'Tis the gift to be simple,
'Tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.
“Simple Gifts,” an 1848 Shaker song by Joseph Brackett, was largely unknown outside of Shaker communities until 1944, when Aaron Copland used the melody in his ballet score Appalachian Spring. “Simple Gifts” has since been adapted and arranged by multiple composers and artists, most notably by Sydney Carter, who adapted the Shaker tune for his song “Lord of the Dance” in 1963. Ronan Hardiman adapted Carter’s song for the dance musical Lord of the Dance, starring Michael Flatley, circa 1996. And just last year, film composer John Williams (Star Wars, Jaws, E.T.) premiered his new piece, “Air and Simple Gifts,” during the inauguration of President Obama.
At the end of the day, I like things simple. So, after a year of working hard at being a good earth steward, I am craving the simplest. Keeping your carbon footprint low and your eco-awareness high can cause serious burnout and green fatigue. If you’re suffering from eco-exhaustion bordering on apathy, the last thing you want to hear is how you need to be eco-responsible with your gift-giving during the holidays. We should think of being earth-friendly when choosing gifts this year, and the good news is that it’s simple.
One of the greatest simple gifts you can give your loved ones is the gift of time. Create a weekly family—or friendly—ritual. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, according to Nancy Darling, Professor of Psychology at Oberlin College. “Walking, eating, dancing, bowling—you don’t have to be talented to do any of those things and have fun. Rituals should be low-key, allow for time to talk and socialize, and be done regularly and predictably,” according to Dr. Darling. “Often, when parents plan something special with their kids, they think about big, wonderful, memorable things like going to Disney World, but our lives are made of many, many small memories as well.” Darling’s own family meets for tea on Sunday afternoons. “We brew a pot of tea and lay out our eclectic collection of saucers and cups. The activity doesn’t matter, the ritual does. For shared activities to become a treasured part of a family’s life, they need to balance regularity with flexibility. The important thing is that everyone shares the commitment to make it happen.”
For more tangible gifts, think sustainable materials and eco-friendly packaging. Both babybearshop.com and thistlefarms.org offer a variety of earth-friendly, organic products that make lovely gifts, and both are locally owned and operated by women.
Even a novice can knit a scarf or crochet a cap, but if you are feeling pressed for time, check out etsy.com/shop_local.php for local artists’ handmade gifts. While the aforementioned sites use eco-friendly packaging and give back to the community, Etsy can be hit or miss, although it’s simple enough to find fabulous gifts on the site that fit the criteria.
Based up in New Hampshire and Minnesota, respectively, both simplegiftsnh.com and simplegiftssyrupandsalmon.com offer a variety of eco-friendly, locally made products including bamboo tea strainers and organic maple syrup. Simplegiftsboxes.com offers handcrafted cherry and maple nesting boxes in the Shaker tradition.
Make the commitment to keep it simple this holiday season. Shopping locally online or creating your own gifts can save you the hassle of traffic and crowds, and you can give your local economy a boost by supporting area businesses and artists who create earth-friendly products. Like the song says, “the valley of love and delight” sounds like a dandy place to spend the holidays!