Not Your Average Gift Guide
A holiday bonus on ethical consumption, small businesses, and family traditions.
For the last four or five years on Christmas day, my family has gone out for Chinese food—a tradition rooted in my mom’s Jewish heritage. We make a reservation at a local restaurant, which is the only place that stays open in our small New England suburb. Each year I look forward to the smell of pine needles and hot and sour soup hovering in the cold air, and the joyful feeling of climbing back into my pajamas to watch a movie, which is always the grand finale.
This year I will do all of the same things, the only difference is that I will be alone. I don’t say this to attract pity, but rather to illustrate a revised form of festivity. For many of us, this is simply the nature of a pandemic holiday season. We are being forced to stay snuggled up inside of our own homes, avoiding large and potentially dangerous gatherings of family and friends. Many of us will in fact be alone, or in the company of intimate “germ circles.” As we make our small plans and decorate even smaller apartments, we are yet again being made to focus on the things that really matter.
With each passing day, I wonder if this is such a bad thing. In an attempt to make this holiday season feel more festive, my parents and I will be eating our Christmas morning breakfast over FaceTime. We will send a few presents, or make some donations in each others names. We will watch the same movie on our respective couches, 200 miles apart.
We have agreed to have a smaller but perhaps more meaningful holiday season, a theme which has endured throughout this turbulent year. In creating my shopping list, both for them as well as for my friends (and myself, if we’re being honest), I have turned naturally towards more personal and handmade gifts. I have commissioned drawings from some friends, and knit coasters for others. I have put more thought into what someone would really love to receive, and where I would really love to buy it from.
It probably goes without saying that I won’t be getting any of my Christmas or Hanukkah presents from Amazon. This is for a very long list of reasons, not the least of which is that I would much rather receive a box with my address written by hand than one with a big ugly arrow on every side. Instead of feeding the corporate beasts, I’ve placed orders through Instagram, Etsy, and even via text—I’ve purchased gifts that will hopefully mean something more to the people receiving them, and to the person making them.
In addition to the heightened emotional experience of a purchase with a story behind it, there is the benefit of developing a more resilient and localized economy. “Shop small” is not just a clever catch phrase reserved for that one Saturday each year sponsored by American Express, but rather a nod to the sustainable future we have been calling for in many forms. By putting our money into the hands of small and local makers, we strengthen both the economic and human connections that lie at the heart of our consumption. As we celebrate our smaller and more meaningful holidays, perhaps we can grow one step closer to a smaller and more meaningful world.
In order to make this process easier for those who haven’t dedicated years to weaning themselves off of next day shipping, I’ve compiled a handful of my favorite food-related gifts for this holiday season. Most of these businesses are so small that they have only one employee, making your purchase more exciting and festive for everyone involved.
Curated dish ware and candles designed for a healthier lifestyle and environment. Produce collectibles:
Food prints and cards, available in a variety of formats and sizes.
Handcrafted rugs, pillows, and more. Made with locally sourced wool and recycled materials.
Genderless jewelry handmade with eco-conscious materials. Berry Tale earrings:
Brooklyn based artist sketching still life drawings and more.
Cotton face masks and other food art.
Custom handmade embroidered fruits and more, based in NYC.
Sustainable clothing made with vintage materials. Apron:
Handmade ceramics, based in Dallas, TX.
Sustainable handmade jewelry. The Ova Earrings:
For more ideas and ways to avoid buying from large corporations, check out my full guide of ethical shopping alternatives: