This can be a frustrating topic when you are trying to avoid being a consumer of newly made products from large corporations and you've got a few kids who might be invited to a birthday party at some point in time. But we are working on it.
My oldest son is going to a joint birthday party for a boy and girl in his class tomorrow, they are turning 14. Yes, the party is tomorrow and just on the way to school today he mentioned that he needs to get them gifts still. Keep in mind also that he will be in school all day and then go straight to the slopes where he will snowboard until 8pm. You might be wondering the same thing I am: when might we find time for getting a gift? But I digress.
After talking about how the kids will be getting a lot of gifts from everyone, we discussed the impact of a small, thoughtful gift. He had already asked the boy what he wanted and the boy responded by saying that he liked chai tea. Well, assuming that he was being serious, that is easy. I suggested not asking the girl what she wanted and instead buying her some good chocolate or something tasty that she could enjoy. Let's try to avoid getting anything that will be cast aside and end up just taking up space in the long run.
And then I remembered that over the summer when we were on the cape, we went to a flea market where a guy was selling these cool notebooks and notepads made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper and banana and coffee fibre. A percentage of the sale of the products went towards a scholarship fund for some young people in Latin America who study sustainable agriculture development... anyway, I was sold and the deal was great so I bought a bunch, thinking they would make great gifts in situations just like this one.
I had a few other suggestions for gifts for his friends too, but not many. A gift certificate to the local used book store was lingering at the top of my list, but kids do like instant gratification and candy (and tea?) seemed cooler. As much as I wanted to buy chai tea in bulk and buy the kid a nice tea strainer, my realistic side opted for a box of tea instead. Honestly, I just think giving a 14 year old kid tea for a birthday gift is cool enough, so I'll buy a little packaging to support it. HOWEVER, I quite specifically bought a box of tea that was NOT wrapped in plastic (what is the point of that if the tea bags are individually wrapped anyway??) and that was fair trade and organic. As for the girl, I went for my favorite chocolate company, Theo, which is also fair trade and organic and really just a great company to support. My absolute favorite thing ever is chocolate and salt together - so I of course got that for her.
Now, birthday presents for the smaller kids is a little bit more of a challenge, but I'm working on it. So far my favorite gift to give by far is second hand books - either from the used book store or from our book shelves at home. Regifting is a fantastic option and I highly recommend it. The best item to regift is one that has been well loved and appreciated but is still in good condition and has been picked out by your child to pass on deliberately with love. The act of doing this is a gift in itself, and it gives our children an opportunity to own the act of giving something away because they loved it and they want to share it with someone else. This also encourages sharing and hopefully discourages the hoarding mentality that is easily developed by having a lot of stuff in general.
I try to blow off the fact that giving gifts feels like such a social necessity when a child is invited to a birthday party... but I still feel it. I don't want my child to be the one kid that didn't bring a birthday present. But it makes me grumpy that this pressure is there in the first place. So I try to turn it into something good, something thought out. The truth is, I like giving gifts... so let's find a way to continue to share without caving to the plastic package buying from big corporations who don't need our money anyway. At the very least - shop local!