Her relatives in Houston had plenty of T-shirts. Loved ones in Pennsylvania didn’t lack for sweaters. The folks in Tallahassee and Denver were well outfitted, too.
So Toni Pastore of Decatur made a decision: She would give the holiday gift of food — but not to her kin. With her relatives’ blessing, she paid $150 for four food baskets at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which gave them to hungry Atlanta families.
“I’d rather my money go to the food bank,” said Pastore, 57, a paralegal. “We’ve decided we don’t need a bunch of junk.”
Pastore isn’t the only person who believes the holidays should mean more than maxed-out credit cards and elbowing strangers aside to grab the last must-have toy of the season. For her and others, Christmas is about protecting the environment, clothing the needy, feeding the hungry, making a difference.
In recent years, movements devoted to a noncommercial holiday season have gained momentum in America and elsewhere, underscoring a belief that the holidays are too focused on consumption.
One, Buy Nothing Christmas, began with a 2001 gathering of Canadian Mennonites who believed people were too materialistic during the holidays.
“It seemed out of sync, the notion of spirituality and going shopping,” said co-founder Aiden Enns of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Another Facebook group, Occupy Christmas, offers a similar noncommercial philosophy: A gift doesn’t always come wrapped in ribbon.
Dorinda Aldridge of College Park agrees. As they have in the past, she and her husband, John Aldridge, will observe Christmas Day at St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church in Grant Park, helping to feed the homeless. She’ll give one gift, a book, to her husband.
“We don’t need a commercial Christmas,” said Dorinda Aldridge, 62. “That’s not what Christmas is all about.”
Even a weak economy can’t stop some people from making charitable gifts, said Randy Redner, a state vice president of the American Cancer Society.
“We all want to cut back these days,” said Redner. “At the same time, we still want to do a bit more for other folks, too.”
Jim and Jessica Dykes of Atlanta felt compelled to share the wealth of the season with people they’d never met. On a recent Saturday, they loaded their minivan with a jumble of boxes and bags, then drove to a Clarkston apartment complex.
They and their children, Gunnar, 5, and Parker, 3, began carrying the packages into a neat three-bedroom apartment. Inside the apartment stood Amber and Manmaya Gurung and their three children, Krishna, 13, Samikchaya, 7, and Sharoj, 2. Refugees from Bhutan, they have lived in America less than two months.
For the Gurungs, Buddhists who had never observed Christmas, the growing pile on their floor — toys, a microwave oven, vacuum cleaner, paper goods, food and more — was proof that this is a season of giving.
“We came here with nothing,” Manmaya Gurung said through an interpreter. “We are so grateful.”
Sharoj tossed a blue foam-rubber ball in the air and laughed when it bonked him on the nose. Samikchaya cradled a doll.
Jim Dykes, 35, smiled. “There’s no language barrier with balls and dolls,” he said.
The Dykeses “adopted” the Gurungs after learning of them through Catholic Charities Atlanta, which sponsored the family through its refugee resettlement program.
Like many families, the Dykeses make sure to give presents to each other. But for the past four years, they’ve also held a holiday party at their Atlanta home. The price of admission: a toy, household good or other item that a family new to this country might need. This year, more than 100 people contributed.
“We say, ‘Don’t bring us a bottle of wine. Bring us something a family needs,’ ” Jessica Dykes said.
Fulfilling a need drives other Atlantans at this time of year, too. Their stories follow.
Jill Kersh of Duluth decided to curtail holiday spending to help raise cash for her favorite charity, Mothers and Daughters Against Cancer. She opened the doors of her mansion at Sugarloaf Country Club for the nonprofit’s annual fundraising party.
Some of the money she would have spent at Christmas instead went to decorate her home for the Sept. 30 party and auction. It raised slightly more than $30,000.
Kersh said her three children — the youngest is 17 — didn’t mind her spending cash that could have purchased presents.
“They’ll get a little something,” she said. “But we agree that we want to leave the world a little better place than it was when we came into it.”
Clothing a family
When she composed an email two months ago to her family, Miranda Bryen was emphatic: Do not send presents. She asked, instead, for money to buy cold-weather attire for a homeless family she’d met in her job as marketing director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta.
Her relatives responded with $700, enough to clothe five children and their mother, living in a shelter in Vine City.
“My family and I all have warm, comfortable homes,” said Bryen, 32. “I’m blessed.”
Saving green space
When their oldest daughter offered Jane and William McDonald a membership in the Georgia Conservancy instead of a traditional Christmas gift, the Sandy Springs couple said yes.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” said Jane McDonald, 55. “We don’t need more slippers. We don’t need more sweaters. But we do need to preserve green spaces.”
“I try not to give people useless things,” said their daughter, Kate Hodgins, 29 and a researcher at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. “I want there to be a purpose in my gifts.”
Remembering a son
Janice and Ed Story wanted their holiday gift to honor the life of their youngest son. Alex Story, 20, died earlier this year of an accidental drug overdose.
“We just couldn’t get in the spirit of things this year,” said Janice Story.
Instead of giving traditional gifts, the Sandy Springs couple sent their friends and relatives a Christmas ornament depicting Alex. They donated money they would have spent on presents to the Atlanta Mission, a nonprofit that offers food and shelter to the homeless. They gave the money in Alex’s name.
“With the economy the way it is, I think Alex would have approved of our gift,” said Janice Story, 58.
Making the donation felt right to the grieving parents, too.
“I think we will continue something like this,” she said. “This may indeed become a very good habit.”