For every occasion -- Christmas, Hanukah or otherwise -- my partner Richard and I have a code for gift giving. Whatever it is, it has to be consumable, edible, drinkable, burnable (Okay, I know what you're thinking, but no. I'm talking about candles or incense.), or time sensitive things like tickets to the theater or movie passes.
During the Holidays, gifts, of course, are important to many -- especially kids. When I was a rug-rat, my mom used to make tons of stuff for us each Christmas. During the year she'd knit and crochet sweaters, goofy hats, horrible scarves and oversized mittens from thread she rescued from outdated knitwear that she'd unravel. (Funny how our hats always seemed to be the ones first offered up for the neighborhood snowmen.)
The things she would knit weren't always the best fitting or the prettiest, but in that moment -- on Christmas Eve when the lights of the tree sparkled, with the scent of her handmade candles everywhere, unwrapping gifts to the quiet hum of carols -- we knew that she had made them, stitch by stitch, night after night. The fact is, my mother was a frugal Dutch immigrant who had survived World War II as a teenager, scraping by with her family through the occupation, and she learned how to make magic out of nothing. (Shine-ola!) Nothing went to waste, everything was re-used, and making things by hand was just what ya' did.
She sewed things, too. There were ill-fitting pants (Imagine this...pink and green seer-sucker hip-huggers with fringe. Ooo-la-laaa! ...I wish I still had them!), the occasional coat, for my sister a dress without buttons (she ran out of time) and one year, from a bolt of fabric she found in a clearance bin, she created matching florescent orange Nehru shirts for my sister Mags, my older brother, John, and me. (Presented in our "glowing" holiday finery, I'm certain that the ladies from church thought that we had joined up with the local Hare Krishnas.)
But when mom baked it was easy to forgive all of her fashion transgressions. She made endless batches of homemade oatmeal bars, lemon squares, pecan sandies, chocolate chip cookies (salvaging the chocolate from our Halloween booty), and our favorite -- British toffee. She'd also decorate canisters rescued during the year with smartly applied compositions cut from the previous year's Christmas cards, ribbons and paper, before filling them and delivering them to our schoolteachers, Sunday School instructors, Scout leaders, band directors, and just about anyone else she had on her list.
Mom also saved glass jars in which to store her homemade preserves...apple and pear butter, and cherry, grape, apricot, strawberry, and even tomato jams. She'd prepare them when the fruits were in season, covering each with a protective coating of paraffin and then storing the packed preserves away in the pantry. And with the left over jars and the remaining wax she'd fill each with a wick and create a mountain of Christmas candles. Decorated and always available, these too made great last minute memorable holiday gifts.
Of course there were some store bought toys that came and went but the ones she and my dad made in the shop downstairs were -- and still are -- the ones I cherish most. There were cutouts of circus animals made from scraps of pine painted with remainders of house paint. There were puppets sewn from clothing we had outgrown or detested (Definitely not the Nehru shirts!). There were also toys salvaged from discount bins and resale shops that were repainted and repaired to like-new.
My folks were resourceful. As recent immigrants to this country they offered each of their three children -- in my opinion -- a magical childhood. And although neither of them had more than grade-school educations, their wealth of knowledge, skills and shear "chutzpa" made us feel like the luckiest family on the block.
So instead of having a "Green Christmas," perhaps we make this a "Homemade" kind of Holiday...where small, meaningful, handmade gifts from the heart are delivered in wonderful recycled wrappings and enormous bows.
Remember, it's not gifts that make it a merry Christmas, happy Hanukah or a totally cheerful Kwanzaa...it's the special brand of holiday spirit we share with others that makes it all worthwhile.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.