I like to give gifts. I just don’t like to shop: not for groceries, not for clothes, not for cars. Shopping takes time away from things that I do enjoy, like my work, cooking, gardening, playing outdoors and reading.
I especially dislike shopping during the holiday frenzy between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Despite advertising that attempts me to believe otherwise, I doubt there’s any one thing that can make me happy, slim, sexy, fit, smart, rich or relaxed—any one thing that’s for sale, that is. I’m not going to find it on the shelf of a nifty boutique any more that I’ll find it discounted at a big box store.
Sure, I like beautiful things. I also like bargains. As with an open box of cookies, however, I try to resist. I know that if I give in and buy something I neither need nor want, the flush of acquisition will quickly fade, leaving me poorer, both in wallet and spirit, just as eating those cookies will satisfy a momentary lust while leaving me with a calorie surplus to regret.
And I don’t want to resist the spirit of the holidays, which is often expressed by giving. In fact, my dislike for shopping puts me at odds with my desire to bestow gifts on friends whose kindnesses have helped me through another year. Sending cards is a lovely tradition, but it doesn’t always satisfy my desire to give a gift.
Over the years, I’ve tried different approaches, including the one-size-fits all gift. As if I were a small corporation, I’ve dealt out calendars, subscribed to fruit-though-the-mail schemes, and made contributions to do-good non-profits on others’ behalf. None of these mass-gifting plans really addressed my need to mark the holidays with something truly personal, so I now give jars of home-raised honey and homemade jam.
These gifts are both scarce and precious. In recent years, bears have stolen what little surplus my bees have produced, so I’ve turned to making jam, big-time. As soon as the rhubarb and strawberries ripen, I go into production. Next, I process raspberries until my hands are stained. This year, we had an added bounty of wild grapes, which I picked, mashed, cooked, strained, jelled, jarred and labeled. These are things I like to do. I especially like thinking about who I will be giving these jewel-colored jars to come Christmas, even as I’m stirring the jam in June.
When I give one of these jars, I’m giving someone my labor of love—for I love the gardening and tending and processing that yields a substance so sweet.
But I like to think that I’m also giving a taste of the summer past and the summer to come. These winter holidays, after all, didn’t originate as celebrations of winter, but as rituals celebrating the promise of life’s return with the light in the New Year.
A version of this essay aired on the stations of Vermont Public Radio in 2007.