My Life

Ethical Giving this Christmas

Instant Gratification

I’m a product of the ’90s. Growing up, I watched Disney movies on VHS, listened to Backstreet Boys on my portable CD player and got my first Razr flip phone in high school.

I’m part of the—dare I say it—millennial generation. And while we’re mostly a group of well-intentioned individuals, I understand why we sometimes get a bad rap—and for good reason. Whether I like to admit it or not, growing up in the ’90s instilled in me certain expectations—particularly a demand for instant gratification.

For instance, I expect my Amazon order to arrive within a few days of purchase. No, I’m not a Prime customer—yet.

I expect quick service at restaurants—and I’m not just referring to Chick-fil-A or Panera.

Most importantly, I expect people to text me back immediately.

Changing Expectations

These expectations, and so many more, shaped my youth and continue to shape my adult life. And while I continue to expect people to text me back quickly, my expectations in other areas of life, especially my purchases, have changed a lot.

It wasn’t until I became an adult, earned my own income and shopped for myself, that I realized I knew very little about the origin of my purchases. Not only was I unaware of where the products came from, I didn’t consider the people who were growing, sewing and producing the products—for all I knew, the things I bought were being made entirely by machines.

Shopping was an activity that did not figure into my larger understanding of the world—and certainly not my faith. When I needed new shoes, I bought some. If I was out of food, I went out to eat. A week before Christmas, I shopped for gifts. I never considered, ‘Who grew this food?’ ‘Who made my clothes?’ ‘Where are these gifts from?’

Then I learned about ethical trade and I began thinking about each purchase I made—why I needed it, who created it and the impact it would have on the planet. In doing so, not only did I come to appreciate the things I already had, but when I made a new purchase I took the time to consider its origins—and I bought with intention.

Through this process, the expectations that were so ingrained in my being—that need for instant gratification without a thought for how it might impact others—began to change.

In his 1967 Christmas sermon, Martin Luther King Jr. made it clear when he said:

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.
Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent upon most of the world?”

The fact is, for a long time I was blind to this interrelatedness. When I finally slowed down and reflected on these questions from a place of faith, I saw what was most important: People.

Ethical Trade and Faith

I am embarrassed that it took me so long to make this connection.

As a Catholic, I believe that every human has innate dignity that should be respected.

I did not imagine that this belief related in any practical way to the things I bought. I now understand that ethical trade is a way for me to live my faith. From the man who harvests the tea leaves I drink to the woman who sews the clothes that keep me warm—these individuals deserve to work in safe conditions, receive fair pay, spend time with their families and carry out work that does not harm the planet we all share.

This is the heart of ethical trade—respecting the dignity of people, their communities, and the environment through our day-to-day purchases.

Although society has come a long way in recent years, ethical trade is not practiced throughout much of the world. That is why it is our responsibility as Christians to make intentional, ethical purchases—especially now, as we prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Christ at Christmas.

St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”

The beginning of Advent, for me, typically signals that it’s time to start shopping for presents. Life becomes hectic, I become tired and it gets hard to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. It’s a classic dilemma of the season—but this year will be different. This year I will find a way to meaningfully connect giving gifts with the gift of God’s love.

What if I made this Advent more meaningful both through my prayers and my actions?

Christmas Challenge

This Christmas I challenge myself—and you—to serve others through the gifts we give.
Here are some ways to shop ethically this Christmas:

  • Shop the CRS Holiday Gift Guide.
  • Make a donation on behalf of a friend or family member.
  • Shop local. Small Business Saturday is November 24.
  • Make personalized, homemade gifts.

Set aside expectations and the need for convenience—give with purpose this season! Most importantly, remember the people in our community—and across the world—who are behind all we have and all we give. As Pope Francis so beautifully reminds us:
“True joy does not come from things or from possessing, no! It is born from the encounter, from the relationship with others…”
Have a blessed Advent and a very merry Christmas!

About the Author

Erin Mackey

Erin Mackey manages digital content and external partnerships for Catholic Relief Services’ Ethical Trade program, based in Baltimore, Maryland. Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.

Want to write for Life Teen? Click Here to learn more.