Putting the meaning back into giving

Black Friday is all set to spark the frenzy of festive season buying: you know, when we spend money we often can’t afford on things we and our giftees don’t need. The meaning of Christmas drowns in a flood of things.

Black Friday started in the US – that powerhouse of buy, buy, buy – and has spread around the world. Like a virus. There are several theories about its origins. But it seems fairly certain that the term was first linked to shopping in the chaos that erupted on the day after Thanksgiving in 1960s Philadelphia. Now, heavily promoted, it’s seen as the day when retailers go from being “in the red” to “in the black”. Shoppers go into a special kind of madness – even deaths have been reported in the stampede to buy.

There’s so much more to Christmas than spending

My inbox is groaning with countless enticements to buy. It gets more than a little overwhelming. In August, I decided to not buy new clothes for a year and it’s seeping into the rest of my behaviour as a consumer. I feel wonderfully free of the frenzy and I plan to approach the season of giving differently. Truth, though, is that I don’t really know how to do it.

So I approached Peta Daniel – who I know is the queen of gifting – for advice. By the way, she uses the word “gifting” and so do I. The Oxford English Dictionary says “gift” is, indeed, a verb, as in “present (someone) with a gift or gifts”. I like the simplicity of the word that flows smoothly and unpretentiously into sentences.

The art of gifting

Peta, who lives in Cape Town, is all kinds of things: a freelance journalist, a teacher of pole dancing, and the founder and manager of a thriving childminding business called Family Friends. She’s also a lover of gifting, which she calls “gratitude moments to give to people I love”. She’s turned it into art.

Peta Daniel, the teacher of pole dancing. Pic: Supplied
Peta, the lover of animals. Pic: Supplied

Her affair with gifting started as a child when she’d help her mom stock the “present cupboard” with affordable items throughout the year. As a young adult with “no big budget”, though, she’d sometimes feel swamped, giving more than 40 Christmas presents: for the children her enterprise cares for, their families, her friends, her family. “One year, it struck me that I did not even know if a particular person would like the gift I was spending money on. So I decided to relook at how I gift.”

And this is the method that Peta has developed:

  1. Plans: She starts shopping early in the year instead of buying something, anything, at the last minute. She is more likely to find affordable items that her recipient will enjoy. “I keep my finds in a big box. Now and then, I take it out to admire all the beautiful things, like a little crow, and enjoy thinking about who gets what, how to wrap them, how to put the gifts together,” she says.
  2. Regifts: “I stopped being afraid of regifting. It is not disrespectful to regift, say, a hand cream or body cream when I already have enough of them.” She may add a handmade item (see Point 3).
  3. Makes: “I stopped being afraid of giving gifts that I’d made myself.” She realised that the things she’d been making for fun, like crocheted scarves and headbands, would make great gifts. One day, she gathered all the plastic packets in her house, cut them into long strips and crocheted them into bags for laundry or books – perfect for her eco-conscious sister and friends. And she makes mean choc-chip cookies and gifts rolls of frozen cookie dough, which can be sliced and baked as needed.
  4. Buys second-hand: “I’m not afraid of buying second-hand toys or second-hand gifts for adults.”
  5. Thinks outside the box: Peta likes to give experiences. They last forever, but they can also be more costly. “I tend to save these for birthday presents when I can spend a little more on a person.” She has gifted massages, a scuba dive and a piercing to special people.

Peta is right up to date on Point 4. Buying second-hand gifts is trending as consumers get fed up with the massive amounts of waste in the form of unwanted gifts. A study shows almost half of shoppers would consider gifting second-hand clothing this season, and more than half would welcome used gifts for themselves.

And data from thredUP, the world’s largest online thrift store, is that 45% of its customers bought second-hand gifts last year. This is likely to increase to 79% in 2019 – a 75% increase.

Eco-friendly

Peta also plans to buy more eco-friendly products as gifts – like bamboo toothbrushes and straws and biodegradable soaps and lip balms – to try to move her people towards the sustainable lifestyle she is trying to embrace. And she looks for good quality items made from recycled materials. “These can be more pricey, but then I buy something small, instead of a big piece of junk.”

But gifts don’t have to cost a bomb. “In our family, we would give vouchers – perhaps for a foot tickle or a back rub. I love the Milnerton Flea Market and a friend, who doesn’t love it, gifted me her company, and coffee, for two trips to the market.”

For a group of friends who’ve become family, Peta will organise a pre-Christmas dinner, with each bringing food to share, as well as a secret Santa gift. “I’m not the biggest fan of secret Santas because I like the personal touch, but this can work well with close friends. And gifts could be for a cause, like supporting the local animal shelter.”

Love and effort

For those who are more challenging as giftees, like her grandparents, she is looking at making a scrapbook with photos and handwritten notes. She’ll make some pickled food in beautiful, reused glass jars for an older aunt or uncle.

“The love and effort put into those items is the most valuable part of the gift,” she says. Indeed, instead of giving for the sake of giving (and by extension, buying for the sake of buying), these gifts have real meaning behind them.

“I may buy my dad a brand new book because he never does that for himself, and add a written note on what he means and why I chose this book for him. I’ll look for it at a small bookstore and not a big chain. For my mom, I’ll find something small that I think she’ll like and print photos for her, writing her a letter explaining why I chose these photos.”

Children are a special case at Christmas time. Haven’t you seen their eyes glaze over as they disappear behind mountains of expensive plastic and paper? Peta is still thinking up meaningful gifts for her nephews. “Maybe it will be an experience, a promise that just you and I are going to do this activity.”

Wrapped up

For her final touch, Peta reuses wrapping paper, even making collages of used paper to wrap gifts. Instead of plastic sticky tape to seal gifts, she ties them closed with thick, good quality fabric ribbons: the ribbon could be useful to the giftee, perhaps to tie back a curtain. Or she might use a T-shirt or tea towel for the wrapping. The ribbon and the wrapping become part of the gift.

I’m pretty sure that we won’t see Peta in the shops this Friday. Anyway, she’ll be too busy dreaming up meaningful gifts.

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2 thoughts on “Putting the meaning back into giving

  1. We have for years preferred not doing Christmas gifts in favour of food (ha!). We also always do waifs and strays which is a hangover of my 20s and in Johannesburg when folk would welcome me into their homes. It’s my way of paying back and paying it forward. Oh, and I do like what a friend did for his 60th: nominated local charities for donations in lieu of gifts.

    Oh, and, in keeping with my Scottish Heritage, food is always taken to somone’s home on the first visit in a new year. Traditionally, in Scotland, my father would tell, it was something to eat, something to drink (whisky) and a piece of coal so there was always fire in the hearth. And – lang may yer lum reek.:D

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    1. It’s really interesting to see how people interpret the gifting part of Christmas in so many different ways instead of panicky rush out and buy junk. We do give gifts, but only to those with us. And now I am determined not to spend money on buying new things. Oh, I do love gathering with friends and family at this time … including the long run up to Christmas and New Year (and then we all need a holiday from it!). We do a lot of bringing and sharing

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