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The hot topic of the Christmas season is always about what to give to the people we care about.

This month I want to explore tangible gifts, the ones that are touchable, huggable, useable, returnable, edible, breakable, or wearable. Next month I will explore spiritual gifts, invisible gifts.

How do we choose gifts for people? To consider this question I asked myself and my partner, Clifford, “What was the most memorable gift you can recall?” For Clifford, it was a pocket knife. For me it was an elegant pen and pencil set. We received these gifts when we were about 11. In both cases, the gifts reflected a kind of rite of passage, a recognition that the gifts acknowledged our growing maturity, a passage from late childhood into very young adulthood. They could be called “threshold gifts.”

I love gifts that are transformative in some way. Maybe it’s a paint set or musical instrument that will set a kid or adult off on an artistic path. Clifford gave me an iPad several years ago that I swore I didn’t need or want, but has become one of the most useful tools in my life.

Homemade and heart-made gifts touch us most deeply. The poem written, a picture painted, or a piece of music composed for us, are gifts we return to and treasure. Daughter Clea makes outrageously delicious sweets, which, alas, we can’t return to, and they disappear very quickly!

If we know a person wants or needs something that will enrich his or her life—a camera, a journal, a sweater, or just something beautiful we know will make a person happy—I look to buy from local merchants, or from an organization that supports artisans or cooperatives in developing countries. Serrv is one of my favorites, a non-profit group specializing in Fair Trade gifts of all kinds.

Many people, ourselves included, don’t want or need more “stuff,” and are actually trying to lighten our load. So what do we give to those folks? I’ve always liked giving donations in someone’s name where the gift, like a flock of chicks for $20, or a gang of rabbits for $60, will continually benefit a self-sustaining rural family. The Heifer Project is great for that kind of gift.

I also like giving gifts that treat people to something they wouldn’t do for themselves: a dinner at a restaurant, a night at a lovely hotel, time at a spa, or retreat. It’s a welcome gift and a good alternative to buying “stuff.”

Choosing a gift is an art that involves reflecting on the intended recipient, listening to our inner guidance, and being aware of where and how the gift is made.

Happy and Creative Gifting!

(About the photo: We adopted "Taj" from the shelter over 10 years ago, and as all our dogs have been, he is a true gift in our lives. A couple of the stuffed animals he is cuddling with were gifts to me when I was about 3 years old.)


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