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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Twelve Mennonite Gifts for the Holidays!

en Je'schenkje

Thanks to the St Paul store for helping with this post!
Twelve Gifts of Christmas from 10,000 Villages™

    Christmas gifts from 10,000 Villages™ is a special holiday tradition amongst the Mennonites and Brethren in North America.

    Now often recognized as a non-denominational fair trade movement, Ten Thousand Villages is the Mennonite stake in pioneering a movement that would purchase handcrafts from artisans in distressed or developing economies and present those items for sale in the North American market – the goal being to facilitate market relationships for these artisans so that they get the best and fairest price for their goods in order to support their families, churches and communities (in other words, profits go back to the artisanal producer rather than to the middleman). 
    According to their website, the first “craft sale” was organized by Edna Ruth Byler and Ruth Lederach for the 1952 Mennonite World Conference in Basel, Switzerland and became the Overseas Needlepoint and Crafts Project.  In 1962, Mennonite Central Committee, MCC, adopted the program officially into its development arm – and this is where many evangelical Mennonites were exposed to the concept – through our MCC workers who helped foster the program, such as the Mennonite Brethren’s (MB) MCC worker in Bangladesh, Rosella Toews.
    Today, Ten Thousand Villages stores bring fair trade artisanal products to markets all over North America – and while the volunteers who run the stores are often no-longer related to the Mennonite diaspora, supporting our fellow Christians through such a unique vision and a shared love of handcraft remains a Mennonite holiday tradition.

    We have selected twelve unique and inexpensive gifts from around the world, available from you local Ten Thousand Villages store or on-line at .

    Happy Shopping!  En lostijch Weinachte

After careful browsing, pricing and discussion, a consensus was reached that the following 12 holiday gifts definitely meet our criteria for uniqueness, fun and a good buy.  Please note that prices may vary and not all selections are available from all outlets -- but there are many hundreds of other joyful delights to discover as one browses for more ideas to make this holiday unique, special and even educational for the whole family or office:

Shea Butter Cream ($ 20.00, Ghana):

    This Shea Butter Cream comes from Accra, Ghana, where it is sourced from other groups who harvest the nuts from the Shea tree.  In Ghana, shea butter is used for a wide variety of purposes including cooking, moisturizing and as a natural anti-inflammatory.
    Shea nuts require a great deal of processing in order to produce the moisturizing creams, providing jobs not only for the gatherers but also for the producers, and in this case, those who create the unique artisanal pottery dishes in which the cream is sold.
    As a man, let me tell you that the cream is both effective and soothing – a good gift for both sexes – especially for those of us from more northern climes.

Recycled Paper Coasters ($13.95, Philippines):

    Ten Thousand Villages indicates that these great coasters are made from recycled newspapers and magazines by the Women’s Multipurpose Cooperative in Baguio City, Philippines.  The papers are wound into coils that are then joined together with thread or glue to make the various items, and are treated with a special starching process that makes them hold up to the heat and moisture of the average North American table or desk coffee or juice mug. 
    As a writer, I am especially attracted by the print-motif still visible on the coils – the Tagalog and other Southeast Asian languages provide a sense of comfort in being surrounded by words and the exotic appeal of foreign lands.  These would make a great gift for students, writers or busy workers and will match almost any décor from the comfort of the cabin, the suburban bungalow or the highly lacquered, glass and steel urban hi-rise apartments.  These are definitely our top design pick.

Peace Dove Cross (Descending Dove Christmas Ornament) ($10.00, El Salvador):

    These holiday ornaments are far more versatile than mere holiday ornaments.  Might I recommend hanging one from door knobs, above kitchen sinks or your rearview mirror to remind you of the peace message as you open the door to guests, struggle with the dishes or are tempted to honk at the driver in front of you?
    Based on the design of the popular hand-painted Peace Dove Crosses from the La Semilla de Dios cooperative in El Salvador, each ornament is a hand-painted, artisanal wood decoration into which more love, wishes for peace and social piety has gone than your money could buy. 
    How about affixing one of these ornaments to each name tag or bow under your tree as a reminder of the true meaning of the holidays?

Extending the Table Recipe Book by Joetta Schlabach ($25.00, USA):

   I happen to know the author of this now-become-a classic cookbook – a must have for all Mennonite kitchens.  The premise behind the book is to build on the original concept of the Love Feast and bring the international community of the Christian faith to your own table as a means of fellowship, understanding and prayerful consideration of the needs of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world.  The recipes are practical and easy to follow while introducing you to a variety of new tastes and a few excuses to actually purchase some of those more exotic ingredients you so often eye in bemusement at the grocery store, ethnic grocery or fair trade market.
    More than just a cookbook, Extending the Table, also provides stories, anecdotes and observations that make this highly browsable reading with pertinence to the multicultural classroom, the church, or for special missions-oriented prayer and potluck meetings.  Highly recommended for the world that will be opened up to your senses – and it is guaranteed to change the way that you cook and eat.

Soda-can Menorah ($ 69.00, South Africa):

   The Tin-Can Menorah is not always available, so grab one where you can.  Created by Zimbabwean exile, Victor Chiteura, at African Home in Cape Town, South Africa, these unique pieces are hand created out of thin strips of aluminum soda cans.  While a bit pricey – we find these menorah to be colourful, decorative and a great talking piece, reminding us of the origins and message of light, replenishment and community during the holidays.  Again, the artisanal craftsmanship make such pieces highly adaptable to all decors – and definitely one-of-a-kind in your neighborhood.

Christmas Garland ($ 4.50, India):

  These unique, and colourful, garlands have long been a classic Ten Thousand Villages holiday tradition in my co-conspirator Karen’s house.  And she is right – they bring a sense of joy and celebration to any holiday tree or hung between lights and arches in the holiday household.
    I find that this unique decorator’s touch adds a sense of class to many different themes – I use it to set off my collection of inherited Scandinavian straw ornaments.  All I can say is check it out at the store – and purchase one more strand that you think you will need – you will always find an extra space for it.

Bicycle Chain Bracelet ($ 17.95, India):

    These amazing pieces of jewelry come from Moradabad, India, where Noah’s Ark Int’l Exports helps women artisans find ways that they can support their family while remaining in the household.  These are real recycled bicycle chains – and I find them to be truly uni-sex in their appeal – especially for the cyclist or outdoorsy types who want to be fashion current while making a statement about the responsibilities of a healthy lifestyle and recycling for the earth.  Under $20.00, I also find these to be a genuinely great buy.

Twin Children’s Rag Dolls ($ 28.00, Zimbabwe):

    If any of these gifts should be mandatory for the holidays, it should be a set of these dolls.  For a description, I am going to refer directly to the Ten Thousand Vilages’ website:
    A purchase of this doll not only provides a gift for a loved one; its “twin” will be given to a child in a family affected by HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe, most of whom have no other toys. The dolls are part of a unique project of Batsiranai, a women’s handicraft project that supports mothers with disabled children in Harare, Zimbabwe. Batsiranai, which means “helping each other,” was originally formed as a self-help group for these women. Creating the “twin dolls” has become a successful income generation initiative. Women work in teams to make the dolls, sharing tasks according to their ability.
    The “twin” for your doll is distributed in one of a number of ways. Some dolls are shared through organizations working with needy families affected by HIV in the greater Harare area. Given a priority to distribute the dolls in rural areas, Batsiranai has also linked with an organization called Zvitambo, funded through Johns Hopkins University and other donors with the mission to reduce HIV transmission. Zvitambo promotes exclusive breastfeeding for babies of mothers who are HIV+ until age six months, as this has dramatic effects on reducing morbidity and mortality of babies. Zvitambo holds clinics in very remote parts of Zimbabwe to teach about prevention of HIV transmission campaigns from mothers to babies. The dolls are distributed to children during these awareness campaigns. Reports from Zvitambo of responses to the doll distribution are heartwarming.”
    The dolls come in a male doll, girl doll and a mother doll with a baby on her back.  Hurry though, supplies of some of these dolls are known to be limited!

Felt Hat ($ 34.95, Nepal):

    These wonderful hats are another Karen find at Ten Thousand Villages.  These wool felt hats are warm, soft, colorful and make a positive fair trade statement during the cold winter months of the northern states and Canada.
    In researching these hats, I actually learned that felt-making probably originated in Asia with a process similar to how the artisan women continue to makes these hats today.  Felting is the process by which pressure, heat and moisture are combined to bind wool fibers together into an interlocking cloth.  The Association for Craft Producers in Nepal make these hats by hand, using hot water, soap and the pressure of their hands to bind the woolen fibers together – in a sense making one feel the sense of play and comfort when close friends would cup their hands over each other’s ears to keep them warm while waiting for the schoolbus or while tobogganing or playing broomball during the winter.  A good warm feeling from Nepali friends on the other side of the globe.

Stationary ($ 14.00, Bangladesh):

  These hand-made stationary products are quite variable in their design and appeal – many sets feature hand embossed and hand decorated products and others are even cut from artisanal, hand-made papers – one of Ten Thousand Villages most traditional customary gift ideas for the holidays.

Porcelain Tree Ornaments ($ 8.00, Vietnam):

   These traditional Vietnamese ceramics reflect the centuries-old tradition of production for which Vietnam has been famous cine the 15th Century.  From the village of Bat Trang, near Hanoi, the secrets for making this white and blue pottery are traditional artisanal skills passed on from one generation to the next.  These ornaments are hand-made with paint and glaze being applied by hand.  High quality, high temperature kilning methods produce a very strong, durable product.
    I might note that like other “holiday” ornaments, these ceramics need not be confined to the holidays but make attractive additions to lighting fixtures, hung in planters or strung in windows (I like to mix them with a variety of other prisms and glass ornaments).

Shariaptur Faces Planters ($ 34.00, Bangladesh):

  These unique herb pots are sure to bring a smile to your face or those of your loved ones.  It is impossible to not smile when others are smiling around you.
   From Shariaptur, Bangladesh, artisans have been sculpting and firing these terra cotta planters for generations and many of the faces are based on real local visages.  
    Whether you need to spread some joy around your kitchen, utility room or patio, or drop a not so subtle hint at work, these planters make an affordable and yet entirely unique gift.
    That being said, these planters are not recommended for users in Washington, Colorado, Montana or Northern California, as, depending on what you plant in them, one might just catch these jolly fellows doing more than smiling.

Some of my favorite Ten Thousand Villages locations:

St Paul, Minnesota
867 Grand Avenue, St Paul, Minnesota   55105

Evanston, Illinois
719 Main Street, Evanston, Illinois   60202

Goshen, Indiana
206 South Main Street, Goshen, Indiana  46526

Winkler, Manitoba
725 Main Street, Unit B, Winkler, Manitoba  R6W 4A4

Steinbach, Manitoba
355 Main Street, Steinbach, Manitoba  R5G 1Z4

Winnipeg, Manitoba
Northdale Shopping Centre, 963 Henderson Highway, Winnipeg, Manitoba  R2K 2M3

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