Gifts and gathering together


Green Living
McKinley Neal

I lost my younger brother unexpectedly in November, which is why I haven’t written a column in several weeks. I was struggling with what to say in this last edition before Christmas, but thankfully one of my staff members suggested that I talk about what I chat to so many customers about: how choosing to step outside of the mainstream commercial system actually makes our holiday season so much nicer.
Gifts, of course, tend to be one of the biggest stressors, and there is some prep for doing gifts differently before the holiday season arrives. Some discussions to get people in the same mindset and to set some ground rules, for type of gift or total cost, for example, help clarify matters immensely.
For our extended family, we’ve agreed that adults don’t gift anything unless it’s food or drinks – either homemade (jams, ferments, bread, sweet treats) or bought from a local business. For my own family further afield, instead of shipping gifts from Ireland, I gift a voucher to a local restaurant or B&B.
Gifts for kids are always top priority, and chats about these in advance are helpful, too.
We encourage others as much as possible to avoid excess for our kids— a single new toy is fine, but not several, and secondhand or experience gifts are even better. We have worked to normalise secondhand options for our kids, and we have also spoken about how fortunate we are to have choices for what to buy and where to buy it.
We also note that Santa has a big job to provide toys for kids all around the world, so there has to be enough to go around. And, that we need to not hold onto things longer than we need them, so last week we passed along a doll’s house and a kitchen from previous years to make space for newer toys and allow another child to get some joy from them.
Our own gifts to our kids will be a stack of ‘vouchers’ for doing special activities when they choose – going to the cinema, spending a day one-on-one with each parent, having a picnic at the beach, etc. This gift is as much for us as parents, to remind us all that the moments of close attention to and presence with our kids are the most meaningful.
For ourselves, we will be choosing somewhere to spend a night away in 2023, which we will appreciate far more than any goods.
In our house, Santa puts everything straight under the tree or in stockings unwrapped. We use reused fabric or newspaper to wrap parcels for other people. We have saved Christmas cards we’ve received over the years, and we can cut the images out and paste them to coloured paper to send new cards, or buy locally made cards printed on recycled paper.
Mostly, though, we will be appreciating what we have, and that we can gather with people we love, and that we have another year to celebrate.

McKinley Neal is the owner of PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal-care items and gifts.