You’re probably familiar with the holiday classic movie in which a woman cuts her hair to buy a chain for her partner’s pocket watch, which he sells to buy a brush for her hair. Did you know that’s based on a short story by O.Henry, the famed Austin author? I had my own Gift of the Maji experience this year.
Since studying environmental issues in college, I have always taken a critical and conscious approach to Christmas gift-buying. It seems each year had a different theme based on what I had been reading, how much money I had, and how much I prepared for holiday shopping. There was the year that I was home from college for several weeks before Christmas, and slowly churned out homemade gifts for all. Then the year I worked right up to the holiday, and spent my extra earnings on gift cards and donations for everyone on Christmas eve. Regardless of the gift, I am always intentional about wrapping paper- reusing paper from previous years when wrapping, and compulsively stashing the gift bags, wrapping and bows as I unwrap new presents.
Last year was the hardest Christmas on record, for most of us, I imagine. We were nine months into a pandemic changing our routines and habits, for better and for worse, only to be met with the reality that the Christmas present we all dreamed of- a vaccine- was months away from becoming a reality. For me, there was the added challenge of deciding that the week of Christmas was the time to draw the line on my relationship. I spent Christmas alone with my dog in Los Alamos. Most of the presents I managed to wrap and send were from the clearance rack at walmart. Last Christmas served as a stark reminder of the blessings I have- in my health and my supportive family, which I am so grateful to spend this Christmas with.
In preparation for this Christmas, with the pandemic threatening supply of crap I wouldn’t buy anyway, I decided to use Christmas as an opportunity to invest in my community. A friend from aerials class runs a local tea shop, so I was putting in some hours there. The pay isn’t great but the community is uplifting, and the owner is generous with her gratitude for my hours in other ways. During hours of sliding tea bags into packages, I decided that tea would make a great Christmas gift, and I could show support for the tea shop. But when the owner saw my cart of goodies, she insisted that I take them all gratis in exchange for my work there! (If you like what you got and want more, you can order online at tea-o-graphy.com )
I also spent many months this year learning the amazing craft of pottery from a new friend. I had made coiled pots and gazed them in elementary school, but never before understood the intense calculations that went into designing a vessel, crafting it with hands, mixing the glaze from scratch, and watching it go through several stages from wet clay, to dry clay to bisqued clay to glazed and fired, only to see it crack or break and be useless. I knew a hand-made mug would pair well with some craft tea, and decided to support his patience with my learning his craft, by purchasing several mugs from him. Here, the charitable Christmas spirit struck again. He insisted I pay just 25% his asking price, as a friendly discount, which wouldn't offer him much financial reward for his craft. Once again, my intent to support local artists’ income was thwarted with their personal generosity, perhaps with an acknowledgement that this had not been the most financially stable year for me. I ended up paying him 75% cost, with the agreement that I could take a larger hand-made piece—Merry Christmas to me.
I share that story with these simple gifts to express how these hand-made, deeply intentioned gifts are imbued with love and generosity, and with one final hope that as you enjoy these gifts, that energy gets transferred onto you. I have learned in the last few years that many people do not have the blessing of a large family, easily accessed in one area, that offers support, acceptance, love and laughter. There is no greater gift than getting to spend this year in the company of such delightful people, to share in joys and giggles and make new memories. And to gift them each a piece of the community that helped bring me back home.