11.11.2011

wishing ahead

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I'm sitting here in my tiny house, romancing the idea of declaring myself a minimalist, married to a self-declared an anti-consumerist, and plotting the sudden departure of half my children's toys when I suddenly realize that the dark specter of Christmas is almost upon me again.  Or, rather, the dark specter of Christmas presents.  A sudden influx of stuff that will have to be hauled in, stripped of its protective packaging, sorted through, found a place for, tripped over, put away, cleaned, put away again, and eventually gotten rid of.

My head aches already just thinking about it.

I feel I am being somewhat ungrateful to all the people who I love very much who have taken the time to give my children and myself gifts over the years.  Still, I feel much like a drowning person who is offered a drink of water.  It is just, no matter how well intentioned, not something I need.

Worse yet, I must also respond in kind with more stuff.
 
Every year I think the thing that I must give for presents must be the only bit of stuff that I truly treasure.  I love books.  I am, down to my very bones, a willful bibliophile and have been since I was a child, and, like every true enthusiast, I believe that everyone else should be devastatingly in love with the object of my desire too.  Except, unlike flyers of remote control airplanes or equestrian show jumpers, I am actually right.  Everyone should read and have lots and lots of books.  A book should almost always be present in one's hands.  Even if it means taking the bus to work instead of driving or taking baths instead of showers or living on toast because it you can read while it is cooking. 

A book is especially handy to have in hand whenever I'm out with a chronic cell phone user.  Finally, I can read while having dinner with someone and I'm not the rude one.

A book is truly a beautiful present, at once limitless and self-contained.  It can be used again and again, is attractive to keep on the shelf, and can be passed along or sold to another without losing any of its core value.  A book is a gift that rests gladly for me, ethically and spiritually.

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Still, to my continued shock, not everyone likes to read.

Which worries me, that if I give books to people for Christmas knowing that reading is not something they do without a paycheck attached or if the new dvd player hook up isn't as straight forward as they had hoped, is it really a gift for them or for me?  Because I want to give gifts that the receiver actually wants.

I have, in the past, tried to compromise by acknowledging my word loving values while also appealing to the non-book lover's taste.  Obviously I chose titles based upon their interests already but I also included in the present some thematic appurtenance to, basically, tart up the book to try to make it more appealing to a hostile audience.  A mystery novel may be accompanied by a spy glass and Sherlock Holmes-esque hat, a cookbook with a bucket spices and high-end whisk, the chick-lit with a bottle of wine, tissues, and gourmet chocolate.

I will confess, some of these gifts made darling little packages and I was charmed with most of them.  It seemed to me they offered not only knowledge and entertainment on the written pages but also set the stage, with spyglass and chocolate, for a gateway experience that would seduce even the most belligerent non-reader into a life-long love affair with books.

Perhaps this might of been a lot of pressure to put on just one little gift.

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Ultimately, I feel these book based bundles fail to satisfy myself and the recipient in two basic aspects.  The first is that they are gifts with an agenda, more about gifter than the receiver.  Second, the raw and pure spirit behind my intention, my desire to share something I love with another and give them this perfect item, is marred by all the stuff I stuck with it.

Back to the drawing board.

In my perfect world, these gift giving holidays would be stripped down of much of the mania and pretense surrounding the wrap and and presentation of gifts.  The expectations would be pared down, the acknowledgements brief and solemn.  And I would be able to say, 'Here is a book.  It's not about you or me, but something beyond our experience.  It is everything and nothing.  It is wrapped only in itself and seems plain but it contains many treasures.  Enjoy it then pass it along, for once you read it, it becomes a part of you and you no longer need it on your shelf.  Even as you share it, it will still be yours forever.'

Then we can all focus, finally, on why we are all together at that time.  And still have room in the trunk on the ride home.

15 comments:

  1. Well said! We always seem to feel more dread at the gift giving holiday's than joy. We try to tell family that Emma has everything she needs, but they still feel the need to buy her more. This year we have talked to Emma about a one for one swap, new toys for old. She is old enough to understand that there are kids out there not lucky enough to get lots of gifts. So, if she gets a gift she isn't really excited about, we will pass it on to a child who truly needs it. If she gets a gift she really likes, she can keep it and pick out a current toy that she would like to give to someone else. I hope it works.

    And I am a big book gifter. If I don't know what a particular persons prefers, I just get them a gift card to a book store. Books are awesome.

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  2. I try to suggest to our kids granparents to give them 'experiences': a ticket to a show, a trip with them to a museum or a park. We don't keep that many toys in the house, if the kids cannot cleanup their toys easily, I give them away. Or they go to the attic for a few month in a rotation.
    Regarding books, I find it easier to gift books to children than adults. This year I pair a chapter book with a few homemade blank books for them to compose their own story. If I know the kid enough I will offer to start reading the story to them hoping to capture their attention. My favorite this year for 5-7 years old is My Father's Dragon.
    With adults I rarely know what to give.

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  3. Books are the best gift by far. I'm the boring auntie because I always give books as gifts. I've learned to add a small toy to the package so the kids don't all hate me. My own two kids get at least one book for every occasion from me.

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  4. It always amazes me when you write posts that sound like they come straight out of my own head. My family gives way too many toys to the kids. I'm dreading christmas.

    I like minimalism except when it comes to books. For instance my too generous family gave me a huge box of children's books. I absolutely have no more shelf space for them, but they are books!

    Your comment about making toast for dinner so you can read cracks me up because I'm guilty of the same thing.

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  5. Our family LOVES books. But even those we find we need to go through and weed out once in a while. I started to ask relatives for gifts of Experience. Like Passes to the children's museum or to the aquarium or even the zoo, so that we can enjoy the present together and not have too find room for it (plus we can never seem to afford those passes- so dang expensive).
    I hope this helps.
    ~Michelle

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  6. My grandmother always gave all the grandchildren books from about the time we could read. She started me out with Little House in the Big Woods when I was in 1st grade. By the time I was in high school, I was getting Anne of Green Gables. After high school grandchildren were dropped from the gift giving by the GP's and Aunts and Uncles. I did get a couple of her water colors that she painted. One for my 21st when I was stationed in Germany and one for a wedding gift of Mt Rainier. They are all treasured. Little House books and Anne books were passed to my daughter and will be passed to her daughter starting this year. My sister received Raggedy Anne and OZ books. I think my cousins (male) got Hardy Boys and OZ books. I la la love books. Best presents are gift certificates to book stores and fabric stores! I dispise giving my grandchildren plastic, disposable toys. This year they are getting handmade doll clothes.

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  7. I hear you. Between the guilt of seeming ungrateful for the mounds of stuff and my own unwillingness to add mounds of stuff to other people's lives, the whole idea of Christmas is very off-putting. Our plan this year? Make a list of stuff that we want to do, rather than a list of stuff we want to get/give - go sledding, bake cookies, hike, whatever. Give only gifts we've made, because we wanted to make them. Spend time with people, rather than spend money on people. Make pizza for Christmas dinner, if that's what the kids really want. We're hoping to find out what exactly it is about Christmas that's important to us, individually and as a family, and escape all the consumerism masked as tradition that seems to stick to the season. I wish you the same :)

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  8. P.S. My mom recently asked my ten-year-old what he wanted for Christmas. His response was "Um, I don't really need anything. Could you get me some books and some clothes?" YES!!!

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  9. Every single time I come here, I am bolstered and inspired. Thank you for sharing.

    It took me a long time to wrap my head around what I really wanted for my kids to learn about the holiday time.
    How to teach them that it isn't about consuming, or packaging or mad dash shopping? Then changing my mind and deciding I don't want to teach them what it ISN'T but what it IS.

    How can we consume less and care more?
    One of your commenters said "experiences" and that is truly what we've been steering people who ask what to get the kids, toward. Riding lessons, karate classes, an opera, a symphony.
    All in all, for me to teach my kids that the holiday season is foisted upon us by society in a fashion that isn't compatible with our values as a family, and to teach them that they don't have to buy into it, I think is a really good thing to impart to them. Something they can transfer to other parts of their lives....how to find the true value in people, things, places.

    I love the picture of your babe walking and reading....I have one of those voracious readers who is transported by her books...I love giving her books she doesn't keep them, she reads them and passes them on to her friends and classmates to read, when they come back to her she reads them again and often gives them to her sister to read. Now that is a way to gift!

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  10. I feel the same way.
    But the non-converted to this way of thinking feel like I am trying to take away from them and my children (but mostly them!!), the pleasure of shiny new colourful wrapped toys. They see me as a control freak. HELP!

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  11. Oh mama, I know just how you feel. We are forever decluttering (and even now I am sitting next to two bags of things destined for the toy library and a local charity shop) and this year I'm not planning to buy much in the way of Christmas gifts - I'm just going to make things, small things. Some dolls quilts, some dressing up clothes, some knitted cupcakes - some handwarmers, that sort of thing. A wise professor I worked with many years ago had his own rule for gifts - he and his wife never gave anything which added to household 'stuff' in any way: so they only ever gave food or drink. But I'm with you on books - you can never have too many in my opinion...

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  13. A conversation I once overheard on a tram:

    "I dunno WHAT to get George for Christmas this year."

    "How about a nice book?"

    "Nah, he's already got a book."

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  14. I love books, the first gift I ever gave my niece was a book, now they each get one for every holiday. My 5 year old niece asked for clothes, and she needs another doll for her mrs. goodbee house, since the new addition to the family, so once I can find that I'm set. Also if anybody knows of some good kids books with tabby cats in them, that'd be great for my cat to give them. The younger two are getting useful/creative toys. But even myself I'm really careful about the "junk" I'm bringing in.

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  15. That last part was beautifully writen

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