Alternatives to a ‘Consumer Christmas’

December 15, 2010 | Feature | Number 24
By Rachel Bergen | National Correspondent
Gabrielle, Katrina and Natasha Plenert decorate their Christmas tree with ornaments they have received over the years from overseas or from Ten Thousand Villages.

Many people spend their evenings and weekends leading up to Christmas scouring the local mall for the perfect gifts for their loved ones, planning their Christmas feast or decorating their house.

A portable Christmas tradition

Gabrielle Plenert of Winnipeg, Man., and her family spend their Christmas season rather differently.

The Plenert family has lived overseas in various locations for many years, so they have tried to create Christmas traditions that they could celebrate anywhere, whether it is in Canada, where they now reside, or South America.

Christmas for the Plenert family—father Steve, mother Janet (executive secretary of Mennonite Church Canada Witness and vice-president of Mennonite World Conference), and daughters Katrina, Gabrielle and Natasha—starts with Advent, which is a big focus for them. They throw a party on the first Sunday of Advent to which each member invites friends.

“We have an Advent wreath, we light the candles, we memorize either Luke 2 or John 1 and recite it. We also have a theme each year and do some activity that relates to the theme,” Gabrielle says. The family also tries to have “Advent time” every night, when they pray, sing and reflect on the time of year.

When it comes to Christmas Day, the Plenerts practise simplicity. Gabrielle and her two sisters each receive a small stocking in the morning, and usually receive one or two gifts apart from that.

“We try to put more time into the gift-making,” Gabrielle says. “It’s lots of fun and there are secrets around the house about who is making a gift for whom.”

Gabrielle and her sisters often make knitted or crocheted gifts for others. Scrapbooks are common gifts, as are bags of baked goods. They always receive practical or handcrafted things from ethical organizations such as Mountain Equipment Co-op or Ten Thousand Villages.

“I think it helps us maintain a focus on what I think Christmas is about and it keeps us from focusing on stuff,” Gabrielle says. “We focus on family and values that the gospel is about: simplicity, the birth of Jesus, and taking time to think about others. It’s really fun.”

Buy Nothing Christmas

Five years ago, the Plenert family practised Buy Nothing Christmas, a web initiative started in 2001 and maintained by Canadian Mennonite columnist and Geez publisher Aiden Enns.

Buy Nothing Christmas is a national initiative that redesigns Christmas so that it is richer in meaning, smaller in impact upon the earth, and greater in giving to people less privileged. The website ( has ideas for things to make loved ones, including mixed CDs, coupons for childcare services, handmade recipe books and calendars.

“While it is Buy Nothing Christmas, it is a gift-giving Christmas,” Enns says. “Giving is the gift that holds us all together. When we give, we acknowledge our dependence on others. This is undermined by our consumer system.”

Enns has celebrated family Buy Nothing Christmases for 15 years, giving handmade gifts to his wife and together to their 18 nieces and nephews. “In previous years we made a journal with a custom screen-printed cover with their name on it and a pencil box made out of wood with a slide lid and their name screen-printed on it,” he says. “When they were little, we wrote and illustrated a children’s story. . . . Every year it’s a new thing.”

“I find it’s a positive way to convey alternative values,” he adds. “The gifts don’t compare to the flashy gifts, but over the years [my nieces and nephews] have come to appreciate the gesture.”

Gifts that matter

Another way of celebrating Christmas differently is by “giving a gift that matters” through Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Christmas Giving 2010.

This initiative allows givers to meet basic human needs and encourage peace and justice around the world.

“As an alternative to materialism and consumerism, one of the best ways to celebrate God’s gift to us is to give a ‘gift that matters’ that will help others around the world,” says Phil Schafran, director of resource development and communications at MCC B.C. “There are 10 different gifts to choose from that will make a difference in people’s lives and they start at just $10.” They include the gifts of hope, peace, water and food, and can be given online at

Gabrielle, Katrina and Natasha Plenert decorate their Christmas tree with ornaments they have received over the years from overseas or from Ten Thousand Villages.

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