Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thoughts on Gift-Giving

I have a complicated relationship with gifts. I grew up in a house where gifts were incredibly important and were often used as a tool for resolving issues or problems. If my mother and I had a fight (which happened often throughout my youth), I would, inevitably, receive some sort of item from her as a sign that she wanted to move on from whatever we had been arguing about. Obviously, this was significantly easier for a child (and adolescent) to deal with (“Oh! The new Guess jeans!! Thanks Mom!”) than trying to delve into the reasons for the complicated and volatile relationship that I had with my mother. It was also easier than confronting my own behaviors – why was I lying to my parents? Why was I drinking so much? It was obviously much easier for her, as well. Gift given. Issue resolved.

But my mother has always been an incredibly talented gift giver. She catches the slightest glimmer of interest, picks up on needs or desires that aren’t even apparent yet, seeks out the newest trends, puts real creativity into gift-wrapping. When things were tough for our family one year, I remember her being sincerely apologetic about not being able to buy better gifts for 9 year old me. It was like she had somehow let me down. (This was before credit cards allowed her to never let anyone else down in the gift department.)

When we lived in the Soviet Union (now Russia) before immigrating to the US, we celebrated New Year’s Eve with a tree and gifts – very much like Americans do with Christmas. The atheist government had outlawed religious celebrations of Christmas (along with outlawing Christmas in general). But the people needed celebrations and, so, New Year’s Eve took the place of Christmas. We continued this when we moved to the US. New Year’s has always been about grand gifts, an elaborately set table, more food than was necessary, and my mother having her yearly glass (or three) of champagne. My mother always valued objects and fashion – it is probably because she had so little access to anything in the USSR, even as a more privileged child of a Soviet government family. She treasured the smallest gifts – and still does. A few years ago she told me a childhood story about a pair of colored tights given to her by a camp-mate from Europe – something that she could never have gotten inside the country - still with a sparkle of longing in her eyes.

We still celebrate New Year’s Eve with my family. This is incredibly convenient as my partner and I can easily spend time with both families around the holidays without much issue. And it is still a big event in terms of gift-giving. I asked my mom if, on the occasion of her credit card debt almost getting the best of her recently (and the impending global environmental crisis), if she might like to forego presents this year. She answered, “but it wouldn’t be a “prasneek” (holiday celebration) without presents!”

My point in sharing all this, is that I will not tell you that you must give up gift-giving at Christmas. Holidays and gifts are, for many of us, emotionally tied to other times, other desires, other memories. Gifts are part of our rituals, our most intimate celebrations. But what you should know is that you CAN buy eco-friendly gifts for everyone on your list. Next week I will do a DC eco-gift guide: presents for everyone on your list – all within walking distance from a metro (to reduce your carbon footprint, of course). There are also SO many online resources now. Here are just a few:

And check out Treehugger’s gift guide for 2007.


Angel Of The Odd said...

nice personal element you threw in with this entry...very appropriate for the season!
I agree, gift giving is tricky, and thoughtfulness is key!

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