I hope one of my island friends doesn’t mind me passing along their moment of holiday glory. All their presents are made; and now it’s time to wrap and deliver! Subtle and significant shifts happen with one word. ‘All their presents were made’, not ‘All their presents were bought’. Whether by choice or necessity, it is fun knowing people who make rather than buy. Christmas really can be a surprise, that way. Yet, that’s not the only way for Christmas to be sincere.
That simple comment popped a revelation into my brain. I can’t recall the last time I visited a mall. Decades ago, I hung out at malls. Weren’t we all supposed to? I didn’t buy much, shopped a lot, people watched even more. Around Christmas, though, I’d wade in with my lists and shipping deadlines. Local friends, family on the opposite coast, a few things for me, the shopping marathon went on for weeks. When my career was doing well and there was plenty of discretionary income, I could easily spend over a thousand dollars on gifts that were best guesses. I suspected they’d fall short, but after a while I realized that the acts of making the list and buying the gifts were an exercise in empathy. At least once a year, I’d concentrate on what I knew about their lives, needs, and desires and try to buy something they’d enjoy. I probably got more out of it than they did, and they never knew.
As kids got older, families dispersed, and friends accumulated more than enough, my trips to the mall became exercises in investing. I’d shop and buy; but I was more likely to notice which and how many bags were being carried, which stores were visited too quickly, and where people hung out when they needed a break. Trips like that were one of the reasons I was happy to own Starbucks stock, even though I am a tea drinker. (For more on that story, check out my book, Dream. Invest. Live.) Pixar was another benefit, before they were bought by Disney. At home, I started making my Mom’s Christmas cookies, partly for nostalgia, eventually as gifts to family as she could do less.
After I moved to the island the mall lost its appeal. Driving to the mall meant about twenty dollars spent on the ferry fee and gas, just for the privilege of jockeying for parking and diving back into ‘Merika, a different culture that I once was a part of. Instead, I shopped in Langley, a tourist town that would almost fit in Alderwood Mall. Art galleries, boutique shops, and some thrifty stores were more fun and a lot less crowded. In the time it could take to find parking on the mainland I could drive to Clinton or Freeland for less touristy establishments. And, I always made sure I dropped in on the galleries, wine, and cheese shop at Greenbank Farm. Hang out with friends, watch money go directly to good and appreciative artists – why go anywhere else?
I’m not as good as my artistic friends at making things, unless it’s food. Some years, the ingredients would cost over two hundred dollars; but it was fun – as long as there was enough time. Part of the cost of making something is spending the time to make it. Cookies and fruitcake (on demand, believe it or not) were baked and delivered. As I started writing books and selling photos, it seemed odd to include those, as if I was turning the gift into a marketing gimmick; but a few folks were sincerely interested and I was happy to provide.
The passage of the last of my parents plus the financial constraints I live within mean I don’t even make it into the shops of Langley, unless I’m buying lunch or tea. The season can be just as busy with cards, decorations, some socializing, and a bit of baking. My tree shopping has been replaced with helping people with vacant lots get rid of weed trees that just happen to be the right type and shape. I do get some interesting looks from the neighbors, though. My every prolific rosemary hedge gets whacked back to reveal my driveway yet again, and the trimmings become trimmings: wreaths and garland. I did visit one store, Dandelion Botanical, but did that online. Foodies do appreciate good herbs and spices. And I do finally feel more comfortable giving away my art, usually as cards from my photo galleries.
With all of this emphasis on making, I still enjoy whatever gifts I’m offered. I have thoughtful friends and family and whether it was made or bought isn’t as important as the thought. (The nostalgic deli package from Pittsburgh will probably be opened before Christmas morning, though.)
I regularly write about mansions for Curbed.com. They’re filled with fine art, exquisite furniture, huge closets and pantries, and of course are incredibly decorated for the season – if their agent allows them. I wonder about the sellers, though. They could gift budgets hundreds of times greater than my most expensive Christmas, which would be amazing to witness. A brand new car in the driveway would certainly amaze me, but I wonder if in the midst of such opulence whether they’d be derided for only giving a few things they made: a bottle of vanilla for a cook, a story about one chapter in their life, an ornament made from a found object that was then personalized.
People I know who have less to give, can give with a sincerity that may be unavailable to people living lives of ever increasing expectations.
A neighbor brought me a bottle of wine, and thanks for being a good neighbor. (Wow! I just checked. It’s a bottle of champagne. Nice.) A friend found some storage bottles in a thrift shop and a dusty decanter, which will make it easier to store some of my culinary creations. They are like the gifts I remember the most, nothing extravagant, but something sincere. Imagine what it would be like if, instead of a price tag, each gift was tagged with how much it would be appreciated.
Whatever holiday you celebrate (and congratulations to those who’ve figured out how to celebrate everyone’s holidays), I hope you give and get those sincere moments whether the gifts were bought, made, or were simply shared compliments.
(Great, writing this makes me wonder about making a chipped ham sandwich with BBQ sauce late on Christmas Eve Eve. Great stuff, and you’d be amazed at the shipping logistics required. Wow!)