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What I Got My Boyfriend (and All My Climbing Partners) for Christmas

“I don’t know what to get [fill in the blank] for Christmas” is a common lament during the holiday season. I get it. It seems the people I know best are also the most difficult to shop for, even if they, like me, have a long wish list of new gear. I want to give my loved ones something useful and meaningful, yet I also want to surprise them and stay within my budget.

My First Traditional Lead Climb on Borrowed Gear

It’s easy to say that money is not important or that it’s the thought behind the gift, not the material gift, that counts. But money does matter; in fact, money is what makes the glitter and bustle of holidays so complex. This is the time of year where we make difficult decisions that are rooted in our financial situations. Do I work extra hours leading up to the holidays so that I can rely on my normal monthly income? Do I take time off and trade the income for memories and time with friends? Should I work Christmas Day, earn time-and-a-half, and do something fun later this year?

The whopping boom of the Christmas Empire makes these decisions even more complex and confusing. By now you’ve seen the article circulating on social media—the one about China’s Christmas Village (Yiwu) as described by The Guardian— where “600 factories… collectively churn out over 60% of all the world’s Christmas decorations and accessories.” Even more disturbing is the fact that the decorations are produced by migrant laborers who “are not entirely sure what Christmas is.” I have known for a long time that real people work long hours at a low wages in dangerous conditions. What I still do not know is how to navigate this expectation: Christmas is about giving, and giving is still, for many people, about things.

Eastern Washington University Students Having Fun at WFR Training

Eastern Washington University Students Having Fun at WFR Training

I delayed most of my gift-hunting this year until the weekend before Christmas, partly because I have felt more frustrated than ever about the impossible task of ethical holiday shopping, and partly because I was immersed in a Wilderness First Responder training (WFR). The course was provided through the Wilderness Medicine Training Center for $575.00, although Eastern Washington University did well by its students and offered a deep discount. I mention the cost of the training because, in the midst of studying, taking online exams, flushing and packing high risk-wounds in pigs’ feet, and improvising liters with a backpack and climbing rope, I thought about many other things I could have bought with that money: a plane ticket to see my family in Pennsylvania, the foundation of a ski mountaineering set-up for my boyfriend, or a 120,000 mile tune-up for my Toyota.

Nordstrom's NorthFace Display in Downtown Spokane (Exhibit A)

Nordstrom’s NorthFace Display in Downtown Spokane

Although the timing was stressful, I am glad the course happened right before Christmas. It brought into focus some values that are often eclipsed this time of year:

First, it reminded me that I already have an amazing set-up for spending time in the mountains. During the WFR training, I spent hours on end outside, and I was relatively  warm. Despite the mannequins’ message in Nordstrom’s windows on Main Street, I do not need a new, super-cute purple puffy or i-Phone 6 to have fun in the mountains (Exhibit A). I already have a four-year-old puffy that’s in great shape and an i-Phone 5s. I will clearly never be a beacon of dirt bag independence, but I would like to be more disciplined about maximizing use of the equipment I already have.

Second, just because people have equipment doesn’t mean they know how to use it (Exhibit B). Notice that the rope from this display in the downtown NorthFace store is not threaded through the carabiner. If this were a real climbing scenario rather than a display, the climber would hit the deck if she fell. Although I definitely know how to use my belay device, there was a lot that I did not know about possible uses for my equipment before this course, and I am thankful to know them now.

Improper Belay Set-up at the NorthFace Store in Downtown Spokane

Improper Belay Set-up at the NorthFace Store in Downtown Spokane (Exhibit B)

A final thought: it’s one thing to be disciplined about personal consumption; however, it’s more difficult to exercise this discipline when choosing what to give to friends. I don’t want to impose my shifting values on anyone I love. I don’t want it to be a lame Christmas for anyone else because I suddenly want to become a better steward of my possessions and keep my consumption in check. That’s why I’m hoping this year’s gift will cut it. While I did not get my friends any really cool things for Christmas, I am more prepared than ever to get out with them and explore the wild places.

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