It’s panic time this weekend as people do last-minute shopping, not for the giveaways that we get in bulk, but for special gifts. That’s where the colors of Christmas—green and red—can come in, to function as a kind of coding system for our gifts. Green can stand for environment-friendly gifts, and red, I think, for “patriotic” gifts, not just local stuff but also stuff that helps to promote a sense of being Filipino.
Here are some suggestions for green and red gifts.
Being environment-friendly can mean different things. It can mean buying organic which, I should emphasize, is different from buying “natural”—a label that has been used even for junk food loaded with all kinds of additives. Anything from nature can be called natural, but “organic” means nonuse of pesticides, fertilizers, and other synthetic chemicals.
The Philippines has a law that regulates the use of the label “organic” but, like many of our laws, implementation has been difficult, so consumers just have to be careful.
It’s imported food products from the United States and some European countries where you can be assured that the “organic” label wasn’t just tacked on. Healthy Options is the largest organic-products chain in the country, with everything from teas and cheese to oatmeal and even wines. But because the products are imported, they can be quite expensive, and a gift basket from Healthy Options has become a status symbol.
You can also buy some organic products, local and imported, at Rustan’s supermarkets (and, I noticed, at the SM market in Tiendesitas). The Sunday market at Legaspi Park in Makati also has an organic-produce section, including meat from livestock raised without hormones and antibiotics. There are also some organic products at the Sunday market at Centris (Quezon Boulevard and Edsa), which will be open this Sunday and Monday.
The Centris Mall has a new store called Echo selling environment-friendly products. I wasn’t able to check if it’s related to the older EchoMarket at Serendra for organic produce and EchoStore at Serendra and Podium. Also check out Ritual for green products at Unit A, the Collective, 7274 Malugay St. It also sells at the Sunday Legaspi market.
Opening just a month ago is Got Heart Shop in White Plains, on the side of the road with plant nurseries. You can’t miss it because the shop is in a converted or recycled container van. Got Heart is a nonprofit foundation, trying to get farmers’ organic produce direct to consumers. The stocks are still limited but they have stuff you won’t find elsewhere—salted duck eggs that use turmeric (dilaw) for coloring (supposedly safer than the red coloring), upland rice, goat kesong puti (white cheese).
Green isn’t just about organic products. With so many cities in Metro Manila now banning plastics, it’s important that consumers learn to bring their own grocery bags. The paper bags that the supermarkets now use just aren’t sturdy enough for heavy items, or lots of groceries. There are all kinds of shopping bags out there now, again local and imported, that make good gifts. The sturdy bayong (marketing bag) is now making a comeback, often stylized and in vibrant colors.
Green is about recycling, and there’s a growing range now of products usually made of used fruit-juice packs, rice and sugar sacks, and plastic bottles, and produced as livelihood projects by urban poor communities. These include shopping bags, fashion accessories, even Christmas lanterns and decorations.
Finally, green is a matter of giving toys that are safe for the environment, and for people. Follow the Eco Waste Coalition at ecowaste.blogspot.com for warnings on hazardous consumer products, including toys and food containers.
Let’s get to the red gifts. I once wrote that in the Philippines, the word “makabayan” (nationalistic) has connotations of being a leftist, which is why I’m color-coding “nationalistic” gifts red. You don’t have to be on the Left, though, to love the Philippines, and besides, next year is the birth sesquicentennial of Andres Bonifacio, with stereotyped red trousers and all.
For starters, the Linangan ng Kulturang Pilipino has two Bonifacio calendars. Quick, can you tell me when 13 Cavite revolutionaries (Trece Martires) were executed by the Spaniards? That was Jan. 11, 1897, one of the many historical dates marked in the Bonifacio calendars. Call or text 0917-5154912 to order copies.
Red means buying local products whenever you can. Local fruits, for example, are now often more expensive than those imported from China, which is a shame because our fruits are often better-tasting than those from overseas. When looking for these “red” fruits, be “green,” too, by avoiding fruits that are artificially ripened with carburo (calcium carbide). You can tell which ones these are if all the fruits in a bunch have the same color or degree of ripeness.
Good “red” gifts are the children’s books now in Filipino and English, excellent not just for the kids but also for our Inglisera (English-only) parents who need to learn Filipino, too, so they can tutor their kids.
At the Got Heart shop in White Plains I found play earthenware kitchen products (palayok, stove), which make better gifts for our kids than those plastic kitchen toy sets made in China. Got Heart also has terra cotta water containers and stoves. You can also order an earthenware cooler: Add sand and water and you can keep produce cold and fresh, not as cold, of course, as in a fridge but enough to extend shelf life. They do have tapayan or earthenware water jars as well.
Give Filipino music. Check out upsingingambassadors.com for a listing of all their CDs for sale. They have Christmas carols, and more, including recordings of songs that won them awards in international competitions. We have so many outstanding choral groups but too few recordings, and they’re usually hard to find.
Get local films on DVD, including the many world-class indie films, as well as reissues of old classics.
If Christmas is mainly for children, having green and red gifts for them is particularly important, to impart a consciousness of environmentalism, and of appreciating things local. If all our gifts are imported we’re telling the young there’s nothing local that’s worth giving. I worry, too, about the flood of cheap Chinese-made toys that get broken so easily, and which reinforce a throwaway mentality among our kids.
Shopping for green and red Christmas gifts doesn’t have to be limited to the tiangge. Our traditional markets, the palengke, can be exciting for middle- and upper-class kids as they discover all the kinds of woven products, from bayong to mats and slippers. Teach them about pandan, tikog and other plants used for the weaving. Besides these products, there are all kinds of earthenware products and assorted household utensils. Even brooms and the lowly bunot (coconut husk used for polishing floors) never fail to fascinate children, and to imprint on them ideas for more red and green gifts in the Christmases ahead.