Post 65: Shifting Our Gifting

Even without looking at a calendar, I know it’s the holiday season because of certain indicators. Extra traffic. More online commercials. Frenetic yard decorations—blinking lights, plastic blowup Santas turning in the breeze, projected light shows. Too many irresistible sweets. Frequent media updates with the latest spending totals. So many special events that bunches of them can happen on a single day.

It’s been years since I went shopping in a regular store, offering new stuff, during this crazy-busy time. But I hear the brick-and-mortars aren’t as seasonally crowded as they used to be, now that internet shopping has become the norm. Much of the mayhem has gone underground—or, we could say, is quietly landing on the ground in front of people’s doors, dropped from the hands of a delivery driver.

Whether it’s happening in the malls or on the internet, American spending is being tracked (and forecasted) as usual. The sources I looked at mostly agree that consumers will spend about the same on gifts this year as last—though it’s still just a prediction at this point, and some polls found shoppers who say they’ll spend less because of inflation. The saddest story I found was about people who say they do plan to shell out the same amounts as last year, in spite of tougher circumstances—they’ve lost a job, or they’ve been hit hard by expenses in 2022. They plan to use credit. They’ll start 2023 with debt. How is that a happy new year? And what will happen to the gifts they bought? Will they last beyond the credit card payments?

I wonder who these gifts’ intended recipients are. Are they people who’d consider a handmade gift precious? Or are they wanting a specific new gizmo and nothing else? That latter group—well, we want to make them happy, of course. But they’ve been influenced by advertising, and probably also by friends who’ve seen the same promotions. Perhaps happiness isn’t going to follow the unwrapping of that longed-for device, at least not for long. It’s worth asking: Can we give them something they don’t know they want? If so, it would be a more important gift: a discovery.

 As for those who do value handmade gifts, that’s where we ditch the debt and spend more of our time and ourselves than our cash. For ideas, revisit the list of nature-inspired gifts I wrote about and photographed last year (Post 21, Motherlode: Free Gifts from Our Mother Earth). A treasure-hunting walk through a natural area could be the perfect escape from holiday stress as well. While “shopping nature” for gifts and ideas, it’s important to take only small objects, or pieces that will be abundantly replenished.

I could get lost searching DIY gift projects online. Some are appealing and truly original; others are variations on the usual: bath products, candles, mugs, coasters, keychains, magnets, bookmarks, jewelry . . . there’s nothing wrong with the tried-and-true, certainly. But I scroll past projects that would require all-new materials or that are primarily new and not so much you—like a storebought candle in a glass that you just personalize with a name, nothing more. I also watch out for projects that require harmful materials, like glitter, which finds its way to our waterways. Who likes to eat little bits of hidden plastic with their fish dinner? Yes, it happens. (You can get organic glitter now, anyway.)

But sometimes I’m just overwhelmed by how thing-oriented this time of year seems to be. Homemade gifts at least involve process, and the potential to share that with others. But even if I find perfect gifts at a thrift store or in nature, I’ll probably receive some new stuff myself. In December, commercialism rules. We’re drenched in it.

When it gets to be too much, I like to escape to Barranca del Cobre, Mexico. Not literally, but in any virtual way I can. (Below I’ve listed a few videos, books, and a radio spot to help you do the same.) The Tarahumara, or Rarámuri (their preferred name) almost never buy new stuff. They don’t need it. Everything they require for life—or at least the materials for it—is within reach: the pine needles and sotol for their baskets, the clay for their pots and cooking vessels, leather (and perhaps tire scraps) for their sandals, earthen pigments and wood for a ceremonial sword, thick pine bark to make touristy carvings that might bring in a smidgen of actual money.

Rarámuri pots and goblet

I also like to admire some Rarámuri pottery I own. When I handle these utilitarian pots, they transport me to visions of the life they belong to. They used to inspire some longing for simplicity, but recent drought in their homeland is making Rarámuri survival anything but simple—so now the vessels represent a sadness and frustration.  I don’t know the story on the goblet on the right, but I haven’t seen any others like it.

Rarámuri baskets of different shapes

Rarámuri baskets are made from pine needles (dark) and/or sotol leaves (light). I keep my dishwashing liquid in the basket-covered bottle. I’ sure I have the most beautiful dish soap in all the land.

Rarámuri dolls with hands extended in front of their bodies, holding vessels

Their dolls and figures are carved from the thick bark of the region’s pine trees. I like that both of mine are holding out an offering—though I’m not sure why; it can hardly be anything but a friendly gesture.

Anyway, because of its people, Copper Canyon—deep and secluded and rugged—is still a refuge from consumerism, commercialism, and capitalism run amok. There are other places like it in the world, all valuable beyond measure—and needing to be valued. This time of year, they contrast most starkly with the stress and distress of American buying fevers.

What if all of us in the United States were to give a holiday gift to the caretakers of the planet? I would want to help keep the corn and beans growing, somehow, in the fields of the Rarámuri farmers. That’s a fantasy, though. Maybe there’s a more concrete way to contribute.

I’ll think more about that, in a quiet moment.

In the meantime, here are a few resources to help transport you to Barranca del Cobre without having to hop on a plane or any other any greenhouse-gas-spewing machine.


  • Tarahumara: Where Night is the Day of the Moon, by Bernard L. Fontana
  • Mexico’s Sierra Tarahumara: A Photohistory of the People of the Edge, by W. Dirk Raat and George R. Janecek
  • Could you live like a Tarahumara? ¿Podrias vivir como un Tarahumara? A children’s book in Spanish and English. Don Burgesss, author and photographer; Bob Schalkwijk, photographer (What a provocative title!)


Documentary videos

Note: I’m afraidmost of the videos on the Rarámuri that I’ve been able to access are flawed because of schlocky music, an occasionally condescending tone, and/or too much emphasis on the people’s running abilities. Obviously there’s much more to the culture, its history, and its insistent independence, than sandaled (or barefoot) endurance racing.  But ironically, with their crops failing, prize money from races is now important for supplementing their food supplies.

4 thoughts on “Post 65: Shifting Our Gifting

  1. A concise ‘take’ on this time of year, and a look into the state of our world!
    I have shared this with my daughter and niece.


  2. Lovely piece.

    I’m also a fan of making my own when possible. And of gift certificates for hugs, a visit, or a chore. We’ve removed ourselves from gifting things for the most part. Money to support an adventure in nature for nieces and nephews… Or the purchase of something essential for our child.


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