The Holidays are a beautiful time of year. Since childhood, I have enjoyed the sights, smells and sounds of my holiday celebration, Christmas. Despite the snickers of my friends, I loved my Great-Grandmother's fruitcake, especially the rich smell. My parents used to load my three siblings and me into the car no matter where we lived (I was a Navy brat) and we'd drive around and look at all the houses lit up in celebration. I especially loved Seattle. And, despite my annoyance at how early it starts (October sometimes) and being tired of it by January, the distinctive sounds of the music enchant me. Along with all this, the Holidays also bring their own brand of stress: financial and familial. This year, particularly in law enforcement due to the uncertainty of cutbacks both in hours and pay, stress is increased.
As I look around, it seems public safety is shouldering a large portion of the economic hardship of government. Officers are losing their jobs, police tele-communicators are taking forced furlough days and the list goes on and on. Where there used to be job security, there is now a gaping hole of wonder: Will I have a job next month? Will I get paid? Will I be able to work enough hours to pay my bills? All of these questions silhouetted by the Holiday season seem even more dire. One of the ways we can offset the stress of the season is to rethink gift giving.
Think back to all the gifts you have received over the last 10 years. Do you remember all of them? How about even a dozen? What about one or two? If you're anything like me, there are a few that stand out, but sadly most have passed from memory. I would say that probably holds true for my partner and my children as well. What's sad is the amount of gifts that have passed through our hands that seem to have meant nothing. What gifts do stand out, those I have given as well as received, were inexpensive, unique and mostly hand-made. Gifts such as the die car crate I painted for my son when he was 7, the star my husband had named for me on our second anniversary and the globe ornament my son made me with a list of all the things inside with a note telling me what they were and what they meant.
From the hearth and heart
One of the things I've often heard, and often heard others telling each other, is, "You don't have to buy me anything. Just make me something." Look at how well we receive handmade gifts from children. They're unique. They're special. Underlying the paper and glue is the message, "You mean so much to me that you're worth my time and creativity." It's easy to buy a gift. It takes more thought and action to create something.
Making a gift for your loved one doesn't mean you have to paint the next Picasso or compete with the ex-boyfriend's gazebo in Meet the Parents . Keep it simple. This is supposed to be reducing stress, remember? A few ideas: make a special meal, craft something, write a letter telling them how much they mean to you, record a special message that can be played on their multi-media player (they can listen to it on those dark nights sitting in their patrol car), or design a coupon book. Coupon books are great because every time a coupon is redeemed, it's like you've just given your significant other a gift again. Each coupon can be simple like,
- Take out the trash for you
- Give you a full massage
- Go do something together. Your choice. My treat.
It can also be more suggestive and double as not only a gift, but a way to spice up your love life. A sex coupon book can include a variety of offers as well. If you're stumped for ideas, browse one of the ones available commercially. Whatever you chose, a handmade gift is inexpensive, personal and usually gets remembered years later.
Over the hills and through the woods
Instead of trading presents, a friend of mine goes with her husband and two children to a cabin in the woods each winter. This trip costs less than what would be spent on material items and the memories are priceless. In the world of law enforcement, with funky schedules, overtime, and other demands, a gift of a trip (this does not need to be something huge) gives your family one of the things sorely lacking in many families: the gift of time. If you can't get away or even this is too expensive, take mini-trips throughout the year. You could purchase an Entertainment book or sign up for Groupon and decide on one or two local attractions, events or restaurants you will go to together each month. Deciding what to do can be part of the fun. Just make sure you stick with it and remember it was a gift to yourself and your family. You could also take a class or join a movie club. The idea is to spend time together.
The gift that keeps on giving
One way to gift that is special to the recipient and makes a difference is to make a charitable donation in a loved one's name. You can probably think of at least one cause each of your family members believe in. Along with the biggies, like specific animals (wolves, whales or wallabies), the environment and social issues, smaller ones exist. My teenage son is an avid skateboarder. Our community has designated a Youth Advisory Committee who is assisting with the creation of a skate park and community center. A donation in my son's name to this cause would mean something to him.
The holidays can be an extremely stressful time for families and with the uncertainty flowing through many law enforcement agencies currently, it is even more so. Money is tight and people are realizing material things often take up space in the home but not in the mind. Overspending essentially grounds us for months. Think outside the box this year and give your loved ones (and you can help your kids do this too) special gifts that they'll remember. If you have other ideas, add them to the comments. Have a beautiful Holiday season and remember the biggest gift is love.