Sunday, November 29, 2009

Food, Wrapped in Tinfoil

Let’s see, I put out the ‘thankful’ post, and the ‘joy of giving’ post. It only follows that if you have a real sense of thankfulness then you would be inclined to give gifts (or something) to objectify that sense of thankfulness. You know, a little thank you gift.

And then I waded into the fetid soup that is the current sorry state of conditions attendant to gift giving to commemorate the birth of a holy man, or a God however you see it. As an aside I’ll just say there seems so little Christ in Christmas any more. It’s all about what you are getting for whom and what you want to get. Just a little too much about 'the get' for my taste.

Well, I hereby proffer the notion that there is a fledgling movement afoot and you can be on the leading edge! No, I’m not starting my own religion, an alternative holiday in which you can compete to see who can send me the most decadent gift, though, now that I think of it ….

In this I don’t expect a tidal wave of adoption. There are those few who are way out there breaking trail, the trend setters. Then there are the early adopters, those who discover something, evaluate it on its merits and decide ‘yes, this is worth a try’. Then comes a little known group, the early followers. These folks are astute at combing all the venues of contemporary media and sensing a fashion development. They play a pretty strong role in trend setting. Their creativity is in marketing: By picking up something early, and trumpeting it loudly they have a hand in getting the thing adopted, thus garnering a double dose of ‘cred’: “’member, two weeks ago when I told you this was gonna be big? And MAN, look how big it is, and I told you about it!” Meh. Then come the masses; they buy the packaged, prefab, single speed bikes put out by the big name companies. Are those things available at WahMart yet? (Hey, I bought one... but I got it when they first came out!)

And then there is Aunt Gladys: She’s never going to give you (much less ride) a vintage Masi framed fixed gear with chopped bars and a flip flop hub. She’s going to give you food, wrapped in tinfoil, lovingly made in her kitchen. It could be a plate of sugar cookies, or maybe that 90% white sugar 9% butter, and 1% Hershey’s cocoa fudge she makes. Rice Crispy Treats anyone? Something on that order. The point is she’s not going to join the fad because first she’s not even aware of the fad; wouldn’t know what you were talking about if you tried to explain it. And second, she loves you unconditionally because you are her sister’s boy (or girl) and so, even though she caught you tormenting her cat in her backyard that one time, she still knows that you are basically good, and you are family. Thus the food, wrapped in tinfoil. She gives you the love that comes out of her oven. That’s all she knows.

Wow, how’d we get off on that little side trip? I’ll see if I can’t weave this ‘wild hair’ back into the toupee down the way

Well, that brings us to the side entrance to that story I started out with. Enter that side door and you find you are in the hustle and bustle of the mall, because aside from the trail blazers and Aunt Gladys, there is that collection of people that you feel ‘obligated to get something for’. See what I mean? You are not going to find Christ in this part of the mall, in fact you must really struggle to connect Christ (or the original intent of Christmas) to any part of this business. You just know you, like the sweaty throngs you are buried in need to find something for those eight or ten people on that list.

So you stare absently at the ‘Cracker Barrel Holiday Gift Pack’, the keychain LED, the lottery tickets (as a Christmas gift this just drips irony, on so many levels; please, no plastic flowers on my grave and no lottery tix for me for ‘Xmas’), the FDNY ball cap, Seahawks muffler, scented votive candles, … the list goes on. These are not just things you get for others; they are the trade beads exchanged between you and that whole category of acquaintances out there in the third (and outer) rings of your galaxy of friends. By the way, if any of these things struck you as an ‘Ah ha!’ moment, then you should give serious consideration to what follows.

Well here it is; the silver bullet that will shield you from the downward spiral of the noble thought gone astray that degrades the soul and subjugates the original intent.

Be charitable, on behalf of those people on that list.

This may be so Zen that it actually seems like a cheap and phony dodge. Done poorly, this can probably damage relationships, but I believe there is a way to do this that will give folks the sense that you are honoring them, and relieving them of the ‘obligation to get something for you’. We talked about that remember? The obligation goes both ways, … or not. Here is how this might work:

To begin with, you send them a card with a note, early, like NOW! In this note you let them know a number of things:

First, you are going to try a little experiment this year and you ask their patience with you. (Hey, you are breaking trail here which might be a little less lonely if you announce it.)

Second, you have decided you would rather they not give you a gift this year. You’ve contemplated ‘shopping’ and the prospect just does not have the appeal it once did, and you would just as soon they not put themselves through this trouble on your account. They are free to put that effort toward someone or something more deserving. And on the other side of that coun, rather than give a gift that

Third you have decided that instead of giving gifts this year you are going to be making charitable donations. You let them know that you have done a little home work and found severable charitable organizations you have (or are contemplating) giving to. You let them know if they have any further interest to get in touch.

Fourth, in your research you have become so impressed with one, some, or all of the aforementioned charities that you have decided to make a small donation in their honor to one of them.

Here you can be a little creative. Is there someone on your list who has had a brush with cancer? (Is there anyone you know who hasn’t?) If so, in their name you have made a donation to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, The American Cancer Society, The American Lung Association, etc.

Someone on your list ‘farmish’? Have a connection to an emerging, or strife torn region of the world? Ok, you have made a donation to Heifer International.

Or how about Grameen Foundation, do you know that story? This is something that started out as a miniscule effort, an experiment really and in less than 30 years has become an enormous force for change in the lives of millions of people. Just as an aside, 97% of their loan recipients have been impoverished women! This is something that works in the lives of real people every day that you can be a part of.

How about KIVA, heard of that? One of my sons gave me a KIVA gift certificate last year, it was one of the most touching gifts I’ve ever received. (Way better than a carbon fiber money clip.) It made me proud to know him as a person, never mind to be related.

You may want to think twice about sending this note to Aunt Gladys. There are people you know who just won’t get this. And you know you are probably going to get that festive holiday paper plate of sugar cookies (tinfoil covered) anyway.

The ‘experiment’ part? Here you’ll need a little finesse. You can say that you are sure that giving this gift is more meaningful for you (hopefully for them) than tramping the malls to find something that ultimately would not be the full expression of your sense of gratitude for their impact on your life .... er, friendship. I know, this part needs a little work, but we’ll work on it.

This does not need to be religious, in fact, for a lot of people this would be totally inappropriate. But I think there is nothing wrong with suggesting that it is your attempt to get back to the original meaning of Christmas, or perhaps better to say it is your attempt to inject a little more sense and sensitivity into this reality show called ‘Gifts Gone Wild!” You just want to see if there is not a simple way you, one person, could actually do something that might bring a little more ‘Joy to the World”.

As for me, I’ll be sending that note out to my list of friends and family this week. My siblings have decided to pool our donations and see if we can’t ‘go big’ on a donation to Heifer International. Of course ‘big’ is relative: $120 buys a pig, a goat, or a sheep. $250, buys a water buffalo, $500.00 a heifer. Or $5,000 a Gift Ark. That’s two each: cows, sheep, camels, oxen, water buffs, pigs, Llamas, goats, donkeys, two beehives, , two trios of ducks, two trios of rabbits, two trios of guinea pigs, two flocks of geese, and two flocks of chicks. That would be big! But 5 large? Well, we’ll see.

I am also going to try something like this at work too, it should be interesting.

Who knows, maybe those early followers you and I know will get hold of this and in two weeks it’ll be racing across the internet like a brush fire on the African Savanna, the malls empty but for the mall walkers.

I have spent a little time on this and having stepped away for a couple days it occurs to me that this may read like a pitch to the Legions of Codfish for a ‘donation’; something like 'an offer you can’t refuse'. Please know that is not my intent.

I realize that it might also come across as though I have recently discovered something (philanthropy) and I want all you grubby consumers to hear the good news. I pride myself on the diversity of people I know as friends. They include the high born, the self made and the working class who are doing well to get by. I know you all to be fairly generous people and it would not surprise me to learn that you already have a strong tradition of philanthropy. I’m not looking to get something out of this, just want to encourage and support those who are already moving down that path.

I take that back, there is something I would not mind getting from this: Lets here about your traditions, what do you do that is in the spirit? What are the efforts and organizations you participate in that you think are particularly worthy? Share that with me and I’ll put it up here.

I hope in the next month you give and receive great joy.


  1. Thank you for putting this out there. The last few years have been leading to a similar aha moment for me, though perhaps implemented slightly different. While we'll be making a charitable donation, we don't advertise it to our friends and family, we simply say "Please, no gifts, we're giving to the children only" which has worked very well. My gift giving is now solely to my nieces and nephews (<$100 total). What I used to love about Christmas is not Christmas Day, but instead the lead up of decorating, carols, baking, driving to see the Christmas lights, etc... The experience, rather than the gift. Well, since I can't be with my family for that lead up, I now try to set up opportunities to have new experiences together when we do get to visit. That ultimately becomes a gift for everyone involved. As for Scott, it just means he gets his new cycling clothing or bits when he needs it instead of waiting for Christmas Day :).


  2. "Do you know how much money I've already given to cancer?! I want that carbon fiber money clip!"

    Honestly though, well put. I will always accept food though.