I had these cards made recently by a local letterpress artist and I’ve been leaving them in stores and posting them on bulletin boards wherever I think the message might be appreciated as a reminder that “fourth quarter,” as the marketers say, is more than just a time of shopping frenzy. The message is also directed at our national political scene, where decisions are being made that benefit those who already have so much rather than showing compassion for the common good.
December can be depressing when gift-giving becomes a stressful burden rather than a way to show love, friendship, or appreciation of community. I know many people who bow out of giving gifts altogether, and I understand why they’d choose not to participate in the craziness that gift-giving has become. But for those of us who do give gifts, it is easy to forget why we’re doing it in the first place: to show gratitude to the people in our lives who care for us and make our lives better.
For me and many people I know, giving a gift means making a gift or giving a gift from the earth that they tend (like honey from bees or herbs grown in a garden). Making gifts takes more time than money, so often the “value” in that type of gift isn’t readily recognized. One year my daughter and I spent hours making hand-beaded candy canes to tie on the packages we sent out of state. When I asked later how the recipients had liked the beaded canes, the answer was, “Oh. We didn’t notice them. They must have gotten thrown out with the wrapping paper.” Not the right folks for that particular gift. Although it would have been nice for the candy canes to have been received with joy, the pleasure was in making and giving them, and we were the ones to receive that.
One year when my students organized the Why Shop? Week consumer awareness project I wrote about in my last post, several of them were interviewed on a national radio program, where they advocated giving handmade gifts as a way to avoid participation in dubious consumer practices. When they were asked by the radio host, “What if your friends don’t like homemade gifts?” the students happily answered, “Get new friends.”
At 18, that may be possible. At middle-age, we’ve made many of the friends we’ll have for the rest of our lives; some craft and some don’t. I am grateful to the people in my life who do make gifts. To me, a homemade gift or card always says, “I took this time to think about you and I enjoyed making this for you.” That doesn’t mean other gifts aren’t thoughtful or welcome, but as a handcrafter myself, I do appreciate the sentiment behind something homemade. I know that handmade gifts take time for planning and designing, gathering of materials, and the crafting itself, often in many different steps.
This year one of our friends referred to his wife as a “one-woman craft factory” in her making of beautiful photo cards and felted soaps for family and friends. I don’t think he meant that she didn’t enjoy it but rather that she had to be well organized. For me, that sounds more appealing than going to a mall in the hustle of cars and frenzied shoppers looking for deals on the season’s latest trends. The popularity of the handcraft web-shop etsy shows that many people agree with me and would rather support a handcrafter than plunk down money at a big-box store.
This year, I am grateful for the many wonderful gifts made for us, from the inspiring quotation handwritten on paper to the soaps and bath salts and confections we’ll use everyday to the adorable ornaments made with care that will decorate our home to the handcranked wool socks that will warm our feet. Let’s think of this time of year as the “Season of Gratitude” when gifts of all kinds show gratitude in both the giving and the receiving. And let’s extend that practice of gratitude all year for the gifts we already receive every day: the gift of love from the special people in our lives and from the earth that sustains us.