So My Husband and I have spent a little time thinking about "The Holidays" and how we want to celebrate. For us the Holidays mean Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. We are saddened by the constant, seemingly unchecked turn towards more and more commercialization as each year passes. How many (here unnamed) stores were open on Thanksgiving this year? The pace of life and the holiday season seems ever increasing until some years it seems such a flurry of racing and worrying that its hard to enjoy all those things that are supposed to make the holiday so great.
So Thanksgiving 2008 has come to a close, but here we are at the beginning of the Holiday shopping season with Christmas still ahead of us. The pressure to have all the latest "stuff", and to buy gifts regardless of need does not leave me with any real feeling of what the holidays are supposed to be about. To be perfectly honest I really like "stuff" and I like having "stuff." What I don't like is everything that we seem to be sacrificing by focusing so much of our time, attention and personal resources on selecting, and acquiring said "stuff."
People should not have to spend time away from their loved ones in order to put in more hours at work to have the money to spend more time racing around town fighting traffic and crowds to buy more stuff, until they are exhausted, and close to broke, and then spend more time, probably on their own, shopping for their prepackaged, mass produced, time saving meal. The pressure to have lots of gifts and "bigger" gifts at Christmas leads people to buy so much that is cheaply made, extraneous, and quickly forgotten. NPR this week did a quick piece on Lead in cheaper children's toys. They were reminding people that the legislation Congress passed to try and prevent such items from reaching our children will not take effect until this February, two months after Christmas. So I know you've heard this a thousand times, and I am probably "Preaching to the Choir," but here are a few resources and ideas and I very much welcome any that you may have.
1) If possible take some time off from work to give yourself more time and energy to devote to friends and family or volunteering. If you don't have the luxury of paid days off, perhaps you are someone who is well enough off to be able to say... one day's wages lost will mean that much less spent on gifts or Christmas "paraphernalia" (very tricky if you have small kids, but the time spent together may be worth it)
2) Give homemade gifts such as food that you can give in advance of the actual holiday. This way the person you gift it to has something on hand to save them time in their own kitchen! Something homemade that requires that extra effort and time always is appreciated. The food will be enjoyed and your time is also gifted. For someone who is not a cook, or is elderly prepare a meal that can be frozen and reheated when needed. Last year for a group of friends that always trades baked goods at Christmas, I mixed things up by given each one a two serving portion of homemade soup with a couple homemade truffles. A quick meal for a busy time. The wide variety and quantity of baked goods produced by this group of between 5-7 women usually means that I am set for the holidays.
3) If you don't cook or bake you can support our local growers and small businesses and give a great gift by giving a basket of some fresh produce and jellies, cheeses, breads, wines, nuts, etc all from local sources. Healthier, homemade foods and fresh produce, and time saving food on hand is a wonderful gift and if shopping a local market the vendors also will be grateful for your business.
4) Time..If you can spare it, even a little makes a big difference. If not volunteering, than offering to sit for friends or family with kids who could use a night off. If you are handy give a coupon for an afternoons help around the house for someone who really needs it, or a day spent in their garden... and then don't flounder when they redeem it!
5) Make the gifting experience a little more personal by buying hand crafted gifts from local vendors. Often these items cost no more than something you'd find in the mall, but the gift can be one of a kind, your money is going into your community, and you may even build a relationship with an artisan whose work you love. Richmond is full of local artisans and crafters providing just about everything except perhaps that plasma tv or digital camera. There are two Holidays markets this coming week (see earlier post).
6) Give gifts that involve spending time together... tickets to a show, a movie, the symphony, a day at a game. (The new Mount Pony Theater outside of Culpepper Houses the new Library of Congress' National Audio-Visual Center. They will show films off the National Film Registry Free of Charge 3 times a week in a beautiful 200 seat theater. You just have to make a reservation. For the Month of December they will show all Christmas films starting with "It's A Wonderful Life" this Tuesday Dec 2. Putting something like this together would be a great gift, I think.)
7) If you're going to buy that camera, get it from a small local business. Sure, you'll save money buying from a big box store, but where is your money going and what type of business model are you supporting? If Christmas is supposed to have some meaning, perhaps in this consumerist environment, there is something to be said for thinking about where your dollars go. Again the money goes back into your community, and I am fairly certain your shopping experience will be far better.
8) If were talking adults, have fun with it and just do a white elephant gift exchange. I have actually gotten some really great and useful stuff this way, and the game is a lot of fun regardless.
9) Make a charitable donation in the name of a loved one. Select a charity that they support or would like to support. I've done this for my mother the last couple of years. On Christmas last year I gave her a homemade card with the donation info. and a small something for her like homemade chocolates.
10) Give no gifts at all... It's possible,, I have witnessed this phenomena. Replace the time spent cruising the mall parking lot with a nice meal together or doing something you love.
A couple of website to help out.
http://www.handsongr.com/ This organization connects people who would like to volunteer their time with organizations in the greater Richmond area who need their help. They match people and orgs. based on the interest of the prospective volunteer and do volunteer group outings. You can call 804-330-7400 ext 129 for more information.
http://www.locallectual.com/ (an on line source for "locavores" wanting to go to the next level") This site has some work to do, it's still fairly new, but it has listings of markets, and restaurants as well as products made in the USA and the shops that sell those products. It offers the opportunity for you to create small "communities" on the site. These can be geographically based, and while there is an upstart one for Charlottesville the site is just waiting for anyone to start one for the Richmond area.
http://www.etsy.com/ This is THE site for people looking for handcrafted items. There is a nice feature on here where you can specifically search for crafters in your city or zip code. I typed in Richmond Va and came up with over 10 pages full of local crafters.
http://www.localharvest.com/ I am sure you all know this one. Ideas, perspectives and sources on local eating.
That's it. That's all I got.