It's been quite a year. Of course it's not over yet: Chronologically we still have a few weeks left. When this whole "New Normal" started in the spring, it was heavy on the new and light on the normal. As we head into winter, the barometer has changed — and this holiday season could well reshape more of our traditions.
There is a strange freedom in this newness — a chance to rewrite the script of the holidays. December is usually a hectic switcheroo of a month: Time off from work and school is populated with a dramatic uptick in to-do lists and social engagements. The formula is different this year. How can we balance our need to connect with the travel that we don't take? How can the novelty of new approaches shake up our holidays? With festivities curtailed, we have more time to reflect on what our dearest relationships mean to us — and the opportunity to show it in unique ways.
That's a 2020 holiday.
Give a helping hand
If you find yourself with more time than money, a little help can go a long way.
- Share the soup: After a heady period of baking and sourdough starters, our love affair with food prep wound down. The sameness and increasing shortness of our days contributed to widespread "cooking fatigue." For a timely and tasty gift, think outside your household and deliver a special meal to someone you love! A strategic soup boosts morale for both the giver and the receiver.
- Parents' helper: There are parents out there who haven't had any time to themselves in months. Parents love their children, but sometimes they need to send their kids away for a bit so they can love them even more when they come back. Volunteer to mask up and take other people's kids — with permission, of course — and any available pets for some long walks. Parents will thank you. (*Please defer to health authority guidelines in your area.)
- Green thumb gift: Were you part of the gardening surge in the spring? Did you maybe overdo it a bit on seed-acquisition? If you have extra seeds to share for spring planting, give a personalized seed mix to a fellow gardener. Plan a garden get-together with the recipient for when the weather warms to help them clear out weeds and place seeds in the ground. Sharing garden projects is a fabulous socially-distanced way to build community.
Books worth sharing
I don't know about you, but after months of doomscrolling my attention span is that of a badly concussed fruit fly. Books that managed to break even the most dense brian fog are treasures indeed. Be sure to reach out to your local bookstore for these and other great reads.
- Best way to see the world: Books are a great way to expand horizons — a passport to the world without the jetlag. In "The Reindeer Chronicles: And Other Inspiring Stories of Working With Nature to Heal the Earth," environmental writer Judith Schwartz visits visionaries and luminaries working around the globe to heal our planet. This is a compendium of possibilities in the face of humanity's greatest challenge. "Earth repair is a participatory sport: a grassroots response to evolving global crises. It is the inverse of apathy and an antidote to despair." Antidotes to despair make excellent gifts.
- A cookbook like no other: Ella Risberger is not a professional cook. She does not have a treasure trove of specialized gadgets and an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure ingredients. She's a poet and a journalist whose struggle with severe depression (stick with me here, I promise it's worth it!) led her back to the scents and tastes of food made with love. The result is "Midnight Chicken," a deeply honest and personal narrative with recipes and illustrations mixed in. This book is like a hand reaching through all the hardness of this year, offering to pull you out by your senses. Recipes and stories made with love are meant to be shared.
- A perennial favorite: "Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants" has recently been reprinted as a beautiful special edition. As an Indigenous woman and a scientist, Robin Wall Kimmerer offers her unique insight into the language of the natural world while affirming humanity's too easily forgotten place within it. The stories she shares offer a deep wisdom that is open to everyone who allows themselves to sink into it. Kimmerer writes, "The essence of a gift is that it creates a set of relationships." This book is already a gift, waiting to be given.
Purchase with a purpose
If you're looking for more substantial holiday gifts, we encourage you to support small and local businesses as much as possible. There are also online options for amazing wares from BIPOC-owned businesses that prioritize environmentally responsible production. A good rule of thumb is "buy less, buy quality, buy with purpose." The following resources pass that bar beautifully.
- A BIPOC-owned business dedicated to ethical labor, responsible materials and the highest-quality kitchenware, Our Place offers a limited range of beautifully designed, space-saving multi-functional pieces. The team also works with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council to ensure healthy, affordable food is available in their South L.A. neighborhood.
- Gifts don't get more unique than custom-made moccasins. Native American artist and leatherworker Shauna White Bear creates bespoke and beautiful footwear at White Bear Moccasins in Bozeman, Montana. A pair of moccasins can take up to 8 months to make, but gift cards are an excellent choice to get the ball rolling. Cobblers are hard to come by, and should be supported at every opportunity.
- There are so many wonderful businesses and artisans out there! For more, check out Kamea Chayne's shortlist of BIPOC-owned small businesses and Green America's comprehensive guide to ethical and eco-conscious goods and services.
Whatever your giving choices this year, give a thought to the packaging. My personal pet peeve is fancy wrapping paper that can't be recycled. I inwardly cringe at the hills of discarded metallic paper and associated plastic ribbons. To turn that frown upside down, consider these alternatives.
- Fabrics: After a spring of DIY mask-making, I'm well stocked for whimsical fabrics, so I can and will make "clothes'' for my gifts. If I focus on creative folding techniques rather than cutting swatches to size, I can work the fabric back into rotation post-holiday. Tea towels also make a good wrapping choice — and they become part of the gift.
- Minimalist option: My personal favorite solution is to keep a bunch of kraft paper on hand for gift wrapping, accessorized with jute or hemp string and a bit of greenery. It's one part "brown paper packages tied up with string," two parts old-timey hipster trend from a few years back when everyone went berserk over mason jars and men I'd known my whole life started — started! — using pomade and mustache wax. This option can be as basic or decorated as you like and the remnants make fantastic fodder for worm bins and compost heaps.
- Compostable wrapping paper: If you feel the need to buy special paper for that special someone's special something, wrap it like you mean it. Opt for recyclable — or better yet compostable — wrapping papers, such as Wrappily and Earth Presents.
Hopefully this list has provided some new takes on timely traditions. Or maybe it's a jumping off point, inspiring you to branch out in an entirely new direction (in which case, please share it with us if you feel so inclined! We're always looking for new ideas to celebrate and connect.) From all of us at the Non-GMO Project, we wish you a happy, healthy holiday season, and all the time in the coming years to spend with your loved ones.