Saturday, November 18, 2006

Simple Holiday


One week until Black Friday. What do you do on that day? Get up early armed with the newspaper circulars and go out in the dark to wait for Wal*art to open? I hope not. I like to honor that day as National Buy Nothing Day, a celebration I have enjoyed for the past three or four years. It is so relaxing and lovely to plan on going to the park or playground on that day. No one else is there and the sky is big.

I have noticed that some bloggers are starting to talk about holiday gift giving. I wanted to share my strategies for gifts. I really don’t like the commercialization of Christmas. I don’t like the way Santa is used by advertisers to teach children to be greedy. I actually don’t like Santa at all. One year when I was teaching first grade I forgot who I was talking to and I actually said that out loud to a room full of children. We were rushing through wrapping their handmade clay things for family gifts. The room was chaotic and I was beyond frazzled, hoping desperately that I had all the correct children’s names on the right tissue paper bundles. The children were discussing Santa and one of them asked me if I believed. Without thinking I said “I don’t like Santa”. The room came to a screeching halt. Silence. I looked up to see 18 pairs of shocked eyes staring at me. What?

“ah….” I said. “I mean I don’t like how Santa is used in all the commercials trying to get you and your parents to buy more stuff.” Still silence. I have their complete attention. They are thinking, waiting for me to say what they really want to know; if I think Santa is real.

“Santa is about showing people how much you love them. Santa is not about shopping. I just don’t like seeing him on TV. That’s why I think the best gifts are the ones you make yourself, and I think Santa agrees with that.”

Sigh. We all relaxed after that and the room got noisy again. No more questions because they knew just what I meant.

I love Christmas. I love giving gifts. I love the excitement, the secrets, the planning and preparing. I love the giving and receiving. I love the celebrating, the music, the food, the time with family and friends. I just don’t like the pressure to spend a lot of money and get a pile of more stuff. I hate the crowds rushing around in a panic trying to throw debt at obligation. I want to simplify my life. How many of you even remember what gifts you got or gave last year? Do you have stuff jammed in your closets that came as gifts that you don’t even want? Or did you give most of it away already?

I try to make as many presents as I can because I think most of us have more stuff than we need and it is much more satisfying to me to give something I have made specially for the person. If it is something like a gift exchange at work that is more about obligation and social connection than personal love I give something that I have made a lot of over the summer or fall in preparation. I make it a year round project, planning and producing. I know that comes easier to some people than others. You may be thinking “fine for her but I am not creative. I can’t make anything” But I don’t believe that is true. So I challenge you to help me make a list of alternative gifts that take little or no shopping. Things you can make or offer or promise that show your connection/relationship/love has value but don’t result in another overstuffed closet.

I know we are told that shopping is important for our economy and it is a patriotic act. But I don’t believe that. I believe that American was built by thrifty, creative, resourceful people and we need to practice those abilities still in order for our country to remain strong. We need to teach our children to give from the heart. We need to teach them to create and build and assemble beautiful things and give them joyfully in love. They don’t need any help learning to want more.

Of course I do buy a few things for my boys. A toy or two, books certainly, maybe an electronic game or movie. I give my neices and nephews gift cards from their favorite stores. Moderation is the key for shopping in my plan.

Here is my seasonal plan:

To start out; declutter. Sort, toss and donate. Go through the closets or attic or wherever you stash stuff and get rid of everything you don’t use or want that you are likely to get more of. If you usually get presents of sweaters or books or kitchen gadgets and you already have too many, clean it out. That way when you come home from Christmas gift exchanges there will be room to store the new gifts.

Second: Turn off the TV. At least cut back a little. You and your family are being inundated with messages of greed, desire, gluttony and extravagance. The world doesn’t need more of that. Your children will be happier and your family more peaceful with fewer commercials assaulting you. Practice other ways to relax and de-stress. Go outside or pick up a book. Or start making gifts together!

Third: Consider starting a round-robin gift exchange with your family and friends. In our family, with my brothers and sisters, we pick a name from a hat and everyone gets a gift for one family member. The cousins do the same thing. It makes it so much more balanced and enjoyable for everyone. At work we have a party where everyone brings a $10 gift and we play a game where you can trade gifts in a kind of lottery. It is so much fun! And you don't go crazy trying to get a gift for everyone in sight.

Here is my list of gift giving ideas:

  1. Consider giving donations through UNICEF, World Vision or the Heifer Project.
  2. If you prefer to have a thing to wrap, shop from fair trade venders who directly benefit the artisans, like The Greater Gift or Ten Thousand Villages. You can give chocolate, jewelry, clothing, art objects, home furnishings, etc. made beautifully by crafters in third world countries and give them the profits.
  3. If you like to cook, make food gifts. Bread, cookies (ever try a cookie exchange party with friends?) jams and jellies, a basket of tea and treats are gifts I have given and received that I love.
  4. Knit, sew or craft something. Give me some ideas here! I have made sweaters, jewelry, quilts, scarves, mittens, socks, pot holders, dolls, cloth balls, handmade books, poetry, stories, lavender sashes, herbal concoctions…
  5. Give gift certificates for a service you can perform. Clean, cook, repair, rake leaves, shovel snow, baby-sit….
  6. Computer help. Offer to install and run virus and adware software or clean up a hard drive for someone who is techno-phobe.
  7. Make stuff on your computer: business cards, calendar, note cards with lovely photos, stationary, photo albums, movies or slide shows…
  8. Plants. Start cuttings or seeds or cultivars from your garden or houseplants. Decorate a pretty pot. Include directions for light and water.
  9. Preserve fruit and vegetables from your garden or make sauces and soups from your harvest.
  10. Teach your kids to make gifts. Ideas here and here.
  11. Time. Promise to take the person out somewhere, for whatever they love to do. Or make it possible for them to go out and play…. A trip to the city? Golfing? Beach? Hike? Playground? Try to keep it inexpensive though. You are giving them TIME, and ATTENTION, not money.
  12. Teach them something. What do people tell you you are good at? Who tells you that? Offer to give them a piece of it.
  13. Offer to take them shopping in the post-Christmas sales. Maybe you are saying "but what I am really good at is shopping!" so teach someone else that skill!

I am hoping many of you will chime in with your ideas. Please, even if you are usually just a lurker. Add your thoughts in the comments! What do you think about all this holiday shopping and gifting? What is your strategy? How do you wish it were different? What is your plan for this year? What can you add to my list? What can you make or assemble or offer that does not require shopping or going into debt?

16 comments:

Poor_Statue said...

Love your ideas. Our Christmas is much like this though in our family we have a mix of people who aren't about gifts and those who think gifts are a measure of how much we love someone. For the most part though, we focus on getting together. I extend the idea to birthdays too. I never buy my sister's kids a birthday gist. I take them out for the day. They love it and look forward to it every year and they remember those days more than they would remember any gift I gave.

Anonymous said...

Great ideas! I make a lot of gifts, soap being the main one. I make cutesy tags and give a pile of them as gifts. I make Limoncello or Kaluha for my friends that like to drink. I make flavored butters mixed with fruits and chutneys. I bake.
The stuff I do purchase, I buy online. I HATE shopping in malls.
We have a lot of traditions in the family. Those are what the kids REALLY look forward to during the Holidays. Those are the things they will always remember.

duda said...

My sisters and I are passionate about garage sales. We almost never buy a "new" present for each other. If you are patient and look long enough, everything eventually shows up in a garage sale. The presents I receive and give to them are the best ones every year.

And after Christmas shopping, we are all about that! Buying candles half price and saving them for next year's teacher/co-worker/mailman presents is the only way to go.

We go out leisurely on Black Friday, and scout out what we plan to buy the day after Christmas... like the pairs of Christmas boxer shorts my husband and sons always get for Christmas.

Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

Really good ideas, and wise, too. What disturbs me about the holiday shopping madness is how children are targeted. I've found that now that our kids are in their teens, the madness has really died down. They simply don't want the junk that was pushed at them when they were little.

I enjoy a little shopping, not so much in the malls, but in smaller shops. My days of shopping on the day after Thanksgiving are long gone!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Clouds!

Helene said...

My DH gives me coupons each year for things like a day of shopping kids free, dinner (he a great cook), etc. These are always great gifts.

Courtney said...

A toast to you... I love making gifts for people... or I get something off the giving tree, take a picture of it before I send it off and give the picture to someone as their gift. I let them know that instead of buying something they didn't need, I spent that money on someone who did need something. Hope you have fun at the park!

Inkling said...

I usually try to make gifts--to save money, to make it personal, and because I enjoy the making, and that's part of the Christmas fun for me. This year it's not happening. Somehow it crept up on me and I don't have the time I need. But I definitely like your idea of the gift certificates for time, dates, etc. I will make use of that!

erthsister said...

I am so with you on this! Have emailed myself your post to reread at lesuire. :)

LauraHinNJ said...

I like your gift alternatives too.

I hate shopping. Hate trying to come up with a gift for people who really need nothing.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

I don't like seeing Santa everywhere, either. We have St. Nicholas, who comes on December 6th and Christmas Eve, and the gifts are small things: miniature tool sets, little dollies, packets of tea, etc. For the winsome adults in my life, I've sewed elfin dollies with matching drawstring bags, jewelry-bag holders (drawstring bag holding another bag that has closeable pockets) and things of that ilk. However, most people get Year End letters accompanied by photo cards. I suspect that living far away from most of our family lightens the appearance of obligation a bit.

Other ideas:
coffee-beans
cocoa
your own concoction of trail-mix
simple art supplies

Anonymous said...

We, too, have celebrated Black Friday as a Buy Nothing Day. Very liberating, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I found the post!! For some reason the link doesn't work in Afrindiemum's blog...

I don't like Santa either, particularly because I don't want my children to believe in something that doesn't exist. I do love the gift exchange and I think your suggestion to less consumerist gifts are excellent! I hope to implement them someday.

joy said...

I remember the Christmas the first year I was in college. I didn't have much money, so I made everyone letter pillows...I stuffed letters of their first name. Good thing they didn't have long names! I smiled when I saw these pillows many, many years later at my sisters. :)

Color Online said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Color Online said...

cloudscome,
Your blog is quickly becoming my favorite place to pause and breathe. Love your suggestions and I hope you don't mind me linking your post for a group of friends at a diversity forum I belong to. We were discussing this very topic recently.
This is a very lean year for me and I was feeling a little depressed about it, but you've reminded me of so many things I can do, and I have some time to get them done.
I am glad you are here and grateful we've connected.
Peace,
zawadi

Cloudscome said...

zawadi you are so encouraging to me! Thank you for your many kind comments.