Thursday, December 21, 2006


I love Christmas shopping. Perhaps I should be cynical about the purported crass commercialism of the entire season, but I just can’t summon the invective; all I can think of is the joy of guilt-free shopping. I have plenty of bile for people who don’t think the seasonal road safety warnings about refraining from speeding, drinking and driving, and driving while tired, don’t apply to them, however, when it comes to searching out the perfect gift for someone, something in me just glows.

In past years, I’ve started my Christmas shopping early to avoid the financial burden of trying to do it all in the last fortnight. That was my intention this year too, and I started off well enough. I bought one of my sisters the most gorgeous necklace from a small jewellery and gift shop just up the road from me.

After I bought it, I decided that I’d purchase all of my Christmas gifts for other people from small businesses in my suburb, rather than give my money to large chain stores.

Then the weeks started to slip by and I hadn’t bought any more gifts. I decided that the necklace would become a birthday present instead—for the same sister—and I reassessed my Christmas budget to reflect my income.

This shift has been less difficult than you might imagine. While I would love to give everyone a gift where money was no object, that delivered to them the pleasure of something they would not have treated themselves to, I have had the most fun seeking out less expensive presents that still manage, I think, to capture an aspect of the intended recipient’s interests.

A case in point is the present I found for my uncle who lives in the UK. I was browsing the shelves of another local shop—this one sells environmentally sustainable produced products—and considering getting him something called Gardener’s Soap, because in his retirement he does some part-time gardening work, maintaining a golf course. Then I came across a packet of golf tees made from corn polymer. One of the problems with golf tees is that they tend to get left on golf greens and because they’re usually made of petroleum-base plastic, they hang around forever. In addition to being biodegradable in the long term, in the shorter term the corn polymer tees last longer than the wood kind, which those concerned with the environment might otherwise buy, to the detriment of usability. So, I found a less expensive and, importantly, a lighter gift to put in the mail, and it’s one that encapsulated a better idea for my uncle, who also likes to play golf.

Some other gifts for various people that I found in the same shop include a crocodile ornament fashioned out of a tin can from Africa and some star-shaped shower timers, which surely everybody needs in these water-use conscious times. In the shop next door, I’ve become particularly fond of a product known as the Swanky Hanky. It’s another excellent idea for sending through the mail. The fabrics of the hankies are of the coolest prints, virtually guaranteeing that when the recipient of the hanky takes it out of her bag, for whatever purpose, she will receive a compliment on her excellent taste from everyone around her. And since I’m of the opinion that one can never receive too many compliments, I like to think that people will garner them when they pause to wipe the sweat from their brows using a Swanky Hanky gifted to them by me.

In my shopping, I haven’t always managed to stick to my promise to buy from small businesses. Even in these cases, however, the chosen gift has seemed just right for the intended recipient. I bought my other sister the Australian Idol Winner’s Journey album, by Damien Leith, which includes a bonus DVD of many of his performances throughout the show. It was on special at Target, but what makes this gift even more appropriate for this particular sister is not just that she liked Damien as a performer, but that she had missed watching the show’s finale. She’d asked me specifically if I’d taped it so she might borrow it, but I hadn’t, so the fact that I’ve been able to give some part of it to her in this way pleases me no end and, hopefully, it will please her too.

Another thing that I’ve taken to in time for Christmas has been origami. I’m sure there will be a more detailed post about it here in the future, but for now, I can’t tell you ,again, how much fun I’m having choosing the right model to create for someone to slip into a Christmas card as an small surprise.

Does all this sound sickeningly joyful? I can see why people get disillusioned by the focus on material things at Christmas time, but giving gifts is about far more than the physical object. It’s a cliché to say ‘it’s the thought that counts’, but if you have considered the impulse or motivation behind the gifts you offer, and present them to your family and friends with sincerity, then there is so much joy and pleasure in the tradition of gift-giving (and receiving*) at this time of year.

Merry Christmas!

*For example, I was delighted to receive a jar of macadamia nuts from a friend who I know had gathered them from a tree in her garden. She dismissed it as a silly present, but for me, while there is the deliciousness of macadamia nuts, her gift recalled a particular conversation we’d had earlier in the year. Her gift revealed to me that she’s a good friend who cares about me because she remembers and honours the finer points of our friendship.

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