For many, the holidays could be more accurately described as hassledays. People complain of busy schedules and frazzled nerves. We often speed up rather than slow down and end up feeling more isolated and stressed out, buried under shopping and wrapping and planning. And buried under stuff.
But the notion of winter feasting and festival in the popular imagination remains that of goodwill, good spirits and a good time had by all. So, how do we make it more like that?
The “Great Recession" has both forced and inspired Americans to downsize and re-imagine their lives along shareable lines. Perhaps we can also re-imagine how we make merry.
Here are five ideas to consider making your holidays more shareable from here on out.
- Go in on a Gift that Does Good. Instead of exchanging individual parcels, groups of people—families, coworkers, friends, neighbors—can form a charitable giving circle, pooling resources to contribute to a cause everybody gets behind. Where you may not make a huge dent alone, with a whole group contributing, cash can really add up. Each member might give a set amount or according to her/his ability. You could give to a faraway cause or choose a local nonprofit you can volunteer at later to see the fruits of your efforts in person. Another option is to give in honor of someone who passed away during the last year. The gift could relate to something that person held dear, be it trees, the hungry, healthcare or education. Any way you slice it, giving circles allow you to share the value of making a difference. Go here for a story about how Shareable's co-founder transformed his holiday experience with a donation exchange. It includes how to advice and an e-mail template to get the process started.
- Hold a Gift Exchange. One need only glimpse a storage facility, 1-800 Got Junk? truck or decluttering show to know we’ve got too much stuff. But there are still things we need from time to time (kids’ clothes, a particular tool or kitchen appliance, a winter jacket, a gadget). Instead of braving retail return lines or jamming a drawer full of unwanted gifts, why not do some legwork (instead of guesswork) so everybody gets what they actually want and need? Even better, stuff somebody in your crew already has. You can pass or e-mail around a wishlist and then meet up with all the items mentioned in hand, fished out of closets and ready to be of service as borrowed or given gifts. These kinds of gift exchanges don’t cost anything and they don’t generate flotsam for the waste stream either as there’s no manufacturing, transporting or even wrapping required.
The Meal: Share Food and Tell Stories. The feast is usually the focus of any holiday gathering, but sometimes it’s anything but the main event. More like a sprint than a soiree, the food is often eclipsed by serving and doing dishes on either end. So how to share and savor it? Cooking together is fun, but sometimes impossible in a small kitchen. Instead, a potluck avoids any one person doing all the work and still makes everyone a chef. To go further, each cook can bring copies of his recipe to pass out so a tradition or invention can be resurrected another time. At the meal, visitors share the story of the dish they brought. Or, you can arrange something a little more formal (I’m notorious for assigning pre-homework to holiday dinner guests) to get people talking and sitting for a spell. Everyone could share a significant memory from the past year or wish for the next, or I particularly like the “assignments” on Miranda July’s Learning to Love You More site. They’re creative conversation starters to be done in advance and shared around the table (a la show and tell). And let’s not forget about sharing leftovers.
Do a Group Project. There’s more to holidays than gifts and food, especially with kids on winter vacation. There can be shared projects that go beyond outings and entertainment to really accomplish something—together. One with history is Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, the century-old citizen survey to tally birds on their way south so scientists have a sense of how their populations and habitats are faring. You simply join a count group near you one day between December 14 and January 5. It’s an opportunity for experienced and novice birders (along with their kids) to get together and get outdoors, all for the birds’ sake. If not that, there are other projects to concoct on your own like delivering sandwiches to the homeless in your community who may not make it to a shelter or organizing help for someone who has a project that could use more hands, anything from working on a home renovation enterprise to designing classroom bulletin boards for next semester to sprucing up a vacant lot.
- Resolve to Share in 2010. Even if you don’t “do” New Year’s resolutions, the end of the year begs reflection about how to proceed. Maybe some of the holiday can be spent dreaming up a way to be more involved when it’s over. Do you want to set up a carpool or hop on a rideshare? Start a babysitting co-op? Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or community garden? Alliances of this kind take some gusto to get going but promise to pay off with less burden than before and more well-being—for you, your fellow sharers, your community and, more often than not, for the planet as well.