Gifts & Good Company
Whenever I visit friends for dinner in NYC, my host or hostess gift always looks the same: a new favorite cheese, or perhaps rosemary table crackers, maybe something pickled or a bottle of something that brings a little extra warmth to the winter evening. Translation: Something that the host doesn’t have to make room for in their shoebox-sized apartment after our shared home-cooked meal.
Last year, I noticed a little cloud hanging over me at the start of the holiday season. If the holidays are supposed to be about slowing down, cozying up and enjoying the warmth of conviviality with kith and kin, why did everything feel so complicated? More specifically, why were gifts so complicated?
No matter where you live—whether it’s a restored farmhouse with lots of space or a pint-sized city apartment—I’ve yet to meet one person who said, “I wish I had one more dust-gathering thing on that shelf.”
I was also concerned by the amount of holiday waste generated globally. While the winter holiday season brings good cheer for most people, it also brings a lot more solid waste to the landfills and harm to the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of trash produced in the U.S. between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day increases to about one million extra tons of garbage each week.
Lastly, I was stressed by the general busyness that surrounds the holiday season. Underpinning this more sustainable approach to the holiday was also a craving for simplicity, an urge to pare everything back to basics and let nature set the pace of the season—not the frantic commercials or advertisements encouraging us to buy, buy, buy.
These feelings inspired the idea to apply the same simple approach to the holidays as my NYC dinner rituals. The approach to holiday gifting was simple: no plastic or wrapping paper, opt for recycled over new, homemade over storebought, and if it was consumable, too? Even better. In short, an approach to gifting that wouldn’t put any stress on the giver, the receiver or the environment.
When I resolved to do this, I informed my family and friends, mostly so they wouldn’t expect anything big or expensive from me, and hopefully, that would indirectly take pressure off them as well. To my wonderful surprise, my friends and family were not only supportive, they also joined me.
Holding true to my habits as a dinner party guest, I made most of my gifts consumable. I opted for making batches of homemade muesli and granola, paired with coffees from local roasters. I curated ingredients for simple holiday cocktails and paired them with unique glasses from vintage stores. I also made natural pinecone fire starters and soothing lavender eye pillows, my only non-consumables.
My brother crafted beautiful coasters from reclaimed wood; his wife was the queen of delicious pickled and canned goods from the previous growing season. Other friends made soy candles in recycled pottery. The approved gift list expanded to include recycled books, because of their easily shareable nature and the idea that few things are more special than books that pass between different hands.
Packaging was simple but still beautiful, like recycled glass containers or metal tins, with twine and a sprig of eucalyptus or pine. And because many wrapping papers cannot be recycled due to the wax or glossy coatings, recycled newsprint or magazines became an ideal substitute. If every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
This approach isn’t perfect by any means, and there’s always room for improvement—especially when it comes to sustainability. Yet as Anne Marie Bonneau says, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
If anything, this approach is a reminder that a busy life isn’t the same as a full life, a gift doesn’t have to be big or expensive to be appreciated and holidays are best spent with those you love. This will be our approach to the holiday season again this year. And if all goes according to plan, we’ll have hot ciders, coffee, treats, books and good company.
What else, after all, do we need during the holidays?