It’s beginning to look quite consumeristic

As a kid, I was always a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. The appeal lay in the simplicity and obvious strength in family bonds Laura’s life had. School was simpler, life was simpler and generally, the world was simpler. The U.S. was just starting to spread out West and Laura’s family was invested in forming towns, breaking sod and beginning life. What really struck me as a young girl was Laura’s delight with simple pleasures. The smell of fresh grass in the springtime, the one doll and few wooden toys she would get for Christmas and the fact that her family was so industrious, creating everything themselves.

This industrious feeling feels a little lost to me in the modern age, and to be honest, for the last couple of years when it begins to get a little colder, I start feeling a little bit sicker. Maybe it’s stress, maybe it’s boredom, perhaps it’s an ever-present sense of the recession that lies like a swath of rain clouds above the economy’s head, but I cannot stand the incessant consumerism that gets rubbed in my face every year around the holidays.

Every year prior to this one, I experienced panic as Christmas approached because I was at a complete loss as to what I should get for my parents, and which family members besides them I should give gifts to. Should I give my parents chocolate? Candles? Gift certificates? Oftentimes, the things I would honestly want to get them were far out of my meager budget, and what gifts I would get them didn’t feel like enough. So then guilt would set in, and to make up for the lack of a significant or actually meaningful gift, I would stocking stuff my parents with odd little trinkets and hastily made certificates. All because the media had impressed upon me that by modern day standards, more gifts means more appreciation, more love.

“It’s almost like people try to give bigger or more important things because they feel like it’s expressing their sentiments even more,” said art teacher Mary Manulkin. “My mom is really good at getting people exactly what they want or need – she pays attention all year. She doesn’t just wake up and think ‘oh sh-t, I need to buy you a present’.”

Other Tam students, like senior Josie Jeter, also experience societies impact on gift-giving.

“I’m such a picky gift-getter – every year I ask my parents to just give me money, that’s all I want. I say I won’t feel bad if there’s nothing under the tree, but every year they get me a bunch of random crap that I don’t want that just ends up sitting in my room or I return it. It’s like they’d feel guilty or something,” said Jeter.

This year, again, I’m at a bit more of a loss. I have no desire to brave a shopping center, hit the Haight (though the sock shop is divine) or spend hours trying to divide my savings into the adequate ratio of gifts and love. So I’m going to try to create and craft some stuff myself. And yeah, it may look like crap, or maybe it won’t be shiny, expensive or the newest technology, but I think my parents will appreciate a handwritten or typed letter expressing my true sentiments of gratitude and love way more than any calendar, movie, or CD I could buy them.

“I like the spirit of Christmas more than the actual gift-giving,” said senior Kayla Hagstrom. “It’s just a happy time. I’m not going to say I don’t enjoy presents but I do feel there’s just way too much emphasis put on it. For my mom every year I don’t go out and spend a lot of money, I’ll make her something or give her a card and it’s always just better that way because there’s not really anything I could buy that [my parents] couldn’t buy for themselves, but I can make them something they couldn’t have.”

Like Hagstrom, I think my parents would like a certificate for a foot massage or a thorough house-cleaning or getting-out-of-making-dinner card I made and designed more than any generic one printed out by a massive corporation.

“As a photo teacher, every single time that I see a parent get photos their kids made, they like it. Especially for teenagers, to write your parents a thank-you letter for just, life, it takes a lot of,” she breaks off, motioning to her heart region. “I’m pointing to my soul,” she said, laughing, then continued, “-not a lot of-“ she gestures to her skirt, “-now I’m pointing to my wallet. If I received a letter from my teenager, I would frame it and keep it forever and never want anything ever again…but I also like Ugg boots,” Manulkin said jokingly.

“I think it doesn’t matter if [a gift] is bought or made, I think it’s the sentiment behind it.” said senior Lisa Jenkins. “I mean if someone gets me a book they think I’ll enjoy, I appreciate that just as much as something handmade.” In the end, I think it’s time, not money that defines that value of a gift. If time and heart is put into each and every handcrafted present, then those presents mean something. Plus, honestly, if I spend hours designing a gift certificate, that certificate will be baller.

Sure, I may resort to chocolate, bottles of wine, wisdom cards or essential oils for people I don’t know as well, but for those people that mean something to me and would appreciate my efforts honestly, it’s going to be handwritten, hand-painted, hand crafted, home-made goodies. For those that mean something, I’m going to make something.

Written by Jade Jones-Hawk. This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue.