It’s already the end of November? When did that happen? I would feel lazy if I remembered October at all, really, but this comes as a surprise. So, here you are:
Giving in 2008
It’s a good year for solemn gift guides. Glitz and extravagance seem tasteless beside rising foreclosures and hunger in the US, plus who has the money to spare these days anyway? But all this crisis makes it a great year to focus on the purpose and meaning of gifts-another silver lining in the garbage bag containing the international economy. Basically, making it about money and stuff this year is finally tacky! Gauche! Passe! Sooo 2007! Thoughtful is so In right now.
FIrst, the general approaches:
1. How you buy it is as important as what you buy. Start your shopping at thrift and consignment stores, handmade fairs or websites, and fair trade shops. Etsy is an incredible handmade resource for items beautiful and practical- browse it, support small businesses, and I bet you’ll find something suited for every taste, from bizzaro to cutsy to classic. You know the arguments for buying fair trade and used already.
2. Do you have friends with skills? Commission them (the earlier the better) to make your relatives pottery or jewelry or scarves or whatever their specialty is. Do you have skills? Give your dad a year of cheerful IT help.
3. Give time and attention, even if you don’t have giftable skills (or skills you want to gift…). A year of monthly dinners together. A year of regular phone calls to relatives far away (ones that actually care to hear from you, for sure).
4. Do they already have everything? Give to a charity they (and you) support in their name. CharityNavigator.org sells gift cards that recipients can give to a charity of their choice on the site (they can research the efficiency and work of the charity at the same site, too).
5. Are you one of those aunts who always give the nieces scented candles/bodywash/bath froofy-do? I am not here to judge you, but make the candles beeswax or soy wax and the bath gunk biodegradable, if you must continue in this vein.
Ahh. Enough generalities, now specifically awesome gifts:
1. Fair Trade Piggy Banks! Saving is cool again. From Ten Thousand Villages, piggys and elephants and cats. From One World Projects, various pigs and owls. You can search for more online also, but check the creds of the Fair Trade projects you buy from. In the same vein, with less adorableness, Elders: your young’uns may not understand what a 401K is if you start them one this year, but they’ll thank you with genuine feeling later.
2. Coffee. Specifically, coffee from Mesa de Los Santos, a Colombian farm that helped pioneer organic, shade grown, fairly traded coffee. They’ve grown organic for over 100 years, built a school for their worker’s kids, and reforested their fields, earning a Bird-Friendly certification from the Smithsonian, USDA Organic certification, and a BioLatina badge. There’s a personal connection, too: my GF is from a branch of the family that’s owned the farm for four generations. As to the taste, I do not actually drink coffee- but I still enjoy this stuff black. Still, don’t take my word for it: reviews (and online ordering forms) are here and here and here.
3. Gift certificates to local, organic restaurants. Self-explanatory, no? Give the gift of a night far away from your loved ones.
4. Potted plants or Garden Tools/Seeds/Composters. Scale this one to the gardening level of the giftee. Apartment-dweller or college kid? Potted plant(s) (or tree!) with very specific instructions. Do they have a few flower beds? Vegetable seeds and maybe some books on growing your own food. Do they always bring up how they grow their own tomatoes? Up their ante with a compost bin and a thoughtful little charcoal-filtered kitchen bucket for food scraps.
5. Classes. Vouchers or promises for fencing lessons, sewing classes, cooking classes, metalworking lessons, language tutoring, and basically any other skill you can think of are useful, and not just for delighting your curious and adventurous loved ones. Sign them up alone or do it with them, for some quality time. Added benefits: surely a trained cook will make you meals in gratitude? Worth a shot (fencing lessons are less useful for this reciprocity principle).
Anyway, now you know what my family’s getting for Christmas. I wish you a stressless holiday full of delicious smells and guilt-free giving.
PS. If none of this does it for you, check out these ideas from CNN/Oprah and HuffPo.