|The Importance of Handmade Gifts|
|Friday, 30 November 2012 00:00 | Written by Charleen Touchette | Blog Entry|
When I was a girl, soon after the fall harvest I began making holiday gifts for my family, friends and teachers. Using whatever handwork or cooking skills I learned that year, I would knit, sew, embroider, bake, paint or sculpt homemade presents. As a young mom, the presents were jars of preserves, bottles of wine or dried herbs and sachets made from the gifts the Earth gives throughout the seasons. One year, I sewed placemats and napkins out of cloth remnants for each family member, and the children made punched tin napkin rings to go along. The joy we felt giving these gifts was deepened by the many hours we spent making them.
Many are rethinking holiday gift-giving thanks to the tighter economy. There is heightened awareness about the negative effects of hyper-consumerism charged to credit cards on a family budget, and on the environment and the psyche. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers spent 5.7% more during the December 2011 holidays than they did the previous year. But while per capita consumption in the US has increased by 45% since 1973, quality of life has decreased by about the same percentage. Affluenza, the book, PBS television program and DVD, focus on the perils of “Affluenza… overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”
Homemade gifts cost little in materials, but the time, effort and love put into each one makes them of great value. Gifts crafted at home inspire children, are eco-friendly, use less gas and packaging, and replace fossil fuel with human energy. Making presents requires thinking ahead and thinking about the recipient, while taking the time to make something especially for them. It is also an opportunity to consider gift-giving in general—and its place in our lives, our relationships and our communities.
Cultural anthropologists explain the role gift-giving has in all societies and the ways it connects us. Beyond the community-building benefits of gifting, through establishing bonds of reciprocity and support, the actual making of gifts has a salutary effect on overall well-being in that it fosters creativity and productive, purposeful work.
In the United States, gift-giving is primarily focused on Christmas and birthdays, while in the indigenous world, it is a part of daily and ceremonial life year-round. Generosity is highly valued in indigenous cultures and leaders are respected for how much they give away rather than by how much they acquire for themselves. Among the Lakota, the word for generosity, wacantognaka, “means to contribute to the well-being of one’s people by sharing and giving freely… of not only objects and possessions, but also emotions like sympathy, compassion, kindness.” The benefit of such generosity is seen as extending to the giver and contributing to their happiness.
The Lakota host gift-giving ceremonies called wopilas (literal translation: “thank-yous”) throughout the seasons for Honoring, Naming, Adoption and other ceremonies. In fact, wopilas accompany nearly every important event in an individual’s life including graduation, marriage and memorials for the departed. According to Elizabeth Grobsmith in her book, Lakota of the Rosebud: A Contemporary Ethnography, “[t]he Lakota giveaway is an example of ‘reciprocal exchange’ that serves the function of cementing relationships, expressing mutual affection and establishing a system of what the Lakota call ‘Indian insurance.’”
In many cultures, it is customary to gift a person who compliments something you wear, such as jewelry, with the object they admire. When I learned this as a child, I decided immediately that I wanted to be a person who gives freely with such unconditional love and generosity. I find that the joys of making things and giving them away freely with an open heart results in increased happiness and well-being for everyone. When something feels so good and is so good for you and the Earth, why limit it to only one day a year? Gift-giving year-round keeps the warm holiday glow burning throughout each new year.
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