(Writer’s Disclaimer: Every year around the holidays I write this same basic article about shopping smart for gifts, making gifts, looking at your carbon footprint, etc. Last week we were in Florida for Thanksgiving, and rolling down the highway I saw an RV towing a Humvee. It might have been a performance art piece, although I doubt it. So there’s obviously still some excess and waste out there and that doesn’t have to be the way of things for Christmas.)
Is there something that you need? I mean, after some thought, you’ve decided that you need it? Some soap? A book of poetry? A hand-cranked coffee bean grinder?
I bring up that last one because I did, in fact, find one for my sister two years ago when she asked for it for Christmas. She wanted to grind her own coffee, sans the electricity required to do it. It took some hunting, but I found the device in a catalog of Amish kitchen supplies called “Luke’s Barn of Values for Thee.” Their blender that you operate by riding a bicycle? Not as good….
We can make focused Christmas purchases if we want to, and this year it seems especially right to do so. But I’ll be the first to admit that you can only go “green” so far. Wooden toys are great, but no kid wants a Batmobile made out of recycled tires. At a certain point, a child’s wisdom takes over and says, “Hey, people, its garbage!” Does that mean that we must buy the plastic sound-chip, battery-burning version? Only parents can know and appreciate the fresh hell that begins with a plaintive “I want that!” as a tiny finger points to a Toys-R-Us catalog.
Of course it’s best to make gifts, because of the heart and time invested in something you’ve made yourself. Last year, I constructed recipe card holders for the cooks in my family. I still have leftover wooden clothespins from that, if anybody is thinking “sheet music restraint for windy concert days” or something along those lines. They’re also good for holding up wet clothes.
For some, this year it may be patriotic to shop and support American retail and I certainly understand that. I would note, however, that in Santa Monica we have some wonderfully diversified retail right down on Main Street. If you seek a pleasant, less pressurized evening of holiday shopping you might hit Main this Saturday, December 6, when Main Street is turning on its lights and cooperating merchants are staying open to offer refreshments and holiday cheer. This is not an infomercial but rather a plea that you appreciate a simple, pleasant evening on your own streets. Just like the song: “City sidewalks, dressed in holiday cheer….”
Reports are that the Thanksgiving weekend pointed upward for retail, with better than expected numbers for so-called “Black Friday” shopping. Even the banal “Four Christmases” movie did well, indicating that the public might be in the mood for a happy holiday in the face of the economic downturn. If that is so, we can still be thoughtful with our gift giving. And while I have no personal agenda except that you all have a very Merry Christmas, here are some considerations that I make in searching for gifts that might enter into your thinking as well.
Does this gift involve people? In the home I grew up in, games were always a big deal because time with family together was rare and special. So an inexpensive Monopoly set, minus the new electronics, is better than a watch in that regard.
Does the gift realistically have a long useful life? If you really sense that the thing, whatever it is, won’t see that much use or action… then take another shot. I know that some parents don’t want to give a youngster a jackknife for Christmas, but man… I certainly got some sweet mileage out of mine. No batteries, and almost no jail time!
Does this gift have another dimension? I don’t mean that it travels through space and time, although THAT would be the gift! Rather, does its purchase impact a cause or provide support for something in another part of the world? Fair Trade coffees, supporting sustainable food and income for hungry people through the Heifer Society (Heifer.org/site); any gift where your purchase has a meaningful secondary impact. The opportunities for this kind of gifting have never been so plentiful, perhaps because the discrepancies on our planet have never been so great.
Getting back to my original question: Does this gift meet any kind of need? You have a need; you want to say “I care about you” to another with a gift. But what will that thing do for the recipient after your presentation of it? Get them drunk (liquor), or make them think (books)? Clutter a shelf (Elvis “Burning Love” cigarette lighter) or solve a problem (Hello Kitty socks to replace worn-out Hello Kitty socks)? Recycle and conserve energy (thrift store lamp you’ve restored with energy-saving bulb), or add to waste and the degradation of our environment (“Four Christmases” on DVD)? There are choices, and I submit to you that taking your time to make them is at least as much fun as buying electric appliances from China. Now if thou wilt excuse me, I will grind thee some coffee.