What do chickens, goats and fish have to do with Christmas? No, they're not replacing reindeer to pull Santa's sleigh. Instead, these animals are part of how one organization is challenging the over-commercialization of Christmas.
Animals, healthcare, education and many more items are all available as gifts through the Christmas Giving guide from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
For Laura Kalmar, the associate director of communications and donor relations at MCC Canada, the guide is one of the ways she and her family show God’s love to their global neighbours. She says that message of love can get overlooked at this time of year.
"It's hard to combat the messages you hear about 'What gifts do you want this year and what's on your Christmas list?' It’s important to change the narrative to 'How can we give back?' because we have so much to be thankful for,” says Kalmar.
One of the things she is thankful for at Christmas is family. "My daughter's birth was the best Christmas present I ever had. I remember bringing her home in her little car seat and sitting around the Christmas tree with the lights. Reflecting on the message of new life and hope," says Kalmar.
Kalmar is passionate about sharing the importance of generosity with her family. Choosing gifts from the online giving guide is one way she gets her children involved and encourages families to do the same.
"Christmas can be a hard season. Sometimes giving back helps that. There may be personal loss or circumstances that makes the holiday season really hard for people. I think this can change that story a little bit."
Giving back allows people to focus on the meaning of Christmas even more, according to Kalmar.
"When you give a gift in honour of someone—for that teacher or aunt and uncle who seem to have everything—by sending them a card in the mail or an e-card, you are letting them know their gift has made a difference."
With a few clicks of a button, people can choose how to bless communities in need.
There are a whole host of different gifts people can choose. No matter your interest, there’s likely to be something that resonates with you, says Kalmar. For example, students may connect with giving light to other students around the world.
"They can give a solar lantern to kids who might find it difficult to continue their studies when the sun goes down because they rely on sunlight. With these solar lanterns, they can continue their homework and studying," she says.
People can also give a gift of health and well-being, especially important during a pandemic that affects the whole world. Gifts like a latrine or handwashing with soap and clean water are a benefit to the whole community.
"As soon as the pandemic hit, MCC and our partners were really well-positioned to respond quickly, to pivot some of the things we've already been doing and ramp up our work for COVID-19 protection and prevention."
And MCC’s pandemic response is larger than just handwashing and sanitation.
"A lot of people don't realize that the global pandemic has actually turned into a hunger pandemic. It's because with everything shut down, farmers aren't able to get to their fields, stores and resources aren't readily available."
Those wanting to give the gift of food can purchase things like fish, goats, chickens, pigs, fruit trees, and even help plant a garden in a community that needs it.
"A lot of people love the animal gifts because we have such a generous farming community here and we know people rely on farming and animals in other places in the world."
No matter which gift you choose, you’ll make an impact in one of the more than 50 countries where MCC works.
"This is a way people here in Canada can connect their lives to people around the globe and I think it's a really neat way to share generosity and gifts we have with people who might need them." You can view all the gifts available through MCC’s Christmas Giving guide here.