Monday, 3 December 2012

Christmas gifts ~ thrifty, eco-friendly, handmade and personal

Too often Christmas time is associated with frantic shopping and the expenditure of quite a bit of money, but it needn't be.  Many of us can't afford it anyway.  My own thinking is that Christmas is a religious festival and should be separated out from commerce as far as practicable, so I'm happy to pass on the exchange of gifts almost entirely.  However, there are lots of choices about how we engage with gift giving, at Christmas as well as other times.  Here are some which find favour with me:
  • Reaching out to remember and appreciate friends, relations and associates can be a really nice thing to do.  I like to do this by giving cards and sending letters.
  • Gifts that have been personally created have special value.  
  • Giving through making time to spend with others is an important way of nurturing friendships.
  • Shopping at locally owned and operated businesses, especially small ones, is another way of showing appreciation for the services they provide.
  • Let's be sure to remember the importance of charity, especially at Christmas time: you can give directly by donating money or goods.  Charitable organisations can use these to help those who need it.  Alternatively you can provide support by shopping at charity shops which use the funds raised to provide services. 
  • One of the chief ways that I give is through sharing how and what I think: this finds expression in my writing of these Chronicles, and the time I spend helping people who are important to me, talking things over and working things out.  I have to say I find it puzzling that this form of giving is accorded a very low value by modern society.  However, one's skill and insight demands a degree of expression.
Others have come up with similar concepts of giving although differently worded:
I recently came across the concept of the five hands of giving which includes these five ways:
  • Hand made
  • Hand-me-down
  • Second hand 
  • Helping hand - donate
  • Hand-in-hand - spend time together
This is excellent: personal, thrifty, eco-friendly, and including all that's best about gift giving!

What I've written here enlarges on these themes:

The writing of letters and the sending of cards can be special:
If I receive cards that are beautiful I often leave them up to be admired for months.  I have one on a cabinet in the living room that dates from last Christmas.  Not many write actual letters any more - it's really nice to share this way.  Writing letters takes time and thought and shows  interest and care.

Below you can see three cards I made in previous years:  
I chose the photographs from those taken during the year had a number printed, and then mounted them on blank card purchased for that purpose.  It's much less work to buy cards than make your own! 

All the items in that photo are second hand and three of them were gifts, including the beautiful sideboard, thank you dear Jan!  The other two, the jar and the little box, were second hand bargains.

If you are going to purchase cards I highly recommend these beauties from 100% New Zealand owned and operated Rata Design.  These are art - and available on-line.  You can click through a see more:
Here is a selection - anyone would be glad to receive one of these:

... or these:

Shared food:
Your own cooking and baking is a special way to celebrate festive occasions.

My recipe for gooseberry shortcake is one I will definitely be repeating - so far there has never been enough of it to satisfy those assembled to eat it! 

Gooseberry shortcake

Easy access to all my recipes can be found on this page:
In particular you might like these ones:
Other people's food knowledge and skills have been a source of guidance and inspiration over the years, and I think of them as I create my own... 

Some of them I can never hope to emulate.  One gifted sister (all my sisters are gifted!) created this cake complete with its marzipan icing decorations: 

Food can be an excellent gift - if you can bear to part with the fruits of your labours.  Some examples of mine are:

Jam and preserves:
The recipe for marmalade was handed on to me by my dear friend, Valerie, whom I think of when I enjoy this, which is often - it's so delicious!


Cordials and other special drinks:
This recipe was given to me by my sister, many thanks, Rachel!

Lemon drink

Vegetables and herbs grown in your own garden: 
The first potatoes of the season are an especially welcome addition to any festive feast.  The goodness of my own earth-fresh potatoes reminds me of my former landlord, Ken, who showed me how to plant and grow them.  Thanks Ken, that was a wonderful gift!

More gifts from your garden:
Flowers from the garden - anyone would be delighted to receive these, as I was a few years ago - still remembered, thank you, Penelope!

Pot plants or other treasured plants that have been divided can be potted up and shared: 
This one was given to me by my special friend Ray, some years ago and has since been divided and shared further with a number of people:

Miniature iris

Fruit from other people's gardens can also be a very welcome gift:
Over the last few years my sister, Rachel, has given me a couple of kilos of raspberries purchased at a local berry farm for Christmas.  Scrumptious!

Things you've made yourself add that special touch that even the most skilful of commercial producers cannot match.
I've listed all my sewing and craft ideas on the one page for easy reference:
In recent articles I've written about a number of things I've made myself, which may provide ideas:

Hats: the one on the left was made from a worn out jersey and the other from some scraps of polar fleece I had left over from sewing something else.

Shopping bags: I made mine from the good bits of worn out sheets - light and strong!

Make a beautiful moisturiser:  
It's easy to make plenty at once, so it's no trouble to make extra to give away to loved ones.  It lasts for ages!  When I get out this recipe I am reminded of my clever and exacting nice, Lucy, who formulated it, thank you Lucy!

Second hand bargains can delight - and if shopping at charity shops this also supports charitable work in the community:
When I shop at these places I'm reminded of the generosity of others in donating items, and of the volunteers who staff them. 

Support local businesses:
Local markets, as well as shops, can be a great source of all kinds of unexpected goodies!

Wrapping gifts: there are suggestions about gift wrapping in my article

Spend time with friends by eating out:
It needn't be over-the-top costly, and supports your local businesses.

Make a picnic and share it:
This sandwich was made with home made bread and was filled with fresh goodies from the garden:

Share time with loved ones by walking on the beach together:
This is one of my favourite activities...

A word about Christmas decorations:
I usually put up a Christmas tree, although I don't regard it as essential.  It's a plastic one I keep in wraps for the rest of the year.  I have a string of lights and pretty decorations I put on it.  Plastic trees are not good environmentally, and indeed if manufactured before a certain date can be harmful to ones health:
I comfort myself that the one pictured was purchased at the local Salvation Army store, so was 'pre-loved' and therefore did not end up in the tip, and I have not created further consumer demand for them by purchasing it new.  From memory it cost $3 ! 

I bought one for another member of the family at the same time, which became a source of amusement both to me and those in the store at the time: I chose the biggest of the half dozen or so that were there, which presented some difficulty in carrying them to the counter, and then of getting them out the door and along the street - everywhere seemed too small for their handling, and bits became detached as we made our way along the street - all part of the fun! 

Spending time with those I love is way more important, and thinking back over the year in gratitude to them and other absent friends and relations - these are the vital parts. 

As already stated above, Christmas is a religious festival, and in my view should be separated from commerce as much as practicable.  Ideally these would be best separated entirely, and the exchange of gifts could well be transferred to St Nicholas Day, which is most often celebrated on the 6th December: it is in St Nicholas that we have origin of the modern day Santa Claus or Father Christmas.  Personally I'd rather remember the Saint than engage with 'Santa', but let's not get tangled up with that!

Be that as it may, Christmas day has become traditionally associated with the exchange of gifts, and if we wish to participate in that it can be low key and much more relaxed and meaningful than a costly scramble around the shops.

The central message of Christianity, which it has in common with other major religions, is one of love, not only for those who are good to us, but also for the rest of humanity, even when, or arguably most particularly when, it's difficult or seems impossible.  Therefore my Christmas wish is
If we all have the willingness to live this out it will surely bring 
And let's begin the New Year by striving for it to continue through all the years ahead.

I'll leave you with a gentle meditation on these themes.  If it appeals to you, you might like to sit quietly while you dwell on it: 
As I breathe in, may I be healed
As I breathe out, may I be loved
As I breathe in, may I be loving
As I breathe out, may I be at peace

When we look after ourselves adequately we can reach out and share peaceably with others.  This, rather than frantically rushing around spending money, is the way forward to a better world.

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