With Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanzaa on the near horizon, I want to offer some support in case you, like me, suffer from seasonal I-don’t-know-what-to buy-and-besides-I-hate-to-shop syndrome.

How is it that stores keep adding more shopping days till Christmas, while I delay longer and longer buying my small little stash of gifts?

Until I wake up on the Solstice in a panic.

(If Christmas isn’t your holiday, have a little empathy or translate this into your own traditions.)

I was imprinted on Christmas presents as a child, and despite my sophisticated veneer (right!), there’s still a kid inside of me that loves giving and receiving gifts. Over the years, my “have to buy gifts for” list has shrunk and I no longer stay up on Xmas eve waiting for Santa, but I find myself with almost no tolerance for the “holiday magic” of heavily decorated shopping malls, traffic jams, and piped-in carols.

I haven’t travelled anywhere that didn’t pay homage to Christmas consumerism.  In Tokyo, I expected some Buddhist discretion, but sure enough Santa was there ho-ho-ho’ing in the otherwise exquisite Japanese department stores. And, walking through the airport mall in Islamic Dubai, I was surprised to fin this golden dromedary contemplating a fully decorated Christmas tree.

Which just goes to show that shopping is ecumenical.

It’s part of why I’ve become a hermit at Christmas. You see secretly, I love the spirit of Christmas and will still cry when carols speak of love, giving one’s heart, and spreading light in the world. And Lord knows we need some extra light this year…

So as we reach the solstice on December 21st, otherwise known as “Oh-my-God-it’s-almost-Christmas-and-I-haven’t finished shopping” day, I thought I’d share some gift ideas that 1) don’t require a trip to the mall and 2) don’t involve buying stuff.

1) Give time. Ben Franklin got it wrong. Time isn’t money—it’s way better. A friend offered me two hours of time working in the garden together; it was the perfect gift. Possibilities are everywhere for tasks that might be more fun done together: fixing the car; organizing a closet; shopping for clothes (especially if your friend freaks out shopping); etc. Key words: Fun. Useful. Together.

2) Create a customized list. Why not make a list of books guaranteed to lift spirits on Inauguration Day? Or the best genuinely funny movies? (I’d like these gifts, hint, hint.) My daughter-in-law inventoried some of her favorite recipes, copied them, and sent them to me—which was lovely because I never know what to cook those two times a year when I’m inspired to try something new.

3) Write something. Try a poem or a few words of appreciation.  Remember the bar is low – and no one cares if your poetry, writing, or  note is great literature as long as it comes from the heart. A friend of my father’s once gave him a limerick. He loved it.

4) Recycle. Did the Christmas angel declare that all gifts have to be new? Why not give away your slightly used earrings, hammers, sweaters, CD’s or books? A friend once gave me a pair of pre-owned earrings. They were smashing. Think about it: if we all agree to give pre-owned gifts, we can just keep circulating the ones we don’t want. Magic!

5) Wrap up old Christmas presents. Do you even remember what you received for the holidays three years ago. I’m thinking of wrapping up some of the books and gifts I gave to my husband that he’s never used…yet. That way, he’d have the fun of unwrapping presents and we could both remember the bounty we already have.

6) Agree (nicely) to do something you’ve been putting off. A friend’s husband gave her a great gift: he agreed to get the physical exam he’d never found time to do, She loved it. I once asked my husband for the gift of putting up pictures that we’d be waiting for months to hang. I know that he would have eventually done it, but this way he gave me a great gift.

7) Food. If you’re a Martha Stewart devotee, ‘tis the season to pull out all the stops. I’m not and I don’t do cookie platters or the gourmet meals-on-wheels thing. But I do cook a mean chicken soup which I could offer to bring you at the first hint of a cold. And I make brownies, because people don’t care that you made them from a mix once they see you’ve brought BROWNIES!!! (Paleontologists have discovered that the urge to eat chocolate is one of man’s first instincts.)

Now here’s one gift for you—hint: you must spend it in the next two weeks.

A free pass to do something special for yourself that you’ve been waiting  to do.

Could be:

  • A long bath
  • Bungee jumping
  • A trip to somewhere fun
  • Permission to not have to …(fill in the blanks here)
  • Three hours to spend on your art project or painting.

Restrictions apply. It has to be used on something you care about that feels good. That’s all. Let me know what you decide upon. Because I want you to have a gift that means something to you.

And Happy Holidays—Merry Christmas with all my care and gratitude,