“Angels we have heard on high,
tell us to go out and buy”
So goes Tom Lehrer’s “A Christmas Carol,” which rings strangely relevant today despite the fact that it was written over 50 years ago.
As Lehrer says, “Christmas time is here, by golly.”
And, if you’re anything like me, your life is pre-tty full. And as the holidays descend, announced by the presence in all stores of X-mas decorations, deals, and constant piped-in carols since before Thanksgiving is even here (really!?!), there are so many things that make even the idea of rustling up gifts for all the people in your life just make you want to groan.
- How suuuper commercialized Christmas has become. It can be hard to get excited about giving when it just seems to be about filling company coffers.
- Time. Keeping up with everything life throws at us is never easy. Add the obligatory Christmas parties AND the time to pick out knick knacks and think hard enough to make them thoughtful knick knacks, and you just want to throw your hands up and disappear until January 15 of next year.
- Money. Stuff costs money, am-i-right?Buying lots of new stuff can seriously strain the budget. As relatives and friends have babies, there seem to be MORE gifts than ever to buy.
- Knowing what to get. Face it — you can’t give them that fancy candle or socks AGAIN this year. They’ll know you’re on auto-pilot! How to nail that authentic, truly thoughtful gift that won’t leave you feeling kind of ashamed when you give it?
I try not to let the environment dictate what I do or how I feel about something. So, if–like me–you’re feeling stressed, reluctant, or overwhelmed at the mere thought of that gift list, try this with me:
Let’s reclaim the holidays. Let’s make them something we want them to be. Let’s tap into our ingenuity and that of the people around us to make this a season we can look back and say, like ol’ Blue Eyes, “I did it my waaaaay.”
By doing this, we can rewrite the narrative that the work of community-building thought leaders John McKnight and Peter Block recently pointed out in their book An Other Kingdom is slowly robbing our lives, neighborhoods and cities of joy, power and well-being: the illusion that what we have, make, and are is and will never be enough, and that only that which we can buy or pay others to do for us holds true value. That it’s what outside rather than inside us or our communities that counts, and we are most powerful as consumers, clients and customers rather than as citizens (ie. individuals with the power to create our future together with others), neighbors, and producers.
How? Mother Theresa is credited with saying:
“It’s not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.”
― Mother Teresa
Perhaps we can reclaim Christmas by coming up with practical, fun ways to re-inject this obligatory buy-fest with that magic ingredient we all truly crave, and which I believe is the original spirit of the holiday: Love.
Here are 5 ideas I’ve learned through my own experimentation and through the modeling of my awesome community-building mother (the queen of making parties & re-gifting!) and many friends, neighbors and colleagues in the world of asset-based community development.
(1.) HUNT LOCALLY
What are people making in your neighborhood, town or city? Your locally bought gift will automatically gain love/value points because seeking out something locally that relates to a person on your list takes time and effort–and, you can probably accompany the giving with a great story about finding item and meeting its maker. Not only that, you gain value by getting out into your community and learning what’s out there, building relationships with all the productive, creative folks out beyond your doorstep. (Read: increased love all around!)
[A breakdown of how focusing your gift-hunt locally can enrich your gifts and life: First, you’ll add to your inventory of resources by discovering some really cool things and makers in your area you didn’t know about before. Second, you’ll generate good-will with someone in your community, which not only makes you feel good but also tends to show up again down the road as a kindness, savings, or benefit of some kind coming back to you. Local makers value their customers way more than any large chain ever truly can, because you make up such a larger proportion of their revenue–aka survival–and because they get to meet you face to face. Third, getting out for a local gift hunt gives you a chance to bump into people you know in town, or meet new people during the process. And, last but not least, you’ll feel the satisfaction that you are doing something tangible with one of the most powerful tools we have (our money!) to strengthen the health of your community’s economy. New research has demonstrated that money spent at locally-owned businesses is “twice as efficient as keeping the local economy alive.”]
>> Action tips:
Find a Neighborhood Maker. Ask the busy-body on your block or in your neighborhood, “Do we have anyone who makes stuff in our neighborhood?” Or, if you already know some neighbors, think about whether you know something already they can make, or just ask them if they know anyone. As Jamie Arwin Ricci says, “When we discover the true richness of our neighborhoods- the vast and amazing potential- it becomes clear that we could fill many lifetimes within the boundaries of a few blocks. And that is more than enough.”
Hit up your local Farmer’s Market. You can generally find all kinds of packaged fancy foods, home-made niceties like candles, toys, body products, etc. there. Some cities even have multiple markets, so you might even be able to find one super close to home. (We now have three in Sarasota: Downtown Farmer’s Market, Newtown Nation Farmer’s Market, Central Sarasota Farmer’s Market)
Find an Indie-Market near you. A quick google search of “indie craft show (insert your town/city here)” should turn you up something, or ask any well-connected friend-about-town and they can probably steer you toward a great spot teeming with locally crafted, highly creative goodies of all kinds made with love by creative, often young entrepreneurs who you’ll enjoy meeting and be doing a great service to by patronizing. Here’s my favorite local one: Atomic Holiday Bazaar (they even have Derby Girls!).
Bring a friend. Everything’s better together, right? Discover your town together and make some new memories.
(2.) MAKE IT!
I don’t know about you, but most hand-made things are SO much more meaningful to me as gifts than those that are store-bought. Granted, your nephew might throw a fit if he doesn’t get that particular video game or new device on his list… but, apart from those exceptions, many more people than we might assume will appreciate a gift made by your very own loving hands.
Often, time can be a barrier to making gifts. But consider this: when I think about something I’m good at and genuinely enjoy doing (for me: art, photography, and cooking), spending time using those talents to make gifts becomes something that has other added benefits to my life and something I’m happy to make time for.
A lot of us either already have some time set aside in our lives for doing what we love, or we wish we did. Making gifts gives you an excuse to take that time that you want to take anyway, and develop a talent of yours by using it. And, in my experience, there’s very little more satisfying than putting my talents to use for the sake of making someone I love know how much I love them.
>> Action tips:
Don’t think of yourself as talented? Phooey! Everyone has a gift. Even if it’s just something you personally love — like, if you love music, make everyone a Mix CD of your favorite songs. A friend of mine did that one year, and even this seemingly small and easy thing to make came across as such a unique, genuine gift that just re-enriched the friendship every time we listened to it.
Try this question on: “What do you love doing so much that you lose track of time doing it?” How could you turn that into a gift to someone else? And if time is an issue, “How could you make a BUNCH of gifts at once in, say, an afternoon, using that gift?” For example: “I love to cook” –> Make everyone your favorite easy cookies or salad dressing.
If you’re still grasping for ideas, check out this great compilation of 100 Mind-Blowing DIY Christmas Gifts People Actually Want.
Say you have have loads of creativity, but very little cash on hand. Or you may have a great idea for some art, a song or a poem that would make Mom/Dad/Bro/Bestie’s day, but no art skills whatsoever. Take 10 minutes and think of the people in your circle who you can combine skills or resources with to make some completely unique, inherently thoughtful (because you put thought into making them) gifts.
>> Action tips:
Make a trade. Collaborating opens the door to a beautiful old tradition that both saves money and enriches relationships: bartering! What could you trade with a maker you know for their creation(s)? Example: If you can write, ask your visually gifted friend to make you a border for your writing. If you’re good at making things pretty, maybe your friend who cooks will make you some goodies if you decorate your own bags, and some for the folks on their list too? Or, you could just offer to “pay” in the form of something you have or can do that they value–dog-walking, copy-editing, giving advice, etc. etc. Start the conversation, and see what synergy you find. You then walk away with an added value of an relationship of exchange and mutual delight that “keeps giving” after the holidays have passed. Not exactly the kind of thing that happens from your purchases at Target, right?
Throw a “Making Party.” Know someone who’s great at crafting? I do — her name’s Kari Bunker and she’s not only a genius artistic crafter *but* she loves breaking the process down for all us fumbly lay-people out there in a group setting. Call that person up and say, “Hey, let’s make stuff together for our Christmas list!” Invite some friends over, pump up your favorite Christmas (or anti-Christmas?) jams and have at it. You’ll not only get your list covered, but enjoy de-stressing with people you probably struggle to spend time with anyway. Or, if you have kids, or if your friends have kids, make it a multi-generational shindig that ends up bringing everyone closer together.
I know, I know… Re-gifting is supposed to be tacky. But hear me out. Have you ever really thought about this? What if we considered the impact that constantly producing more and more stuff as a society–a trend we support when we buy things new–is having on our planet, even on our psyche? And just think about all of the stuff sitting, perfectly useable, gathering dust on thrift stores or peoples’ closets because of this obsession of ours with “new.”
Maybe it’s because I’m the granddaughter of a dedicated scavenger (my paternal grandfather’s favorite spot was the dump), but I reject the idea that the very same object loses all value as gift the moment it’s unwrapped and becomes “used.” (I mean, unless we’re talking underwear.)
Pretty much all of us have some stuff laying around ready for the thrift store. A lot of that stuff is practically new, right? So maybe, just maybe, we could entertain Mother Theresa’s wise words that it’s the love that counts, the thought in choosing it and the intention behind it–not the newness.
It’s up to you to divulge your gifts’ new/used status upon their giving, but whatever you choose, you’ll know when you’re wrapping and handing over that re-purposed book, scarf, notebook, earrings that something connected to someone you love is going into the life of someone else you love. And, you’ll have saved that thing from going to a thrift store where it’ll have no sentimental value for anyone.
>> Action tips:
Gather all that stuff that’s lost its usefulness (for you) and look at it. Let yourself imagine who in your life would just love it? If it doesn’t come to right away, give it a few days. Ask a family member or friend for help brainstorming.
Hold a “Swap Party” with your neighbors, friends, or both to swap treasures where you can discover “another man’s (or woman’s) treasure” from each other’s stuff over snacks and refreshments? (For help: “How to Host a Swap Party”)
(5.) GIVE YOUR PRECIOUS TIME
For Christmas this year, I’m giving my Mom an hour of labor in her yard. Yes, really. Over Thanksgiving, we were talking about how tired we are of traditional gift-shopping and came up with this solution. These days, time is truly precious–so what could be more meaningful than giving it as a gift? It will help you make your relationships a priority and re-ground them in that beautiful, irreplaceable realm of physical, face-to-face nearness that seems in such short supply in our social-media-ed times.
How about giving a Walk on the Beach, a Night at the Movies, or Help Doing A, B, or C that your loved one needs? You can even offer an open ticket for one or two hours of time doing anything at all they would like to do with you.
>> Action tips:
Sit down, look at your X-mas shopping list and think of things you could give each person in the form of time… What do you both love doing? What do they need help with? What have always said you want to do together one day?
Put it in Writing and wrap it up! You could use this handy Certificate Maker to give your gift form, buy an inexpensive but nice-looking envelope or folder at your local office supply store, and wrap it up! (It took me literally two minutes to make this one):
These are just some ideas… the possibilities for using the holidays as an excuse for generating the more profound, expansive wealth of relationship and community are pretty much endless. And in our trying, we can contribute not only to a greater sense of connectedness, but to the spread of a culture of hospitality, one of the greatest treasures of all.
In the words of my friend Howard Lawrence, founder of the Abundant Community Initiative,
“The practice of local hospitality in our society will tend to be rejected as of little consequence. We look for value or fulfillment through participation in earthshaking events or significant cultural moments. This can cripple us. It is possible that this small thing ironically will bring the greatest impact. Hospitality is a practice and discipline that asks us to do what in the system’s eyes might seem inconsequential but from the perspective of well-being, is monumental. This breaking bread among neighbors may well be the essence of what it means to be human.”
What ways have you found to reclaim the holidays for you, your family or neighborhood? Please share!