I love the holiday season, but its essence is often lost in consumerism. I love the smell of pine and fresh baked cookies, the tinkling of bells and twinkling lights, snow and shopping malls.... Wait. What? The holiday season can be taxing for many reasons, but nothing reduces me to a quivering idiot quicker than a crowded mall. Gift giving may begin with the best of intentions, but the harrowing experience of confronting a maddened horde in a frenzy sends me running for cover. Rather than bullying your way through conventional shopping avenues, and spending a fortune you don’t have, imagine choosing or making a gift that’s truly from your heart and hands.
As a family we try very hard to embrace the true meaning of the season. Last year we skipped the gift giving altogether met on a warm island in the Caribbean. Extravagant, you say? Everyone was living all over the world and it was cheaper than the expense of trying to meet at home, buy the ingredients for a huge meal, decorate and exchange presents. And once everyone arrived home, there would have been the obligatory visits with this friend and that relative. I didn’t want to share! We went to a lesser known island off the coast of Puerto Rico called Culebra. It was low key and we celebrated what is most important, our love for each other. No distractions, no crowds, only warm sand, warm water, warm hearts and each other. Frequent Flyer miles helped!
One of the best gifts I ever received was a photo album from my three daughters. It contained pictures of all our pets (we had eleven at the time) with hilarious commentary. Six of that motley rescued crew have passed on to the great beyond, and I still pull that book out and chuckle. A year or so later my husband stole the idea and included human children along with the furry children. Both were rich, treasured gifts that took time, but minimum money.
Many gifts I’ve given over the years have come from my kitchen. I have made homemade Limoncello, yeast bread, muffins and plates of vegan cookies. One year I gathered wild grapevines and made wreaths. If you have a jig saw, a cutting board is relatively easy to make. If I can do it, you can do it. Scarfs are a breeze for anyone who knits or crochets. I gave my best girlfriend a picture of us when we were 14 alongside a picture of us at 50. One family I know makes wind chimes and bamboo flutes, another woman pottery, but they are truly craftsmen. I don’t have that kind of talent. My artist daughter usually gives each of us a drawing or painting. My favorite she sent home when she lived in Rome. It is of my one eyed cat. She knew how much I love that cat, and made the effort to paint her even though she's a surrealist that usually paints scenes that look more like dreams, or nightmares. When giving a gift, think of the recipient. If you are fluent in a foreign language, a truly wonderful gift for someone is a few lessons. The only investment you’ll make is time.
My girlfriend makes beautiful bags out of upsourced wool and cotton, and pine cone wreaths. My husband made wine one year with a buddy. He made white, and his friend made red, and they agreed to trade half of what they made to the other so they’d have some of each. My husband totally screwed up his recipe, but somehow it turned out unbelievably tasty. His buddy followed the recipe exactly, and his was awful. Go figure. My husband gifted the wine, but the best present of all was the act of doing something unique with a friend.
There are many organizations where you can buy a gift for someone in need. Whether it’s a warm jacket for a child or seeds for a farmer, it’s a gift that will improve someone’s life. If you would like to take the idea farther there are ways you can help build a house, or a barn.
At different periods in their lives my children have written me eloquent thank you letters that have absolutely reduced me to tears. I can’t imagine a lovelier gift for a parent. A son in law gave me a tiny painting he had bought for himself when he lived in Europe many years before. I had always admired it. The touching gesture gave new meaning to the word recycle.
My best friend hosts a White Elephant party at the end of the holiday season. The only rule is that you may not buy the gift you bring. The items that show up run the gamut from ridiculous to riveting. Everyone has something hanging around that they wonder how in the world they ended up with it. You’ll find that one man’s junk really is another’s treasure. My extended family stole the idea and has a kind of anonymous Polly Anna. Most of the gifts are family mementos that end up getting passed from one family group to another. It can be a little emotional to open the box and find letters grandfather wrote home during wartime, or Uncle Bob’s college room mate’s wacky sculpture. A true gift should squeeze your heart a little.
Gift giving isn’t a necessary ingredient for a lovely holiday, but it is a tradition of the season, one you may, or may not, choose to follow. If you do choose to embrace this particular practice, use your imagination. It doesn’t have to be a taxing process. Remember the true meaning of the holidays, and give a little of yourself.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.