This is my last post on how to simplify Christmas, and then I'll shut the fuck up about it.
I started writing about my feelings towards gifting at Christmas time because I am fed up with the excess influence that corporations and manufacturers have over this holiday. Why else do you think we start seeing decorations before the Halloween pumpkins are even carved? It's to make sure we are inspired to buy more shit. I am tired of reading stories about brawls and stampedes on Black Friday, all over some gadget that will be obsolete in a year or will have a giant price point drop in six months rendering the chaos over Black Friday "deals" unnecessary.
While I do not claim to be an expert in either economics or sociology, the American reverence for material things and our clamber to accumulate quite possibly be one of the root causes of our current problems with mortgages and personal debt. Lacking a unified identity as a nation and a people, Americans look to objects to give them meaning.
The brand names. The amount of goods we own. Those have become our personal totems that we use to show the world who we are and to qualify our significance within society.
If you don't consider yourself craftily inclined but want to give a gift with a little more soul than something that's rolled off an assembly line, I highly recommend Etsy, an online marketplace for artisans and craftspeople to shill their various (and I mean various) goods. Etsy does a great job with organizing the wares and site search features to help you find whatever you are seeking. Also, locally you've probably got at least one or two gallery spaces that rent booths to artists as both working and selling space. I know of at least two in Richmond: Crossroads Art Center and Artspace & Plant Zero.
Feeling mildly ambitious? While it's a little late in the game to start a major project of handmade gifts, there are a few recipes I can share of that won't require much time in the kitchen. Besides, if I can't fuck them up and I'm borderline retarded when it comes to cooking, anyone can make them:
-Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits- Most of our friends and family own dogs. These are ridiculously simple to make and were big hits last year with our canine pals. Then again that really doesn't say much since dogs will eat anything. They are goats that bark.
-Booze- I have a recipes for limoncello, coffee liquor, and ginger-infused vodka that require only a couple of ingredients and a little patience.
-Spicy Mixed Nuts- Another really easy recipe. It's nice to give some salt and spice as a break from the eight pounds of sugar everyone consumes this time of year.
(By the way, crafting has come a long way from macramé and 101 things you can make from an empty bleach bottle. If you are interested, check out some of my favorite crafting magazines, ReadyMade, Make, and Craft for inspired and modern projects. And while I love Martha Stewart and her mad genius, her projects are made to humiliate. On the surface they seem simple, but once you get into them you realize there's an underlying complexity there to frustrate and make you feel insignificant in comparison with the domestic dominance Stewart holds over us all. But that never seems to stop me...)
If you are totally not artistically inclined (or just lazy) try:
-Photo gifts- Not just for people with kids, though the fam does love pictures of the runts. There are a multitude of things you can make using websites like Shutterfly and Snapfish or your local copy center. Instead of a calendar from the mall kiosks with cats or cars or the cast of Buffy, make your own filled with random shots of your city, your last vacation or your friends dressed as the cast of Firefly. Way cooler.
-Mix cds- Everyone thought with the advent of mp3s and iPods, the great mix tape would disappear from our cultural fabric. On the contrary, I think mix cds and tapes are bigger than ever, thanks to one little world: playlist. Make cds of your favorite music from 2007, Christmas music, tunes from your high school days, or clips from your favorite comedy albums.
-Time- And I just don't mean like those coupon books for "One Dog Walking", "One Dinner Out", or "One Backrub". Those are just fine (I'd love for some "Free Babysitting" coupons so I can go see some freaking movies.), but I'm talking about instead of a usual gift swap, spend some time with your friends and family. Go out to dinner at a nice restaurant, go bowling, shoot some pool, camp. Whatever you and your particular band of misfit toys likes to do. Maybe instead of schlepping all over town to buy presents for everyone in your familial and personal circles, offer to throw a party or have them over for dinner. Speaking as someone who recently lost two close family members in one year, time is the only thing that matters, and we've no idea how much we've been given. Don't waste it on circling the parking lot looking for a space close to Macy's.
There's my last thoughts on the matter, at least the ones I see fit to post. I know there are some families out there that would balk at the idea of not doing a big Christmas filled with lots of unneeded stuff, and I can't say I know how to change anyone's mind. But the way I see it, we've gotten addicted to stuff. We rip open a present and am momentarily exhilarated by receiving a new thing. But a few days or weeks down the road, and the high has worn off. So we have to move onto some other new thing to give us that same feeling of happiness. And like any good addict, what got us off the first few times won't do once the addiction has its ugly claws in us; we move on to bigger things, more things. Until our houses are bursting at the seams and our landfills are full of Big Mouth Billy Basses and automatic shaving cream warmers.
Just put the shopping bag down, relax, and celebrate the birth of Christ, dammit.