I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but somewhere in my twenties I began to realize I almost despised receiving gifts, especially at Christmas. At some point, I began to feel incapable of faking my enjoyment of unwrapping presents that loved ones claimed to have picked out just for me (like that bright yellow, polyester running suit with the iron-on kitten someone got me when I was pregnant and felt the size of a whale). I do believe that everyone who has ever given me a gift genuinely wanted to make me happy by giving it to me. It’s just that maybe some of us are from different gift-giving planets.

I am guessing all of us have gotten presents we don’t like, often from people who have known us for years. I’ve given a few myself (like when I got my mom a vacuum...I was right when I told her she would never be able to guess that one).

The whole holiday gift idea felt obligatory to me, and over the years I’ve struggled with how to take part. I’ve gone from not participating (whew, that made my family happy) to trying to make all my gifts (not a good idea for a procrastinator). Having kids has thrown a whole new twist into the mix for me, too.

So, imagine my joy when I was assigned the task of writing a gift idea article for the Reader. A person who fantasizes about a less materialistic holiday season is supposed to highlight products to buy. I was encouraged to get opinions from my co-workers about what they would like to get as gifts, and hearing their answers reminded me that there are items I would gladly give and love to receive. I was especially happy to learn about many of the companies that make the products we would appreciate as gifts.

Dirt

One of my favorite gift ideas that Justin brought up was a bag of dirt. I’m sorry, more correctly, a bag of Ocean Forest Soil. I think I would pee my pants with joy if someone gave me a bag of this for Christmas...if Mom had only known that what I really wanted was earthworm castings and bat guano.

Plants

Plants will show their appreciation of this yummy soil by exploding with growth and vibrancy almost as much as your friends will if you give plants as a gift. When we are all closed up for our quasi-hibernation, plants help purify the stale indoor air locked in over the winter. Spider plants and philodendrons are the most efficient at this, but any green plant can lift one’s spirits during the short, grey winter days.

Books

Reading can be another way to spend more than one winter afternoon, so books seem like a relatively safe gift to give. I’ll take any Moosewood Collective cookbook (actually, I’d probably enjoy any cookbook).

Justin would probably enjoy any raw food cookbooks (is that an oxymoron?) or either of the new books by his favorite author David Wolfe—Naked Chocolate or Amazing Grace.

Candles

Although I prefer to cook my food more than Justin does, we both share in the appreciation of a beeswax candle. We simply love the way they make our homes smell like honey. In looking for information about the company we carry—Sunbeam—I learned that there is more to like about these candles. For starters, the company is dedicated to sustainability and their candle shop is solar-powered. It is believed that beeswax is the only natural substance that emits negative ions when burned. It is also believed that negative ions draw out toxins like dust, pollen, mold and mildew from the air. Jocie also had a candle on her list, but she wanted the Sri Yantra Chakra Candle. This candle is a beautiful rainbow of clean burning palm wax (palm oil is extracted similarly to essential oils, then the oil is steam-pressed to make the wax. This candle is solvent- and chemical-free). She likes that it comes in its own glass container so it’s ready to go without looking for a candle holder.

Incense

Jocie thought some Prasad Celestial incense would pair up nice with the candle, whereas Andy would prefer a pack of Fred Soll’s resin on a stick incense. I often get these for myself and found it fascinating that all of these sticks that I’ve burned were actually made by Fred Soll. There are only four or five people responsible for creating these down in the New Mexico sun.

Alaffia products

Andy shared another gift he’d like with Haley—Alaffia lotions. I too have enjoyed their skin and hair products and recently bought one of the many woven baskets you may see around the Co-op. Learning about this company has been one of my favorite parts about writing this article. Alaffia returns ten percent of their sales to West Africa in the form of community enhancement projects, AIDS and malaria outreach and educational scholarships in Washington state to assist low income high school students to pursue higher education degrees. They also have founded the Alaffia/Aglanga Shea Butter Cooperative to demonstrate how to have a fair trade, sustainable, profitable organization. They really do quite a bit in the global community, and I recommend you read more about them (as well as about any company you buy products from).

Socks

Haley also liked the idea of Maggie’s Socks as a gift—especially the tie-dyed ones. I too love getting a utilitarian gift like socks (and underwear, but we don’t sell those). Maggie’s is another great cooperative company that it feels great to support. They have helped to set up cooperatives in countries with less-than-perfect labor and environmental standards. Usually, though, when I buy socks as gifts I go for the Organic Threads because they make a size 13-15 pair and one of my closest friends has ginormous feet!

Buying local

I’ve noticed that many of the ideas my co-workers came up with were from smaller, local companies like LuSa (formerly Queen Bee) and Four Elements (formerly Natures Acres). Both of these companies are small, family-operated, farm-type operations located in Wisconsin (respectively, Viroqua and the Baraboo Bluffs). Jocie liked either of their soaps and I’m a huge fan of LuSa’s lotion bars. Buying local and small feels so good to many of us because it is—economically, environmentally and spiritually.

A new gift idea—art to go

I am excited to introduce a gift idea of something new to the Co-op. We very recently started carrying ArtToGo creativity kits, the brainchild of a Madison artist and mom who wants everyone to know the joy of making something unique and beautiful with materials that are worth your time. You can give the actual kit as a gift or use it to create unique gifts. I’ve made a few of the open-ended projects with my boys, and we have enjoyed both the process and the outcome. These kits are not just for kids, though, and I think many will enjoy them.

Wrapping paper

It seems appropriate to wrap-up this article with information on the gift wrap we carry (pun intended—I can’t believe I just said that). Since we lost our local wrapping paper source when it closed its doors, we were nervous about finding a recycled wrap source that was also affordable. We think we found an excellent replacement with Green Girl Gift Wrap. The paper is recycled, printed with soy-based ink and the packaging is petroleum-free. Green Girl is yet another company we carry that is donating ten percent of its profits to environmental causes.

Cards

I would also like to briefly mention that all of our greeting cards (except the postcards) are created by local artists!

Fear not

If you’re shopping for me this year and were afraid because of my gift-receiving phobia, fear not as you now have some approved ideas. Enjoy some holiday shopping for your friends or yourself with some gifts that are safe and good for all.