By Woodeene Koenig-Bricker
It’s the signs of the times.
Because of the economic climate, the Neiman Marcus Christmas book, which has historically featured over-the-top luxury items such as a Virgin Galactic charter to space for a mere $1.764 million, and the entire archival record of the couturier the House of Fath for only $3.5 million, has had to cut back. The most expensive item for 2009 is a sports plane for $250,000, and nearly half the gifts cost less than $250. That might seem like a lot, but in the past, just 30 percent to 40 percent would have been that “inexpensive.”
The intro to this year’s book states, “Tokens of affection don’t have to be extravagant to be brilliantly received,” but most of us already know that. The best gifts are those that reflect the personality of giver and touch the heart of the recipient, regardless of monetary value.
If a gift can have a positive (or at least neutral) effect on the environment, that’s an additional bonus. The catch is that coming up with pocketbook-easy and eco-friendly gifts isn’t as easy as going to the mall and pulling out a credit card. But in today’s world, spending limited resources on one more easily forgotten tchotchke isn’t feasible. And it isn’t in keeping with our calling as Christians, who are here not just for our own personal pleasure but to create a loving relationship with our God; to build strong, virtuous families; and, as Pope Benedict XVI so often reminds us, to be stewards of our planet.
Here are a few ideas for gift giving this Christmas that can help us celebrate with joy and responsibility.
Soy wax or beeswax candles: Regular candles are petroleum based, so by using a renewable resource such as soy or beeswax, you can still enjoy the glow without the waste.
National Parks Pass: For $80, four adults and all the children under 16 you can fit in the car can visit any of America’s 391 National Parks, monuments, battlefields, military or historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas and scenic rivers and trails for one year. It even includes entrance to the White House.
Bamboo: The fastest growing woody plant in the world is now being used for everything from flooring to bath towels, clothing to dishes. Bamboo is not only a quickly renewing resource, a bamboo forest can make a substantial difference in reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as well as restoring nutrients to depleted or overused lands. Check out some unique gift ideas at: http://tinyurl.com/yfd2q5q
Antiques: The ultimate prestige green gift, an antique combines the best of history and recycling. Give a family treasure or find a new heirloom at a flea market or tag sale.
Local food: Look for an agricultural co-op in your area to see what sorts of foods are available. You may be able to get farm fresh eggs, root vegetables and meat even in the dead of winter.
Visit www.localharvest.org to find farms and farmers’ markets in your area.
iTunes or Netflix gift cards: Eliminate the plastic cases with downloadable music. For movies, let the post office handle the delivery and return, saving gasoline, travel time and overdue fees.
Metal water bottle: We all should drink more water, but plastic bottles aren’t very earth friendly. A metal water bottle and/or a water tap filter can provide clean water at a fraction of the cost of bottled.
The Splurge : If you want to spend a bit more on an environmentally friendly gift, consider a solar charger. Use the sun to juice up your GPS, camera, iPod, cell phone or anything else that needs to be plugged to recharge. It might not replace all your plug-in time, but it can certainly reduce electrical use.
Crocheted or knit scarf: Even if you are craft-challenged, knitting or crocheting a scarf is an easy, almost foolproof project. With some of the gorgeous yarns out there, even a beginner can make something that looks couture.
Baked goods : Who doesn’t love real chocolate chip cookies, a fresh pie or a homemade chocolate cake? As long as you avoid fruitcake, treats from the kitchen are always welcome. An added bonus — you and your children or grandchildren can do the baking together and build treasured memories.
Soap or candles: It’s not difficult to make either soap or candles from supplies at your local craft store. Pick a signature scent such as lavender and create a unique and practical gift.
Personalized recipe books: Every family has favorite recipes that shouldn’t be forgotten. Create a personalized recipe book for adult children. If you are feeling generous, include the ingredients to make one of the dishes along with the recipes.
Chocolate spoons and coffee: Dip plastic spoons in melted chocolate, let dry and wrap with colored plastic wrap. Include some fair-trade coffee and maybe a handmade mug from a craft fair (or paint your own at a pottery painting store) for the caffeine lovers on your list.
Flavored cooking oil: Nothing could be simpler for the chef in the family. Drop a few spri gs of rosemary into a bottle of extra virgin olive oil and let sit. Gourmet taste at a fraction of the cost.
Photo album: Create individual photo albums of their childhoods for your children. If you don’t want to break up your own albums, have copies made and give each one the story of their own life.
Jewelry: What could be easier than stringing a few beads and adding a clasp for a one-of-a-kind necklace or earring? Craft and bead stores have all the supplies and will even show you how to create your masterpiece.
The Splurge: For a truly one of a kind handmade gift, consider a quilt made of memorabilia. For instance, use outgrown sports jerseys for the athlete in the family. Or doll clothes for your too cool daughter who isn’t quite ready to give up her Barbie collection. Or incorporate a favorite theme, like cats or beer mugs, into the design for an adult. If you aren’t a quilter yourself, paying someone to make one out of your memory materials can create a lifelong treasure.
Sometimes it’s more difficult to give of your time than it is of your money. Giving of time requires a commitment of self and an engagement with others that simply buying something doesn’t. Because of that, gifts of time can be some of the greatest you will ever give. A few suggestions:
Cleaning: New moms, elderly parents, sick or disabled friends would all be delighted if someone took on some of the truly “dirty jobs” like cleaning the toilet, scrubbing the kitchen garbage container or sweeping out the fireplace ashes.
Yard work: Another area where elbow grease is appreciated is the yard. Shoveling snow, clearing away debris or helping plant flowers in the spring can all be made into gifts.
Laundry: Washing and drying isn’t usually too difficult, but ironing is another story. Unfortunately, we all have something that needs ironing. Offering to do that task can put stars in your crown here and in heaven.
Home repair: What seems simple to you may be impossible for a tool-challenged relative or friend. So, adjust that shelf, hook up the VCR or adjust the hinges on the door as your gift this year.
Monthly date: Nothing is more treasured than one-on-one time. Make a date with your parents, your children, your adult children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, your close friends and spend time just “being” with each other.
Crazy crayons: Melt down used and broken crayons, pour swirls of color into a design and create your own unique “crazy crayons” that will color multiple colors at one stroke.
Handmade coloring book: Most computer graphic programs will change a picture to a line drawing, so make a unique coloring book featuring a child’s own family members, pets, friends, house, school.
Baby’s album: Put copies of pictures of a child’s first days of life into an inexpensive photo album and let them have their very own “book” of life.
Book on tape : Read a favorite storybook onto a tape recorder or make an MP3 file and give both your “book on tape” and the actual book to a child or grandchild.
Some families love giving each other donations; others feel cheated with only a slip of paper under the tree. If your family is one that enjoys donating in each others’ names, be sure to pick charities that the receiver would want to support, not the causes that you love. A good clearinghouse for international charities is www.globalgiving.com, but don’t overlook local charities, like your humane society, museum or women’s shelter. To check out the validity of a charity, go to www.bbb.org/us/Find-Business-Reviews/.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American poet, said, “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” This Christmas, as we give thanks for the greatest gift of all — the coming of God’s own son — let us give a portion of ourselves in every gift we give.
Woodeene Koenig-Bricker writes from Oregon.
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