It's Going to Be a Fair Trade Christmas

Every year when stores start blasting Christmas music even before I've finished the Halloween candy, I whine about rushing the season. But when I walked into the grocery store last week and heard Jingle Bells, I thought: ornaments!

My house flooded in Hurricane Sandy a few years ago and my Christmas decorations were among the casualties. Last year I skipped the tree. I am starting from scratch this year, so I thought I'd give my tree a theme. I picked angels, thinking them silvery and hopeful and cheery.

Earlier this year I decided to do more to express my values through how I spend and invest my money. That includes buying more from socially responsible and local businesses, and choosing Fair Trade goods as often as possible. (Yes, I'm aware that some people find the trees themselves a problem, but this year I really want one -- it will be from a local nursery.)

Most of the stores in my suburban Connecticut town are chains, but I did a quick run-through anyway. Maybe most people -- or stores -- find angels too religious, or just prefer a bit more novelty in their ornaments, because I spotted only a few angels among the hundreds of stars, snowmen, puppies, princesses and owls. Lots of owls.

I did have one score. A few feet away from bins of sleighs and penguins and neon pickles at Crate and Barrel, I found slender angels of sisal and banana fiber made by Kenyan women for the retailer through World of Good. I bought six, and asked the cashier if there were more angels hanging around.

No, he said, but the pickle ornament was proving very popular.

As I drove 20 minutes to the nearest Ten Thousand Villages, I figured I might have to reconsider my theme or get one of those tabletop trees. No need. The non-profit store -- founded in 1946 and one of the first Fair Trade retailers -- had a good stash of angels. Pretty capiz-shell angels and a boxed set of fragile angels of sinamay made in the Philippines. A colorfully dressed angel from Zimbabwe and rainbow jute-and-paper angels from Bangladesh and my current favorite, a spindly-legged and vaguely fragrant angel made of orange peel from Columbia.

Once home, I found a bunch more angels on Serrv, another pioneering non-profit, including a blue-and-silver capiz angel that may be the one that winds up at the top of my tree. Current angel count: 26 -- almost enough to decorate a decent-sized tree. And I still have plenty of time to start buying Fair Trade presents to go under it.