12/11/2013 05:08 EST | Updated 02/09/2014 05:59 EST

Holiday gift giving: readers offer their suggestions

An increasing number of people feel that the holiday season has become overly commercialized. The raucous scenes from Black Friday sales in Canada and the U.S. suggest that gift-buying has become something like a contact sport.

As a backlash to all this craven consumption, many have decided to take a different approach to holiday gift-giving.

"Christmas has gone crazy, and many people have lost the spirit in the rush to ‘have it all,’ " says Virginia Brucker, author of Gifts from the Heart: Simple Ways to Make Your Family's Christmas More Meaningful.

Whether it’s because of an anti-consumerist philosophy, a desire to reduce their environmental footprint or simply a feeling of boredom with the same-old same-old, people are finding novel ways to spread holiday cheer. asked readers for alternative gift-giving strategies, and we’ve compiled some of them here.

Homemade gifts

The idea of making Christmas gifts is not a new one, but our readers are finding increasingly creative approaches. 

"For my friends, I prefer to make homemade gifts that are more eco-friendly and personable. I love to fill old jars with treats or bath products,” says Riana Topan, who lives in Ottawa. “I usually decorate them, too — so no wrapping required!"

Nicole Deibert from Edmonton has settled on a boozier option, making her own cherry brandy for friends and family. 

"It's a simple recipe, and it just takes some planning (6 months), a bunch of fruit (10 lbs or so), sugar and a couple of bottles of Brandy," she writes. "It went over really well."

Last year, Toronto’s Eli Clarke struck upon a truly one-of-a-kind idea. A professional musician, Clarke decided to record a series of solo tuba versions of well-known Christmas carols. He uploaded the songs to Soundcloud, but also burned them onto CDs to give to friends, and says he intends to repeat the feat this holiday season.

‘Experiential’ gifts

In recent years, there has been a greater move toward “experiential” gifts, in which friends and families put money towards a joint outing. The idea is that gift-giving should be more about spending time together than shelling out for the latest consumer gadget.

"My family and I have more or less stopped exchanging gifts. Instead, we use the money to enjoy an ‘experience’ together, whether it's a nice meal and a movie out or a trip to a museum or the theatre," says Riana Topan.

Toronto’s Penny McLaren is a big proponent of giving memorable experiences as gifts. She writes that last year, she bought her nephew tickets to try a flight simulator and got her daughter in Montreal tickets to SkyVenture, which simulates a freefall from a plane.

McLaren’s sister only recently cashed in her 2012 Christmas gift, which was a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see the much-publicized David Bowie and Ai Weiwei exhibits with her sibling.

"It couldn’t have been a more delightful cultural experience," McLaren writes.

Melanie MacDonald of Dartmouth, N.S., demonstrates that an experiential gift can even be more homespun.

"Last year, one of my best friends and I spent an evening at my place baking a cake and watching a library copy of Muppets Family Christmas. That was our Christmas gift to each other," says MacDonald.

MacDonald says the biggest benefit of these arrangements is "spending quality time with friends and no stress about what to get them. And no malls!"

Gifts of charity

Christine Ash of Victoria, B.C., feels strongly that money spent on gifts can be put to greater use if it’s donated to people in genuine need.

This year, "my family are all giving to a charity of our choice and not exchanging gifts with one another," she writes.

Virginia Brucker, who lives in Nanoose Bay, B.C., near Nanaimo, agrees with this sentiment. "Most of my friends and I have stopped exchanging gifts," she says.

She says that in lieu of presents, her quilting group "adopts a family who needs help, and we each contribute two or three items." This year, she says, they’re supporting a single mom with two teenaged daughters living in a town nearby called Errington.

Toronto’s Heather Davies says that her workplace has modified a long-running gift exchange for charity. Like a secret Santa, people choose names out of a hat. The gambit here is that the giver has to choose a charity that he or she feels will reflect the personality or interests of the receiver.

Davies says that at the party, everybody has to share the name they drew and why they chose the charity that they did.

“People are very creative and thoughtful and do their research,” says Davies. “It's a lot of fun and we get to learn about charities we might never have otherwise heard of — from large international causes to local grassroots organizations.”

MacDonald says she likes to give out gift certificates for a charity called Kiva, which provides microloans to people in developing countries to help them purchase everything from clothing to equipment to livestock.

“People all over the world need funding for things that will better their business and/or life,” writes MacDonald.

“Recipients of the $25 gift certificate can choose to whom they wish to loan it. It gets paid back after a year or so on average, and they can choose to withdraw the money or loan it again to someone else in need. So my original $25 gift will hopefully be loaned over and over again.”