Gift-Giving Quandary?

Given all the suffering in the world, it seems frivolous to spend lots of money on holiday gifts. I would like to donate the money I usually would spend on presents to disaster relief or other good causes, but I’m afraid that would dampen the holiday spirit. Your thoughts?

– December 12, 2006

It would be a generous gesture – and very much in keeping with the true spirit of the holiday season – to donate some or all of the money you normally spend on gifts to disaster relief or other causes close to your heart. If there are small children on your holiday gift list, they may not understand why they’re not getting all the presents they normally receive. But even young kids can empathize with the needs of others, particularly of children less fortunate than themselves. You might buy fewer or less expensive gifts for youngsters than you normally do and explain to them why you feel that it’s also important to give to children who don’t have much to celebrate this year. Or you could enlist them in making contributions to children’s charities. Kids of all ages may get a kick out helping you find gifts for less fortunate youngsters. For example, you can buy school dinners for kids in Africa or help reunite abducted children with their families through Good Gifts, a British charity with an extensive on-line catalog. Heifer International, a similar U.S. outfit with its own on line catalog, offers farm animals for needy families worldwide. You can buy a flock of chicks or a water buffalo, pig, heifer or llama.

If you would rather not be on the receiving-end of holiday gifts, ask your friends and relatives to make charitable contributions instead and explain that you would prefer to make donations in their honor to causes they support instead of buying them gifts. It’s no coincidence that charities solicit donations at this time of the year – as you’re aware, many send out holiday cards or stickers as a "gift" to you for making a donation. Those solicitations are not very subtle reminders that urgent needs remain throughout the world while we celebrate the holidays with lavish parties and extravagant gifts. (For information on my own holiday plans click here.)

I applaud your feelings about gift-giving and salute the generous impulse they spring from. Best wishes for the holidays and the New Year.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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