Did you notice that it is almost that time of year again? Christmas can be insane and draining, and if you are like me, the shopping might just send you into a decline. But there are ways to make it meaningful and pleasant. Firstly, have a conversation with family about present giving. Let's face it, most of us don't need more stuff. Most of us who aren't children might enjoy a minimal present Christmas. I must admit I am peculiar in that presents aren't a big thing with me. If someone were to bring me a cup of tea in bed, a magazine and a chocolate-based comestible and say, "There's your Christmas," I would be well pleased. We need to talk about Christmas and stuff with each other and with our kids. Let's find out what is really special to them about Christmas. Maybe we just think it is presents. Maybe they would be happy with less, as long as there is still family and friends and food. Maybe they like our funny Christmas traditions best, or visiting the Christmas lights or Christmas stockings. Who knows until we ask?
One of the best ways to make Christmas meaningful is to think about how we can give to people who really don't have all the stuff they need. I feel like I need to make this more a priority in my own life this year, so I will be chatting to the girls about how we might include this as part of our Christmas preparations.
Still, presents are part of Christmas, so here are some of my favourite Christmas gifts and shops:
Second hand bookshop/op shop: Two categories - books that look new. An awful lot of people get rid of books they never even read. Can you imagine? And vintage books - my favourites are classics, and vintage non-fiction in an area of the giftee's interest. Vintage gardening, DIY and cooking books are wonderful.
Gifts of service: Last year the girls and I gave my mum (who is not an enthusiastic baker) the gift of a cake each month. To be honest, I think we have missed a couple of months, and owe her more cake. It's a reminder to know yourself when planning gifts.. One of my friends hired Rosy to dust the house each week for his wife's Christmas present (she hates dusting..). The gift that keeps on giving!
Oxfam: Shops that exist to bring beautiful craft from fair trade co-operatives all over the world. They also stock fair trade chocolate and spices. What's not to love? Oxfam Unwrapped and the TEAR catalogue of Really Useful Gifts also provide brilliant un-gifts - chickens, pigs, education, water, you name it, you can give it to someone who really needs it..
Practical gifts: Yes, the ones you would have bought them anyway. I love to have a non-consumer Christmas, but my children like to open lots of presents so I buy them underwear, pyjamas and clothes and wrap them all up separately:) Underwear can be local or fair trade. I have also bought some lovely scarves, clothes and jewellery from op shops.
Magazine subscriptions: Rosy has asked again for me to renew her favourite magazine subscription for Christmas. Oh yes, I can do that:) Here are some magazines that either I or my friends subscribe to and we all share:
Single issues are also brilliant in the Christmas stocking, along with fair trade chocolate. Because who doesn't want to spend Christmas morning reading and eating chocolate??
Tools: Actual old, vintage tools from second hand shops which are beautiful and will last forever, including kitchen tools like rotary egg beaters and those exciting mincing machines which clamp onto the table top (my granny used to mince up the Sunday roast leftovers to make into sausage rolls with one of these). Last year my gift to The Girl, who was leaving home, was a collection of wonderful vintage kitchen ware to take with her. I had collected it over the course of the year in second hand shops and had such fun..
Camping Shops and Cool Gadgets: Choose an independently owned shop and buy useful tools for camping and saving power at home - wind up or solar charged torches, head torches (nothing is more useful for collecting wood from the woodshed in the dead of winter - no hands!), pocket knives, stainless steel drink bottles, solar lanterns. I have my eye on one of these kettles for picnics, camping and outdoor cooking in the backyard. I have also just bought myself a thermal cooker which I am hoping will reduce our gas stove top usage over summer, keeping us cool and saving fuel.
Local Artists and Artisans: One of my favourite things about art by local artists is that they enable us to re-envision the place in which we live. I bought a painting from a friend many years ago which is an abstract of a local waterfall. It just evokes a Tasmanian forest for me and makes me happy every day. Local artisans are sometimes hard to find, but also sometimes make extraordinary useful and beautiful things. This year I have discovered the recycled metal knives of John Houndslow Robinson. One day, after much saving, I plan to own one of these knives. I am also coveting a copper saucepan and one of these leather handbags. None of them are cheap, but all of them will last a lifetime and beyond.
Craft Fairs: We have a Christmas market on in town next weekend - all local artists and crafters displaying their wares. Brilliant, and you can hardly get a more local present than that, except:
Home made: OK, I am not the best person to talk about this. Home made for me is very hard work. That is why I go to the craft fair. But I do make jam and home made cleaners in nice jars, especially the bathroom cleaner paste. I am considering knitting dishcloths as well, knitting squares being something I can do. Good old-fashioned baking gifts for neighbours are a great way to keep up the goodwill on your street as well (even better if you get the children to do the baking).
Gifts for Making Things: For her birthday I bought Posy a book on making lip balms, lotions and hand creams, plus the beeswax, shea butter, essential oils etc to make them. This has been a huge hit with her, and the bonus is enough lip balm and hand cream to last us for the next decade. I know what I will be getting from her for Christmas! One of Rosy's favourite gifts as a cheese-loving 12yo a few years ago, was a cheese making kit from a good friend. You can buy all sorts of kits from this home-based business in Melbourne (we have bought candle making equipment from them).
Food: This is generally the easiest local product to buy. Making up hampers of local plus home made food in baskets bought from the op-shop actually sounds like a fun thing to do..
Wrapping: Wrapping paper is terribly wasteful. Over the last few years I have been collecting gift bags from op-shops, and fabric drawstring bags as well. Our Christmas is heading towards waste-free, with the bonus of mess-free as well:)
Christmas is always about gifts for those we love, and let's take care of that in a way that works with our values of taking care of each other in our local communities, and taking care of the planet. And then, let's spend some time thinking about taking care of those who really don't have enough this Christmas, or at any other time, and put them on our Christmas list as well.
Tell me about your plans for a Christmas that makes you happy..
Tired, but determinedly cheerful mother of four. One grown up son (The Boy), one grown up daughter (The Girl), two girls at home, Rosy (17) and Posy (13). Trying to buy a little less, make a little more, live a little lighter, not mess up the children too much.. and now extra frugal adventures with Partner Paul..