25 November 2011

Giving the gift of giftlessness


"The greatest gift is a portion of thyself."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today is Black Friday, when shops open at dawn (or even midnight) to kickstart the holiday shopping season.

This to help consumers get at all the stylish and cutting-edge gifts chockful of trendiness, coated in a veneer of desirability and packaged and shipped to the retail outlet near you. As much fun as getting gifts can be, Black Friday can bring out the worst in people (especially if they own pepper spray).

Some people prefer to celebrate Buy Nothing Day on 25 November and opt out of the orgy of consumerism. Great! I'm all about that, but I still need to get something amazing for the sister-in-law who got me a Kindle last year?

Herein lies the problem. You can't celebrate Buy Nothing Month and show up at Christmas empty-handed, unless you're a total prick - which you're hopefully not.

So what's an Occupy-sympathizing, sensible person who would like to stay out of Christmas debt to do?

Many years ago, as an irresponsible amateur actor, professional barista and part-time unfocused university dropout, I handmade (with help from friends) sock puppets for my whole family. They were my Christmas gift. Each one was unique and cute, with button eyes and felt tongues or neckties or whatnot. They had personality, and my whole family had fun pretending to enjoy them.

Of course, when you're the only one playing homemade Christmas gifts, it can be rather humiliating. But I'd still say my meagre Christmas budget was better spent on craft supplies than a trip to the dollar store.

The good news is that this year we're making a collective move into a Christmas that's more sustainable, thoughtful and probably a little closer to the true meaning of Christmas (whatever that is).

We're chiming in with Leo Babauta over on Zen Habits, who has issued the No New Gifts Holiday Challenge.



In my family we're not going quite the level of austerity suggested by Leo - at least not this year. But we are mixing a mandate for charitable donations, shared experience and homemade gifts into our financially-constrained-by-mutual-consent gift-giving.

It's something that's worth thinking about pitching to your family - not just storebought gifts exchanged out of a shared sense of seasonal obligation, but thoughtful, one-of-a-kind meaningful presents. Do this and you're also automatically giving them the gift of less stressful month. So text them and suggest it. If they're in the lineup at Best Buy waiting to arm wrestle a stranger for some Dr. Dre headphones they'll probably be willing to listen.

And if you need to slowly introduce the idea, that's good too. Start now.

Save money. Have more fun. Be more thoughtful. Learn a new crafty skill. Drink eggnog. Help at a charity. Celebrate. Fill your Black Friday (and holidays) with some white light.

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