T’is is the season for gift-giving. But this is a year like no other— so why give gifts the same way we always did? Many small shops have had to close, whereas the big chain stores—well, who wants to risk health and sanity by surging around in one of them?
At Radical Joy for Hard Times we like to say that beauty is behavioral. So why not make your Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, or Solstice gifts beautiful and meaningful by giving something personal, and safe as well?
Here are a few suggestions:
  1. Write a friend or family member a letter (not an email! Write it by hand!) telling them what they mean to you.
  2. Make a scrapbook of photos and memories of your life with a person you love.
  3. Bake cookies and deliver them.
  4. Create a bouquet or wreath of dried plants, berries, and interesting sticks that you find outside, and tie it with a bow.
  5. Tie ribbons on a tree in your yard. Tie ribbons and hang ornaments on a dead tree.
Kelly Finan, the young artist who created our powerful new logo for the Global Day of Mourning (see below), offered some ideas on her Facebook page, along with her wry reason for doing so:
“As someone who has become less and less interested in participating in the traditional form of this ritual (buying new stuff from big box stores), I’ve compiled a list of things that I think would make excellent gifts without making Jeff Bezos richer or languishing in perpetuity in a landfill.
  1. An experience, small or large, like a massage or a vacation.
  2. A donation to a charity in their name. (Can also make for a very passive-aggressive gift if you choose a charity that doesn’t share their values!)
  3. An heirloom. Just give grandma’s ring to your daughter now, so that she can wear it. Bonus: you can see her enjoy it while you’re still alive.
  4. Something biodegradable, like a homemade card or piece of art.
  5. Something that grows, like a plant. But be careful with this one; you don’t want to give anyone unwanted responsibility. *guilty*
  6. Something used. My mom gave my dad a library book one Christmas. Let that sink in.”
The New York Times ran an article last Sunday with ways to “practice contactless charity.” One idea is to donate to One Warm Coat, which organizes drives to collect used coats that they give to needy people. With the restrictions of the pandemic, they’ve created a virtual coat drive. If you go to their website, you get a link to a page that tells you how to donate your own coat and get your friends involved.
Research shows that giving to others improves the psychological well-being of the giver at least as much as that of the recipient. “When you’re a helper, your self-concept improves,” writes Yale professor Lowell Lewin. “You are somebody. You are worthwhile. And there’s nothing more exhilarating than that.”
During this difficult year, many of us have lost a great deal. Almost all of us have lost something. Giving a gift that comes from the heart, and maybe from your own hands as well, brightens the spirit of recipient and giver alike.

Trebbe Johnson
Trebbe JohnsonFounder
Trebbe is the author of The World Is a Waiting Lover and 101 Ways to Make Guerrilla Beauty. Her new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty, will be published in Fall 2018 by North Atlantic Books. Her articles about people’s emotional and spiritual relationship with nature have appeared in Orion, Sierra, Ecopsychology, The Ecologist, The Nation, Harper’s and other magazines. She lives with her husband, Andrew Gardner, in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, a region currently under exploitation by natural gas companies.

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Radical Joy Revealed is a weekly message of inspiration about finding and making beauty in wounded places.