It was right around this time of year, a little over ten years ago, when I bought what I consider to be my best Christmas present.
Earlier in the year, I had fallen in love with the woman who is now my wife, and I was feeling...expansive. When my future mother-in-law mentioned that she had seen a beautiful hat at the Contemporary Craft Show at the Convention Center, I sensed an opportunity. I bought a ticket to the show, which is held over a weekend, and began wandering around the Convention Center to see if I could find it.
She had described the hat as having an orangish brown color and that it was made from felted wool. It was cleverly designed so that it could be worn at two different angles.
After some looking, I found it. The woman who made it was there at the booth, and when I told her that I wanted to buy it, tears began to stream down her face. It was one of her favorite pieces that she had ever made, she said. When I gave it to my future mother-in-law, she didn’t cry, but she was stunned and clearly moved. The gift had hit the mark.
This is in stark contrast to the vast majority of gifts I’ve given. For a good part of my life, I walked through a mall with a list, piling up purchases, then calculating the cost to make sure no one felt slighted. Generic, mass-produced stuff was purchased to either augment gifts for people on my list, or to give someone I had forgotten about. To be fair, there were times when I was excited to give a gift that I thought would be appreciated, and was grateful to receive gifts that I wanted, but the shopping process was too often time-consuming and fueled by anxiety.
As I’ve grown older, and the threat of climate change feels more dire, I’ve grown more ambivalent about gift giving. I’ve come to believe the sentiment that E.F. Schumacher expressed in his landmark book “Small Is Beautiful,” and that Paul Glover echoed in his essay we published last month: that greed is at the center of our society, and that we must examine materialism before anything can be changed.
Every year I wonder, is this the year I tell my family that I don’t want any more gifts? And that, further, I won’t be giving them any either. I don’t want to be the Grinch, but I also don’t want to pretend that the status quo is okay.
When I think about that hat, it makes me reconsider the hard line stance. Maybe there is a middle ground. Maybe I should buy one present a year for one member of my family. One that shows real thoughtfulness and care.
And perhaps before I start making rules for everyone else, I could heed some advice Schumacher offered.
“How can we disarm greed and envy? Perhaps by being much less greedy and envious ourselves; perhaps by resisting the temptation of letting our luxuries become needs; and perhaps by even scrutinizing our needs to see if they cannot be simplified and reduced.”