three candles in a Christmas tree

Reclaiming Gifting

Gifting is costly, ungainly, and not only unsustainable, but downright wasteful. What must we do about this?

The long nights are a gift. The shivering dark and quiet, the nourishment from long sustaining winter squashes, the healing support of elderberry we harvested in summer, now used to quell seasonal ick – they are all gifts. Our lives, our vast array of experiences, every instance of Earthly support we receive for shelter, warmth, and sustenance are all never-ending gifts from this benevolent planet who provides us with everything.

Gifting in modern, capital-driven culture has been turned inside out, stretched to a version of itself that no longer resembles its life giving and enhancing source. Now, amidst winter’s supposed still point, most people in our culture are in a frenzy over “gifts.” Gifting is mandated, expected, enforced.

Gifting is costly, ungainly, and not only unsustainable, but downright wasteful.

You witness this. Uncomfortably you watch it happen in your family and community. Perhaps you participate out of love, loyalty, or obligation, but you feel conflicted. You know this version of gift giving does not feel right.

Listen. Your inner wisdom is whispering. The Earth’s great knowing is speaking through you. You are correct. We must stop this cultural excess.

Holiday gift giving has become, for many, a stressor, a financial strain, and an uncomfortable burden.

Yes, we appreciate receiving thoughtful, useful, beautiful gifts, and more so enjoy offering such gifts to others. But examined on the larger scale, the way we are gifting is hurting us and deeply damaging to our ecosystems. How many extraneous gifts, wrapped in shiny paper manufactured from virgin trees, does one child need? What is the true cost of giving gifts to EVERY member of our family and ALL of our friends for every special holiday or birthday? When you calculate the staggering numbers of unnecessary gifts that are given, each using precious natural resources and someone’s precious time, with most after a short lifespan landing for a longterm stay in overcrowded landfills, you begin to see clearly the serious problem of obligatory gift giving.

What must we do about this?

Living a sustainable lifestyle requires more from us than gardening and foraging, carving our own bowls and spoons, and using herbal medicine. We have a responsibility to resist cultural practices that are harmful, wasteful, and further deplete Earth’s generous gifts to us, even when it is uncomfortable doing so.

The first step in changing unsustainable gift culture is to talk to the people that you love about your plan to do gifting differently.

Take a deep breath and initiate conversation with parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends, especially those who abide by mainstream gift expectations. Offer appreciation to them for their generosity in wanting to give presents to you and your family. Then share your concerns regarding the harm caused by profuse gift giving, and ask them to help you do gifting another way. Be clear on your boundaries regarding what kinds of gifts are appropriate and helpful for your family and what gifts you cannot accept, whether or not you will give gifts, or if you will even accept gifts at all. (You have the right to set any limits that feel appropriate to you regarding gifting in your family.) Be prepared that someone’s feelings may get hurt, and they may respond to you negatively. Then muster your strength, be kind and compassionate, and hold your ground. Changing culture is hard, sometimes clunky and painful in execution. In this dramatic time of climate change and Earth decimation, we need to be stalwart defenders of the new paradigm. Keep this in mind as you discuss and set limits with loved ones around gifting.

Also, notice – what are you feeling related to changing gift expectations?

Are you struggling with your own sense of obligation? Do you feel you MUST give gifts to certain people? Are you holding yourself to a standard that mandates you give gifts and then feel you must give gifts that are homemade, thereby taking up much of your valuable time and resources? Gently remind yourself that your worth and the strength of your relationships are not based on how many gifts you give or how wonderful those gifts are.

Keep in perspective that even if every gift you give is handmade and locally sourced, if you give presents extravagantly, every single holiday to each and every loved one, this is still a large expenditure of time, energy, and resources that are not necessary to offer in this way and that the Earth cannot sustain. Consider how many lovely, handmade gifts each home can hold and still have room for simplicity and living. Consider how much the Earth is being asked of to support profligate presentations of presents.

For times when gift giving does feel appropriate and desirable (versus an obligation), these simple guidelines can help uphold gifting as a loving, necessary, and valuable process AND a regenerative practice that supports a thriving planet Earth. (Please share this list with your family and friends!)

Sustainable Gifting Guidelines

• Gift only what your recipient truly needs.

• Gift time, services, or experiences offered by you or others, such as childcare, massage or acupuncture, an herb walk, a meal, classes/workshops, project help, and so on.

• Gift donations to Earth supporting organizations in your loved ones’ names.

• Gift consumable items that need to replaced frequently anyhow, such as food, seeds, live plants, herbs and medicines, candles, paper, cleaning supplies, body care products, textile and building materials (wood, wool, yarn, etc.).

• Gift second-hand, used items.

• Gift items that are produced fully sustainably – made from renewable and compostable materials, produced with “green” energy, packaged minimally or not at all, and produced by well compensated laborers who remain safe and healthy while creating these products (i.e. do NOT gift plastic items that are sold in big box stores made by sweatshop labor!).

• Gift quality, wellmade items that will be useful and effective for a very long time (not likely to end up in a landfill after a season or a few short years).

• Gift items that can be easily composted at the end of their usefulness.

• Gift minimally with tiny, thoughtful gifts that follow the above guidelines.

• Gift wrapping is never necessary. Even if you use that gift bag ten times, at some point it still ends up in the landfill and required energy and resources to produce in the first place.


Use the gift of winter’s dark and introspective time to create new ways of gifting that will support you living in alignment with your values and will help us all live in conscious and attentive sacred reciprocity with the Earth, with each other. Reclaiming gifting is the most vibrant gift you could possibly give this holiday season.


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Lily Harlin


Lily is an artist, creator, and dreamer. Since a very young age, she has been immersed in the natural world and draws heavy inspiration from the wild. Though her medium changes frequently, Lily’s art and expression always incorporate an element of the organic and unpredictable. She got her associate in fine arts in 2023, and now volunteers at her school as a ceramic studio monitor. She hopes to open a studio of her own one day to have a place to teach and inspire others. In addition to doing commission work, Lily has been creating many graphics for The Firefly Gathering since 2019. Lily grew up in the Earthskills community from the time she was eight years old, so having the opportunity to grow and give back in so many ways has been incredibly fulfilling. No matter where she ends up, this group of people and ideas will always hold a special place in her heart.