What do you think of, when you hear the word “Christmas?” Soft lightening, mulled wine, ginger cookies and “Home Alone?” The sales and crowds at the mall? The hype around all the Christmas deals? It seems that in the past few years one globalization trend has reached every corner of the world – Christmas has become a stressful act of worship towards consumerism, in place of what used to be an intimate holiday celebrating family bonds, inner warmth, and kindness to others.

Every year I spend a few frantic weeks before Christmas, obsessing over what to buy for my loved ones. Most of them already have everything they need, and much more. Besides, there are now literally hundreds of scientific studies claiming that having too much stuff at home makes you feel suffocated by your own possessions and I can definitely relate. Inspired by this, as well as a few articles on charity and poverty, which I recently wrote for a Bulgarian magazine called “Capital,” I decided to try something different for Christmas. This year, I will celebrate my family and friends, instead of things.

Below I’ve copied an invitation, which I sent to my friends. Perhaps this letter will inspire you to include bits of our initiative in your Christmas, share your experience, and help us find other ideas to add to the list. Please, read all the way through before reacting 🙂

Hey my sweet friend,

I am sending you this letter in the hope of starting our week together, with a holiday idea you might find interesting. This year, my family and I decided to have a gift-free Christmas. Or at least no gifts that we will struggle to fit in our homes, already packed with material possessions.

Instead…

Each of us will choose one or more charities, to which we will donate resources, not money. Direct financial support makes it difficult for organizations to provide an accurate account of what each benefactor’s money have gone to, scams seem to happen more often, and so I would rather avoid donating money altogether. Getting a gift for someone who actually needs it, instead of yet another thing for one of my loved ones who is probably not going to have much use for it anyway, seems to me like a good way to make the most out of the consumerism that has become an inseparable part of Christmas and the winter holidays.

Organizations and Campaigns

So far, we’ve chosen the support the following few holidays campaigns. As this articles reaches more people, we will hopefully accumulate a longer list of ideas. (All of the charities are in Bulgaria, as I am currently based here, but some of them have international branches as well.)

Caritas Sofia has launched a campaign to collect warm winter socks for refugee children in Bulgaria. They say that it’s easier with other garments, since they can be second-hand as well, but socks must be new due to hygiene concerns, so donations can make a real difference for the children in the refugee camps. 

Children in Varna, Bulgaria, who come from financially unstable households rarely receive any presents for Christmas. This year, however, a local organization is gathering toys and other gifts to help the kids experience what the rest of us often take for granted.  (Unfortunately, this campaign is described only in Bulgarian. Please message me if you need help figuring out the text and what donations are needed.)  

Canned goods and other durable foods are being collected for orphaned children, so that the facilities where they are housed would be able to afford more meat and fish on the extremely limited budgets they have. (Unfortunately, this campaign is described only in Bulgarian. Please message me if you need help figuring out the text and what donations are needed.)  

Animal Rescue Sofia is an amazing organization that takes in stray animals, spays/neuters them, provides shelter and works to find adoptive humans. They always need donations such as food for the animals, medical supplies, building supplies, etc. 

(Please bear in mind that some of the campaigns have deadlines)

Gift Ideas

To make the most out of the initiative, we decided to buy and donate gifts made by small local business, or gifts that benefit another good cause.

For example the toys sold on this website are handmade by mothers with disabled children (although I hate this expression!). It’s difficult for them to find a source of income outside of the home, because taking care of the kids requires a lot of time, effort, and resources.

On their website, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) sells merchandise in support of animal and habitat conservation (international website ). Not only is this a good way to support a green cause, but also buying a toy and gifting it to a child who hasn’t had as many learning opportunities could help the kid forge a stronger bond with nature and develop an interest in conservation. (The international website doesn’t have toys – you can, however, find them on the regional website).

Presence, Instead of Presents

Even though this year my loved ones and I won’t exchange store-bought gifts, we still want to do something special for each other, to show our love, gratitude, and appreciation. So, each of us will spend their valuable time on hand-crafting greeting cards for the others. By no means do they have to be aesthetically pleasing J what’s important is that they say: “You are important enough for me to spend time and effort on creating something for you.” The messages we’ll write inside will also be special – each of us will take the time to think about what their loved one means to them, what are the things we’ve always wanted to say to them but never seem to find the right words. Hopefully, this will be an opportunity to give voice to what we feel – you know, the things we never say because we think that the people around us know how we feel, and then, when it’s too late, we regret never having said.  

If writing is more of a pain in the ass for you than a source of pleasure, then you can just take out a quote from a book or a poem that you feel describes your relationship and what you’d like to say to your loved one.

Around Christmas

In the days around Christmas itself we will donate our time to those who might benefit from it. Not only will we hopefully make someone’s Christmas a little merrier, but we will also share the bonding experience of volunteering with our family and friends, gifting ourselves yet another shared memory.

Ideas for Volunteer Activities

Cooking and distributing food in the Food not Bombs soup kitchen 

Soup kitchen initiatives organized by religious temples in the region, such as this one 

On website such as TimeHeroes.org you can find a lot of other volunteering opportunities as well, such as reading to visually impaired individuals, or spending a bit of time with an older adult in a home (for Bulgaria).

How to Get Involved

Leave a comment below with your ideas and suggestions to help us expand the idea and the list of organization. I will then do my best to make your ideas heard by more people 🙂 

If you can think of any charities which need donations such toys, clothes, home supplies etc. or know of any gifts with a charitable cause, which I can include in the list, I will really appreciate hearing about them (in the comments below, please).

 In case you can relate to the idea and decide to forward this letter to your family and friends, I would love to hear what elements you’ve incorporated into your Christmas. If you’re already involved in a similar initiative – please tell me about that as well. It will help inspire both my loved ones and anyone reading the blog. Send me your photos so that I can include them on social media! 🙂

In December I will do my best to spread the information far and wide.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter! Let’s see if one spontaneous idea might turn into an opportunity to spend a warmer, kinder, happier Christmas, where people are more important than things 🙂

If you upload anything to social media, please use #gogiftfree and #contrabondxmas , so all of our ideas can come together 🙂

A Few More Ideas

They were shared with me by some of the first people who received the letter. Please add your own in the comments below, so that I can include them here 🙂 

The Teddy Bear Initiative started out as a way for children from group homes to receive Christmas gifts as well. It has now grown into an extensive campaign that also provides mentorship and career advice.

A friend told me about “Handmade by Vanya:” “For the past six months I’ve been buying handmade fabric bouquets from a mother whose kid has Cerebral palsy. For Christmas, I’ve also preordered some of her book covers. I am sending you her page as yet another idea for gifts in support of a good cause.”

If you would prefer to support an animal-welfare cause, then the Animal Friends Foundation in Burgas, Bulgaria needs your help getting food, warm blankets, and toys for the animals. They also have a calender with the cutest photos ever, which you can buy in support of their mission.