anything at all.

Here is a selection of some of the challenges Canadians are taking on this holiday season.

1) Christmas with a purpose

For Sarah Hau, the holiday season is about more than giving gifts and spending time with family. It's also about her Christian faith and giving back.

So this year, the Vancouver-based mother of two aims to have every gift she buys not only benefit the recipient, but also generate proceeds towards a good cause.

"My goal was to try to give my loved ones gifts, while at the same time doubling the impact of them," Hau said. "Looking for things that also impacted someone who wasn't receiving gifts, or needed some financial assistance."

This means buying jewelry and clothing from, a website that donates a percentage of its proceeds to families who are adopting – a cause close to her heart – while still buying something her friends will use and appreciate, she says.

As part of her goal to have all her Christmas gifts this year have a charitable component, Sarah Hau also let her recipients know on the gift tag which cause their present supported. (Sarah Hau)

If the item she's hoping to buy cannot be purchased, Hau, 30, says she plans to support small artisans instead of lining the pockets of the big consumer retail companies.

"Before you just go out there and spend a bunch of money, ask yourself what your spending habits say about what you believe," she said. "Or what an impact you're trying to make in the world."

She hopes to set a good example for her two-year-old twin son and daughter, Soren and Marlow, and her third baby, due on Dec. 26.

"I'm hoping by the time they're old enough to pick up on what we're doing, that it's a part of what they do, it's a part of what Christmas is for them," Hau said.

2) Made in Canada Christmas

Bruce Harvey, a retired locomotive engineer from Duncan, B.C., plans to buy only goods and services from Canada this holiday season. He says he is trying to do his Christmas shopping in a way that helps fellow Canadians.

"I see Canadian families all around me who are raising children who want to have jobs, and raise their own families, and contribute to the economy," Harvey says.

"And we can only ensure that there are good wages and good salaries for Canadians if we support our own businesses, and our own products."

This means buying toys and other consumer products that are made or partially made in Canada, or gift certificates for a nearby salon or a local restaurant, the 66-year-old said.

While it is difficult to know how much of a particular product is sourced from home soil, the government sets standards for labeling and advertising. For goods that are labeled "Product of Canada," 98 per cent of the total direct costs of making the good are incurred in Canada, according to the Competition Bureau of Canada. If something is "Made in Canada", at least 51 per cent of the total direct goods are from Canada, it says.

It has been fairly easy to find a gift made by a local artisan or at a neighbourhood eatery, said Harvey, but shopping for his grandson has been challenging.

Kids see the toy they want on TV, but are unaware of or don't understand the socioeconomic impact of buying imported goods, Harvey said.

Luckily, this year, he found a small business in Duncan, B.C. that makes wooden train sets – a nod to his former profession.

"Therein lies the compromise," Harvey said. "It's not Thomas the Tank Engine, but it’s a nice wooden train set."

3) $250 Christmas

With gifts, food, drinks and decorations, the holidays can put a hefty dent in your wallet. According to a recent survey conducted by the Royal Bank of Canada, the average Canadian plans to spend about $1,182 on holiday gifts, food and celebrations this holiday season.

Carolyn Ekins, however, is taking a stand. She plans to spread the Christmas cheer for less than $250.

One of the homemade Christmas tree decorations Carolyn Ekins crafted herself, one of the ways she keeps her holiday budget under $250. (Carolyn Ekins)

For Ekins, a single mother of three who lives near Newburne, in rural Nova Scotia, it’s essential to stretch her income as much as possible.

"It can be a real struggle, there is a lot of pressure at Christmas to spend beyond your means," she says in an email interview. "We have decided to have a home-made Christmas, so gifts will be simple and delicious and inexpensive, time and effort will have gone into them."

Decorations and gifts are usually homemade or bartered, she says.

"There is nothing better, than after Christmas, knowing that I'll not have to worry about paying lots of bills for lots of expensive presents," she said.

Ekins has actually been trying to live on 1940s-era rations for nearly two years in a bid to reduce both her spending and consumption. That means that holiday comfort foods such as Christmas cake and mince pies will be made without egg or cream, as those items were strictly rationed during wartime.

But Ekins says having a frugal Christmas isn't just about saving money.

"There are so many environmental and economic and social issues," she said. "Do these stem from capitalism or greed or just because we have evolved into a species that needs immediate gratification, has a need for stuff?"

She hopes it sets a good example for her children, who now range in age between 15 and 23.

"They never complain and they really do appreciate the modest gifts they receive. I hope I'm teaching them some values, some appreciation and at the end of the day we are simply 'making the best of what we've got.'"

4) Buy Nothing Christmas

Aiden Enns is buying "absolutely nothing" for Christmas.

"It's to draw attention to how absurd the shopping levels are at Christmas time," said the Winnipeg-based editor of Geez Magazine. "If I say I'm buying nothing, it flies in the face of the impetus at this time."

Enns has celebrated a "Buy Nothing Christmas" since 2001, giving homemade gifts such as wooden toys, figurines and even homemade salsa to friends and loved ones. A former editor at Adbusters magazine – and one of the people who started Buy Nothing Day as an international protest against consumerism – Enns buys supplies and foodstuffs needed to make his presents, but will not be heading to the malls.

"I don't go shopping for Christmas gifts. That’s a bad habit," he said. "That's fallen into the narrow script of consumer capitalism, which is killing us. But what we can do is use our creativity, our ingenuity, and our gratitude for what Mother Earth has given us."

5) Green Christmas

The annual pile of paper, and plastic, strewn around the living room after friends and family tear into their gifts on Christmas morning began to weigh on Lisa Corriveau's conscience over the years.

So recently, the Vancouver mother began taking steps to make her holiday experience greener. This includes making and reusing her Christmas decorations, such as tinsel, switching from cards to e-mailed holiday greetings, using energy-efficient tree lights, and sewing her own reusable fabric gift bags.

Lisa Corriveau, and her son Linnaeus Corriveau-Kuehn, open up gifts using the fabric gift bags she made to limit the paper packaging waste during the festivities. (Oliver Kuehn)

"Looking at the pile of wrapping paper and tissue … seeing that over the years, and most of it can't be recycled. So, I'd like to have a much smaller pile of waste and packaging each year if we can."

Corriveau's family has also tried to minimize their carbon footprint by reducing the amount of travel when celebrating the holidays and buying locally made gifts as well.

She also plans to make an advent calendar board for her son out of felt, to avoid the plastic, cardboard and foil waste produced by the disposable ones available in stores.

However, some habits die hard. Some of Corriveau's nephews and nieces still like the ritual of ripping into wrapping paper when opening a gift, she says. As a compromise, she is using newsprint decorated by her children in red and green paint.

"If being environmentally friendly is important, why overlook that in the holidays?" Corriveau said. "I think we need to keep thinking about it all the time and keep working to use less stuff, and consume less. Because there's usually more that we can do today to reduce our footprint."