Today marks the first day of Advent. In Christian churches, this is a time celebrated between the last Sunday of November and Christmas Eve. The focus of this time is the anticipation of the second coming of Christ and reflection upon his first coming at Christmas. Some church denominations focus on the confession and repentance of sins at this time of year while others reflect joyfully on the initial arrival of our Lord and Savior. However your church celebrates, let me wish you a joyful Advent season.
In the spirit of gratefulness for the Salvation we received from Jesus Christ, I’d like to talk about something this year that was placed on my heart several months ago and has made me very excited. I like to call it a Fair Trade Christmas. The Fair Trade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization exist to ensure that artisans, workers, women, the homeless, and impoverished people both in North America and many underdeveloped nations receive fair pay for their works. The FTF and WFTO help women in nations such as Pakistan rise above their male-dominated and government-controlled circumstances. They teach them skills, find them employment, foster creativity, and then sell their goods for a fair price and give the proceeds and credit back to the individual artist.
Through websites and shops that sell fair trade goods, you’ll find beautiful artwork, organic soaps and bath salts, candles, clothes, accessories, jewelry, and many other beautiful items. When you purchase one of these items as a gift, you’re not only blessing the recipient of such a thoughtful gift, but you’re also blessing the creator. Many FTF websites sell items from artisans in nations such as South Africa and Haiti, which help these people pull themselves out of the poverty lurch that surrounds them with pride and dignity. These are not donations or hand outs. These groups exist to teach these people valuable handicraft skills which then employ them, thus giving them reason to get out of bed in the morning. It provides people with hope, self reliance, and dignity which they may never have known.
This summer I saw a small blurb on a television show about a fair trade shop in Santa Fe, NM which carries goods from women all over the world working hard to rise above the regime in which they are trapped. These beautiful hand-made baskets, scarves, purses, and necklaces give women all over the world hope that they can stand on their own two feet and provide for their families without having to live a life of prostitution or abuse. I fell in love with the entire idea of fair trade upon watching this show, and informed Travis that I wanted to buy as many Christmas gifts as possible this year from Fair Trade Federation companies. He loved the idea, so the other night I went shopping.
You wouldn’t believe how low the prices are for these items! It really isn’t expensive to give back and support these people who are trying so hard to make a life for themselves with the little skills they have. Among the gifts I carefully picked out for friends and loved ones, I ordered:
- organic soaps from an organization in Chicago which teaches formerly homeless women how to make bath products and then employs them and then gives them fair compensation for their goods
- a beautiful ring crafted from an artist in India who will now feed her family for a week
- beautiful hand-crafted Christmas ornaments from Haiti made by a local artisan who recycles old steel oil drums into pieces of artwork. Most purchases from Haitian artists provide an extra donation to help in the earthquake recovery efforts, so these gifts really touched my heart.
What I love about these fair trade sites is that you can read a bio about the artist you’re purchasing from, and receive a brief history of the items you’re buying. You know where your gifts are coming from, the hands that made them, and the items that were used for their production. Sometimes the items used in these gifts are from recycled materials that the crafters have at their disposal so supply costs remain as low as possible. You’ll find recycled bottle lid coin purses, bike chain necklaces, steel drum artwork, and even purses created from recycled food ration bags from Africa! Their creativity and resourcefulness truly amaze and inspire me. Depending on the nation that is being showcased, you can find chocolates from Peru, coffee from Ethiopia, soup mixes from a group of Denver women recovering from addiction, furniture from El Salvador, traditional toys from Kenya, or musical instruments from Vietnam. You’d be amazed at some of the items you’ll find for sale, and they’re all so unique.
I know that the people we’re buying for will love their gifts, because these are beautiful, thoughtful, high quality items. Not only that, but they’ll also be receiving the biographies about the artists their gifts helped. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that not only am I giving a thoughtful gift to a loved one, but I’m also helping someone thousands of miles away rise out of their awful circumstances and take pride in their own skills and abilities.
So, what can you do? Visit these websites. You will be amazed at the vast number of sites that exist to showcase these artists. I found our gifts at The HungerSite, but there are other great FTF websites out there:
Global Girlfriend often sells items through the other sites as well, so you’ll find their products all over. The soaps I purchased came from Global Girlfriend, which is an organization that exists to help women out of dire circumstances involving abuse, prostitution, homelessness, addiction, etc. and teaches them useful skills that can then be turned into a career. I love the idea of helping women in Pakistan leave the Red Light district, or pulling women in Chicago off the streets and into a life full of hope. These organizations are truly inspiring.
I hope that you’ll check these sites out when you’re trying to come up with creative gifts this year. Even if you decide that you aren’t interested in the fair trade gifts, perhaps this will inspire you to think of your own creative way to give back this Christmas season. Christmas truly isn’t about the gifts, but the lives you touch through compassion and love. My hope for this Christmas is that we would all find joy in giving and doing something big with what little we have to bless as many people as possible.