A Christmas Alternative

Christmas Gifts

The cornucopia (or horn of plenty), a symbol from Greek mythology, is widely recognized as representing food and abundance.  Over the years, it has become associated with certain religious holidays in Christianity, Judaism and Islam—Christmas, Hanukkah and Eid al-Fitr respectively.

Most Americans enjoy a cornucopia of blessings every day.  The majority of us have enough to eat and adequate clothing and shelter to meet our basic needs. Some have far more than they need. Unfortunately, not everyone is so blessed.

Have you ever struggled with selecting a holiday gift for a relative or friend who has almost everything he or she needs?  Far too many people end up purchasing unneeded or unwanted gifts that eventually get stuffed in a drawer, tossed in the trash or simply set aside and forgotten. There’s a better way!

Alternative Gifts International (AGI) is a way to give meaningful presents to people who have virtually everything they need.  The AGI movement was begun in 1980 by Harriet Prichard, director of a Presbyterian children’s ministry in Pasadena, Calif. AGI started in a small market where shares of goods and livestock for needy people in Third World countries were sold.

The idea was to give gifts that could make a real difference to an individual, family or village. For instance, a present of a milk cow or a means to purify water can truly change lives for impoverished people living in remote areas of Africa.

Prichard’s idea was so popular that five Pasadena-area churches held markets the next year. By 2004, there were more than 325 Alternative Gifts markets in the United States. The movement has now spread to Britain, the Netherlands, Japan and Korea.  There are opportunities to give both domestically and in foreign countries.

Here is how Alternative Gifts works:  Instead of buying that symbolic gift that might soon be put away or discarded, consider making a donation to AGI on behalf of a friend or loved one. Instructions are located on the “give a gift” tab of AGI’s website at www.alternativegifts.org.

When you make a donation through the website you can write a short message to the individual you want to honor. AGI will send that person a card announcing your alternative gift.

Perhaps you would prefer helping people in your local community; the needs are great and the opportunities plentiful in whatever town you live in.  During this Advent season, when some of us tend to overeat, there are many who haven’t enough food.  You might consider supporting a local food pantry. Many of these are experiencing significant shortages.  Many local churches host food pantries that could use your support as well.  The Salvation Army also offers gifts of food, clothing, shelter and various other services to the needy in most areas.  Donations of time and treasure are all welcome.

Even if you’re short on money, you can still give a gift of time. Consider spending Christmas day volunteering at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter.  I promise you will find it rewarding—a gift to yourself more than a gift to others.

For those who are able, I encourage you to share your blessings with others and consider giving alternative gifts this Christmas. Make a donation to AGI or one of the many worthy charities in your area. Better yet, consider alternative gifts throughout the year and make a real difference in someone’s life the next time you give.

Whatever you do, never forget the real meaning of Christmas as expressed in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (ASV)

May God bless us all in the coming year!

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