Waverly Fitzgerald of the School of the Seasons has her own good ideas about sane gift-giving during the holidays:
Living in Season: Gift Giving at Yule
The connection between Christmas and present-giving is fairly recent. In earlier times, people gave small symbolic gifts at Christmas time, gloves, pins, a coin, flowers, candy, a clove-studded orange, or sugar-coated figs. These were usually New Year’s gifts, small tokens to indicate wishes for luck or prosperity during the coming year.
Unfortunately, in twentieth century America, spurred on by the advertising industry and the enormous boon for retail businesses, the giving of presents has become a major focus of the holiday season. All too often this practice becomes a burden, causing financial and emotional hardship.
The simplest way I’ve found to get off this Christmas gift-giving merry-go-round is to refuse to go shopping at all. Luckily my daughter was a somewhat cynical adolescent before I made this choice. The winter holiday season has always been a time for honoring the child, whether that child is the Baby Jesus or the New Year’s baby, so a less radical solution might be to give gifts only to children.
Several years ago, my daughter and I decided to make all of our Christmas gifts (we agreed that birthdays would be the time for store-purchased gifts). That year I made her a hand-painted silk scarf and a flannel nightgown. She gave me pictures she had painted. In subsequent years our gifts have included flannel sheets, a bracelet and earrings, a hand-painted ceramic mug, a warm winter hat. One year, when she was gone visiting her dad for Christmas, I painted the walls of her room in colors she had chosen.
Although I stopped buying major presents for my daughter, I do buy gifts in certain categories which have become traditional. I always buy her an ornament, gloves, socks, a book to read, a new calendar and a game to play in those empty hours of Christmas afternoon.
Besides making gifts for my daughter, I also make small token gifts for other people. That first year, I wrote stories about our pets — Chester the Dog, and Faithfull the Cat — and Shaw illustrated them. We had them photocopied and bound into little books which we distributed to close friends. We are still reading that little book together, as well, and it has become even more precious now that Chester died.
For other Christmases, I’ve designed other books, including the original version of the Thirteen Cookies book which I sell at my web site and a collection of seasonal haikus and photographs. This year, I’m compiling the research I did for my Twelve Days class last year.
I don’t always make a book each Christmas. One year I gave out hand-made soap and another year I made decorative tin lanterns. I have a friend who always makes a tape of his favorite music for the year — these tapes are treasured bits of history as they chart his evolving taste in music. Other friends give gifts of food: a loaf of pumpkin bread, a jar of chutney. Although these creative projects are probably more time-consuming than shopping, they are much more satisfying. It’s a great way to withdraw your support from the consumer frenzy of the Christmas season, a mentality very far from the quiet, inward focus of winter.