You may have guessed that I'm one of those people who make the majority of their holiday gifts. I do–but not always in the most well-intentioned way. After an entire month of making things for the farmers' market and focusing on what other people want to give their loved ones, I become gift-stupid. I forget about the gifts I'm supposed to get until a few days before we load up the car to drive south and visit family. Then my husband will conjure a list which has been in his head for the previous few days and gets worriedly translated to mine with our rural, limited shopping venues to keep in mind. Then, I'm in the basement staring down the least popular jams that are lingering on the shelves and wondering about the shelf-life of wrapped biscotti. After piecing together the most desirable edibles left over from the holiday market and any finished craft projects that may have been gathering dust for the past three years, some sort of homemade present takes shape. I don't necessarily feel proud of my efforts.
This year, I feel slightly more prepared for the season. I am trying to think about presents pre-emptively, order things, and have cute packaging on hand before I get busy making candies, truffles, and cookies for other people. One of my favorite things to do is to check out the gift guides: best books of 2011, best kitchen gadgets–really any sort of "best of" list instantly grabs my attention. I like looking at all of these things, but I don't imagine actually buying any of them. The guide that I am most inspired by so far is the one at Design Sponge for gifts made with your hands. And while they mention all the usual suspects, the guide could have been subtitled gifts made with your heart. It wasn't about invoking your inner Martha Stewart, but about really thinking about the recipient of your gift. What would she like? What would make her life better/easier/calmer? It made me think about how often we don't do that for people, even our close family and spouse. We get so wrapped up in finding the perfect thing that we forget why we're buying it in the first place.
So, maybe the true gift to put on your list this year is compassion. Imagine yourself in someone else's mental space for a minute. Maybe this person has been especially grouchy or happy or angry this year. There's probably a good reason even if it's not something that you can rationalize. Don't judge her, or tell her to snap out of it; instead, be accepting of where she is. And then cook her dinner or make her bath salts while keeping in mind why she's so important to you. Let everything else go.