Behold, I bring glad tidings (and fewer Glad garbage bags) for the holidays, especially for those of us who have mixed feelings about the whole crazy business. For instance, we all know that every year many of us get stressed out between Thanksgiving and Christmas and buy things for good or weird reasons, including guilt, collectively sending off about 20 billion cards, letters and packages and handing over about $30 billion to U.S. department stores alone. Not many mention the empty or sad feeling that comes when the stuff-buying and getting doesn't turn out to be all that much fun.
One of the upsides to the downturn this year is how the pressure to consume has lessened. The good news is that the unwritten holiday regulations are changing, and being part of the change is ecologically responsible and socially sophisticated. It takes some daring to break into a new tradition of giving. Here are some ideas members of the creative minority suggest.
Give Justice Make sure all those holiday chocolates and coffee are fair-trade. Shop at local crafts sales that benefit nonprofits in your community. Buy art from artists who live in your own town, especially those adults labeled with disabilities, whose artistic depth and expression is often remarkable. Invest in a farm animal for someone you may never meet and give it in the name of a loved one (www.heifer.org). Donate in loved one's name toward housing a family in the Bay Area (www.habitatgsf.org) or New Orleans (www.habitat-nola.org).
Give to the Earth Buy imaginative gifts and cool, old decorations at thrift stores. Get lots of artistically unmatching plates, cups and silverware at thrift stores and garage sales so every one of your green parties is a celebration of things not going to the landfill. Decorate with LED lights to save energy. Skip the Mylar and make paper chains with construction paper and flour-and-water glue. Wrap gifts in newspaper and fabric scraps. Recycle old wrapping paper. Refuse to purchase any item that comes with lots of packaging or with toxic elements. Protect small children by avoiding the purchase of plastic toys.
Give of Yourself Make gifts rather than buy them. Stack someone's firewood. Fold origami cranes to give good luck. Knit a scarf. Say "I love you." Pot some herbs. Deliver a singing telegram. Twist-roll some fire starters out of newspaper. Write a love letter by hand. Bake cookies. Pen a poem. Offer to bathe, comb and dry the pet of a person who can't get to it. Sew a quilt. Paint a picture. Assemble a memory book. Wash a car for someone whose back is out. Make jams. Issue favor-granting coupons for kindnesses including cooking, cleaning, pet-sitting, errands, and play-time. Read aloud to someone. Take homemade bread to a neighbor you haven't yet met.
Give to Yourself Last but not least, un-American as it sounds, aim to be content with what you already have.