Christmas shopping for my young boys typically starts weeks in advance with me acquiring small toys and books from Costco, then thoughtfully ordering a couple of bigger presents they've circled in catalogs. I start storing these gifts in a secret cache in my basement, much like a squirrel with her acorns. There is a method to my gathering.
Then on Christmas Eve my husband, suddenly stirred by the holiday spirit, heads to Target to buy supersized Nerf guns, building sets or whatever strikes his inner child. It is a thing of immense privilege to say we end up with too much.
The next morning our gremlin-children tear into their presents, shredding wrapping paper into confetti. Squeals ensue, but the high is short-lived. When the dust settles, it looks like our living room has vomited.
This season I'm trying something a mom friend of mine has done for years. It's called Want, Need, Wear, Read. There will be just four gifts, and these categories — something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read — are intended make sure that both the giving and taking retain some measure of mindfulness.
As we barrel into yet our second COVID Christmas and Hanukkah, many Minnesotans are rethinking presents. And that's not just because of the Great Supply Chain Scare of 2021 and its potential to wreak havoc. Although, if you're like Allie Hawley March of Oakdale, it's certainly lit a fire under you. She's already done with her shopping.
"We made sure Santa letters were sent by Halloween, and all the kids' presents are already in the building. Not messing around this year," she told me.
The pandemic may have altered our approach to gift-giving in other ways. If you have lost a job, or even quit as part of the Great Resignation, maybe a smaller budget necessitates less spending. Or an overwhelming sense of gratitude has you wanting to lift up those less fortunate around you.
For some inspiration, here's how some Minnesotans are taking on new holiday habits:
Creating 'core memories'
Laura Bumbala of Lakeville said now that her two boys, ages 5 and 7, have gotten their first set of COVID-19 shots and will be fully vaccinated by early December, the family is ready to get out of the house. That's why they're prioritizing experiences over presents.
When relatives ask what to buy her family for Christmas, she directs them to a registry on Elfster.com. They can buy gift cards for community education classes — that can go toward summer camps and ninja-warrior training — or help fund Way Cool Cooking School lessons or a membership to the zoo.
"We don't need more stuff," said Bumbala, who works as a designer for a clothing line. "I'm lucky enough to provide our children with things on the regular. I want to be able to provide them with memories — creating their core memories."
Share food, spread joy
Baking activist Rose McGee has been known to dish up slices of her sweet potato pie to comfort the grieving and spread hope and healing, especially in the wake of fatal police shootings of Black Americans. While sharing these desserts, communities have come together to share stories and engage in difficult conversations.
While the Golden Valley resident continues to bake, she's also giving people lessons that will last them a lifetime.
"This year I'm teaching people how to do it themselves more," said McGee, who founded the nonprofit Sweet Potato Comfort Pie. "My recipe makes two. I tell people to make two pies — but make one with the intention of sharing it with someone else."
Searching for joyfulness is particularly important this year to McGee. She lost a stepson and a childhood friend to COVID-19, and a brother passed away this summer from a drug overdose.
"Gratitude is my intentionality around this holiday, as it was last year, because so many of my relatives and friends have died," she said. "There's so much people are going through, in terms of pain and healing."
She says time is one of the best gifts you can give, even if it's a brief FaceTime call. And don't forget to make time for yourself, McGee says, because how can you bring joy to someone else's life if you're not joyful yourself?
Shop by your values
Some shoppers say it's easy to live by your values while stuffing those stockings.
Leslie Redmond, founder of the social justice campaign "Don't Complain, Activate," lights up when she talks about supporting local BIPOC-owned businesses by shopping at Bread: A Unique Pop-Up Market, which has locations at Maplewood Mall and Northtown Mall. Another of her go-to presents is a gift card to Sammy's Avenue Eatery in north Minneapolis.
While shopping at Target, Redmond also has been randomly giving people gift cards to the store, reminded of her own childhood reared by a single mom. And she signed up to be paired with some families and youth through the nonprofit Rebound Inc., meaning she'll buy them gifts they've expressed a need or desire for.
"I have been in the holiday spirit," she says. "Especially with everything going on, I've always believed in random acts of kindness to restore people's faith in humanity."
Buy local, buy nothing
Jon Bohlinger, who has three young kids, remembers feeling "very worried" after seeing news images of shipping containers stacking up on the West Coast. What did Bohlinger do?
"I'm a spreadsheet nerd," they said. "My wife and I started thinking ahead to the holidays, and we got going with a spreadsheet early this season. We opened a Google Doc, we set a budget, and listed it all out."
For extended family, Bohlinger's wife, Anna, assembled care packages featuring Minnesota-made goodies and sustenance: wild rice from Red Lake Nation Foods, Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls, Ames Farm honey, and hot sauce from The Salsa Collaborative. Starting early has given the couple more time to support local businesses they care about, and they are just about done with shopping.
Is there hope for the rest of us?
"Absolutely! Just make your list, check it twice and place your orders," Bohlinger said. "We went in with the mind-set of, 'Let's have a relaxed holiday instead of a rush at the end.' "
Hawley March, the Oakdale parent, suggests making your community's Buy Nothing group on Facebook a first stop before hitting Amazon or Target. These are communities where you can share goods and services at no cost.
Hawley March unloaded Lego sets with lots of life still in them, and scored an unopened board game that she plans to give to her twins this year. And in the process, she's gotten to know her neighbors while feeling less wasteful around the holidays.
"Our family is really committed to buying what we need — not too much and not too little," she said. "We're trying to seek that balance, not buying something because it's there, but because we're being thoughtful about what we can consume."