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Gifts that keep us living and keep on giving

Sailing gracefully through the holidays

It's that time of year again: the holly-jolly season when so many people I know start to get heart palpitations even thinking about Christmas, stressed as they with work, with home-front obligations, with tweeting and tooting and generally trying to stay on top of things.

So if you feel like you're doing more glub-glub-glubbing than gracefully sailing into the holiday season, this one's for you.

While I can't claim the Queen of Green title, at least not publically, because that resides with Lindsay Coulter at the David Suzuki Foundation (check out her column at, if you've been reading this column over the years, you'll know that I'm at least a royal member of the green family.

However, I can wear the crown as Queen of Gifts That Disappear, not just at Christmas time but anytime — gifts that are the antithesis of the plastic and fake-chrome-finish thingie-whatsit that end up in a landfill by this time next year. The queen of gifts that give happiness but get gobbled up — the special jams, the favourite chocolates — or otherwise add beauty and joy, but disappear — the beeswax candles, the luxurious soap.

Unless you know a young person just starting out on her own, just say no to the hard good gifts. Most of us have so much "stuff" stuffing our houses and workplaces it would make far more sense for each of us to hold a modern version of the traditional potlatch on the West Coast and start giving it all away to worthy recipients.

But custom and culture being what they are, we want to give. The trick is to do it thoughtfully and gracefully. So here's a basketful of ideas that may bail you out and keep you from going under in more ways than one:

Gifts that keep giving and keep us living

You've heard of gifts that keep on giving. They can make very good gifts, indeed. You know, things like subscriptions to a favourite magazine, and here I'll plug a few favourites of mine: Canadian Art, Geist, Brick Magazine, Granta, Scientific American, Harper's, The New Yorker, heck, even Pique Newsmagazine can make a great gift idea.

If you give hard copies, suggest your recipients donate them in a timely way to the local library or care centre; most are very grateful. To go super green, you can often buy gift subscriptions that are digital to the likes of the above, and more.

The digital version of The Onion makes for a really good laugh when you need a cultural reality check while you're glued to your screen. And if you want to keep curious minds plugged into good resources, how about an on-line subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica? I can get lost in there for days.

What about all the wonderful organizations right in your neighbourhood that your giftee appreciates all year long? At Whistler, there's the museum, the library, the local arts council. A gift membership and/or a donation will keep on giving in more ways than one.

Or give a fun gift that's a little off the beaten path by giving a membership to some of the unique local attractions in the corridor that will only help them — and your community — get even better. I haven't seen a long face yet at the Britannia Mine Museum or the West Coast Railway Heritage Park at Squamish, where tickets for the Polar Express are already on sale.

To add to the list, here are a few gift ideas that keep all of us, not just your loved ones, living — happily, judiciously, sustainably.

For good health, give a membership to the local gym or one to a fitness or wellness program at your local community centre. Young kids love burning off energy in places like that. You can get a kid's ticket for drop-in hockey for as little as $5.75 at Meadow Park Sports Centre. Same for youth squash. Drop-in at the gym is as little as $4.75. Stick the tickets on the outside of a soccer ball they can kick around outside the spring. Got a nice flush bank account? Then a pass for Whistler-Blackcomb could be just the ticket.

Some of the best gifts I've ever received weren't for me. They were donations people made in my name to really great causes I believed in. In the name of your giftee, how about helping out all the good work that above-mentioned David Suzuki Foundation does in our Pacific Northwest backyard, and all around the world? The recipient will get an interesting newsletter, too.

I don't know how many people I've given a credit to at over the years, even kids and teenagers. It's a fantastic organization that provides micro-loans to people all over the world. You pay for a $25 credit in your friend's name; they get to pick the person they'd like to make the micro-loan to, then they get notices as the credit is paid back. It's an unbelievably personal way to start to understand how other lives unfold, and it all happens easily and sustainably on-line.

Got a pet lover in your house? Make a donation in his name to WAG at Whistler or the BCSPCA. They would love any support they can get, financial or otherwise. So if you're in that pet store and can't resist the urge to buy something cute, channel it into a leash or warm bed you can drop off at any animal shelter.

Then, of course, there are all the people right down the street who are in need, not just at Christmas but all year long.

Maybe you've already donated to your local food bank or hospice society, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Pivot Legal Foundation or Covenant House. But if you can't think of a thing your neighbour or cousin needs and you want to recognize them this Christmas, another donation in your giftee's name could make a resounding present for someone you've never even met.

Hope is a contagious thing.

I hope you have a lovely Christmas in all the right ways.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who always looks for the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.