I don’t think anyone would call me a grinch for observing that a great deal of the true holiday spirit has been hijacked. It’s becoming increasingly difficult not to feel resentful, when trudging zombie-like through the malls (especially right after work), after battling through a parking lot full of angry drivers and then, finally inside, overheated, overwhelmed and over-sprayed by the perfume sampler, discovering the stores to be full of the Same. Stuff. Everywhere. “Bits of old tat,” my mother might intone darkly. And certainly not suitable for the people we love.
And yet, in desperation, we sometimes buy anyway, quietly shunning the thought that perhaps a slim box of wafer-thin chocolates might have been a better office gift after all, rather than that red-nosed reindeer that defecates candy.
These are the kind of mistakes that one can make strung out on too much coffee and not enough food.
Speaking of food, I am often reminded during the holiday season of that wonderful actor/philanthropist Paul Newman, whose revered salad dressings were, in part, a reaction to this very issue. One of Newman’s passions was cooking, and he took to giving homemade treats as presents, decanting his salad dressings into wine bottles with a humble label attached, to the absolute delight of every recipient. We all know the rest of the story, since the products eventually went commercial and 100% of the after-tax profit from those salad dressings still goes to charity. Now this is in the spirit of the season!
That said, I am not suggesting that those Angry Shoppers in the first paragraph go home and start creating garlicky emulsions of their own, when there is already barely enough time to turn around. But the gift of food — in any form — can be one of the presents that people often appreciate most.
Newly away-from-home students love electronics and gift certificates, but a pallet of KD, Red-Bull or instant oatmeal will also be well-received, and enjoyed in the long (and possibly impoverished) dark days of winter ahead. I have given “pie vouchers” to my sons for a few Christmases now. They are laminated pie-shaped cards drawn badly by myself, which can be cashed in for tourtière, fruit or chicken curry pies. (Some conditions may apply…) The promise, or indeed, the mention of pie has never produced the kind of stilted, polite “Well! Thank-you-very-much!” reaction that foretells a return trip to the dreaded mall in order to get the right colour/model/issue/size.
With only a little forethought, unique jams made in season (by you, or someone else!) can be put into a small basket bursting with the remembrance of warmer days, and ready to be spread on expensive crackers or paired with artisanal cheeses tucked alongside. Merchants abound to help with splendid olive oils, homemade tomato sauces, bags of gourmet rice, local anything, all readily available.
And what new parent (or heck, any parent!) would not appreciate a gift card for a spot that offers ready-made meals — or a restaurant voucher with free babysitting thrown in?
Of course, if you have the time or inclination, absolutely why not make something yourself; tea loaves come together in minutes, and there are many fruit cake recipes (the kind that young people actually like). Make three or four at a time. Use organic everything you can, and say so on the label.
Food is all about love, after all. You can never get the wrong colour. And it always fits.