(This was my Undercurrents column for Dec. 13, 2009)
It’s a tight year, and the number of families or circle of friends is small that hasn’t had a discussion about limiting Christmas spending or foregoing gifts altogether.
Fortunately, the best things in life are free, and there are lots of ways to give something meaningful without spending a fortune. Here are just a few suggestions:
Copy some old photos. You can put them in a scrapbook, or an album, or a shoebox — when you’re dealing in memories, the packaging isn’t that important. You can also create an online album and e-mail a link to those who would enjoy having these photos; be sure the images can be copied and saved at a good resolution, in case someone wants to print them.
Volunteer time and effort. Rake someone’s yard. Clean out their gutters. Fix a leaking faucet.
Share family recipes. One of the best parts of our Thanksgiving feast this year was enjoying the distinctive flavor of my grandma’s chocolate pie. She’s been gone for more than a year now, and it was wonderful to find that a cousin, Eric, had managed to get her “secret” recipe by cooking with her in the year before her death.
It brought her close in our memories — and the process of making the pies made us realize how hard she had worked all those years to give us those tasty memories.
Give away some of your favorite books or movies. This sounds crazy coming from me (I’m something of a hoarder when it comes to books, especially.) But unless you’re going to pass it on to your heirs, or you plan to read it or watch it again, why not share the joy with a friend or loved one? Give it with a card or note that explains why it’s important to you, and why the recipient is important to you, too.
Host a get-together. Opening your home to friends and family can be a chore to prepare, but it is also a blessing. Give the gift of sanctuary. Have everyone bring a favorite dish (and maybe a wrapped book or other personal treasure for a blind exchange).
Take a “Help Portrait” (as seen at help-portrait. com). It’s simple: Find someone in need; take their portrait; print out the portrait; give it to them. This is about giving pictures, not taking them. Rope some folks into participating along with you, or do this as your gift to them. (Official Help Portrait Day was Saturday, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing one later.)
The important thing is to share the joy, right? Isn’t that the reason for the season?