It goes without saying that this will be a slightly different Christmas. I'm writing this on October 23, and our world is rapidly changing—so fast that I hesitate to write of any upcoming event, date, or season with confidence of my accuracy. Yet regardless of who will be taking up residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January or when an effective vaccine will become available, I think I can say that things will be different this holiday season.
Public health must be our priority. No festivity or family reunion is worth the risk of infecting or being infected by this virus. With that said, with that understood, there is no reason not to celebrate, indulge, and participate in this celebratory season. I will tend to reference "Christmas," as this is my go-to holiday, but many folks will honor Hanukkah, Kwanza, Solstice, and an array of other beloved traditions. And it's my hope that our desire to celebrate (we're certainly overdue for some joy) will take on a purpose and elevate our economy, bring hope to families, renew friendships, and lighten the stress and loneliness felt by all.
Gift-giving this year has potential to go beyond frivolous commercialism—perhaps rescue a small business. Our economy is in dire straits and has affected everyone. Our city of New Orleans, like all communities, has witnessed the loss of jobs and beloved businesses. Mom-and-pop restaurants, bars, and shops are closing, along with larger and formerly more solvent enterprises. So shop with a purpose and use the holidays as an excuse to spend a little green. Maybe your budget is fragile, and you feel that your few dollars couldn't possibly make a difference. Not so. Every dollar spent becomes part of an effort and has the potential to gain momentum. Spread the word, encourage friends and family to shop with an eye towards struggling businesses. And since we're all in this together, also support shopping beyond our city limits.
Those who know me have heard me through the years beg folks to shop local, to help grow locally owned commerce. But our entire country is suffering, and what with the need to play it safe, shopping online or by phone can work to everyone's advantage. Purchases made via your computer or device don't necessarily mean empowering Amazon. Example: You want to send flowers to that out-of-town family member; just google florists in their town and telephone them directly. You get a more personal touch this way, and perhaps the shop is able to bypass their online fees or FTD surcharges.
As a former small-business owner, I relished walk-in customers. The camaraderie, human interaction, and making new friends is great for a business, but also nourishing to the soul. However, money still spends via websites and phones. And during this pandemic, it might be more than a convenience—virtual shopping plays an important role in protecting folks from the risks of COVID-19.
Giving the gift of food or live music is easy. Almost any eatery will happily sell you a gift certificate. This way, the person you gift can choose when, where, and how to enjoy dining—they have the option to redeem later when circumstances are safer or opt for carry-out/delivery. If you wish to make certain that the restaurant staff is properly tipped, then ask about adding a tip when purchasing the card. With so many virtual music venues and theater productions available, consider purchasing tickets as a gift. Is your out-of-town friend longing for some New Orleans right now? Send them a paid subscription to a local magazine/newspaper or a gift certificate to, for example, Louisiana Music Factory, or make a donation to WWOZ.org in their name. Use your imagination.
Gift-giving used to strike me as frivolous and wasteful—well, I was wrong. It needn't drain your wallet or make you feel a part of some greedy corporate commercialism. Homemade crafts, foods, a basket of herbs from your garden, thrift-store goodies, and repurposed/recycled treasures from your home (books, CDs, art) are excellent ways to spread some cheer. And if you are blessed with enough money to purchase goodies, now is the time to make a difference, add compassion to capitalism, and be a conscientious consumer. Like I said earlier, use your dollars to support struggling businesses (especially small and independent ones). Pick five fabulous and deserving businesses or venues in need of support and promote them through your social media.
In addition to "paying it forward" to assist our faltering economy, be an informed consumer. Take time to read those labels on toiletries and fragrances, foods and chocolates. Do you really want to give the gift of destruction? Yep, that palm oil in the ingredient list most likely destroys habitats for endangered creatures (orangutans, for one). And did you know that most chocolate involves slave labor—not just exploited labor, I am talking slave labor often involving children. However, with some thoughtful research, you can find caring companies and do the right thing. For instance, Tony's Chocolonely is slave-free and damn delicious (available at Whole Foods). So, you get my drift—support cruelty-free, fair-trade, lead-free, environmentally kind products.
This has been a cruel year, yet during this relentless beating, there have been triumphs attesting to the spirit and generosity of people. Let this holiday season inspire even more acts of kindness. Never forget the value of time—the gift of time has power not found inside your wallet. Give the gift of your energy. Be that shoulder to cry on or that safely distanced voice on the phone or words in a letter. Volunteer to feed those without resources or donate time to help a small shop owner who has no money for payroll. Just give yourself—we all have something within us to share. Be that amazing gift that you are.
[Lead picture: Kraken Images on unsplash]