“Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might..”
Oprah excitedly jumped on stage holding a giant key and told the members of her audience to look underneath the seat. As they did, the expressions across the room changed from confusion to surprise to elation as they realised that each one of them was getting a car. A CAR. The year was 2004, Oprah was giving away $US 28,500 car on television and I was sitting in front of the television feeling more broke by the minute.
It was a great marketing stunt by the show and the car maker but it reinforced all the ideas of extravagant gift giving I had seen through the magical television box as a child, mainly that gifting is something first world dwellers did in movies with their prettily tied up boxes under a perfectly decked Christmas tree.
There were articles in the tabloid in the weeks that followed Orpah’s grand gesture hinting that some audience members were not happy with the car gift as they had to pay taxes, fuel, etc. I remember thinking then of how ungrateful those people were. They got a car for free yet they moaned about the extra things they’d have to do now.
I had never been pressured to buy gifts for anyone over five years old at Christmas, firmly holding on to my iTaukei version of giving, where gifts are always a combination of the practical and the extreme. Practical, like the extra set of cookery for the relative hosting our tribe that Christmas; or extreme, like leaving all clothes and belongings behind in the village cause you know they need it more than you do!
When I migrated, I felt slightly at odds with the practice of giving that I was now expected to participate in. I think the Oprah incident with those cars had shaped my view on first world gifting- that people can be so ungrateful no matter the gesture. As much as I hate Secret Santa, I joined the Joneses regardless. The results of this short-lived sojourn into first world extreme gifting disastrously resembled Mrs. Tulsi’s in Naipauls, A House for Mr Biswas – Tis was nonsensical, erratic and ho-ho-ho a bit too try hard.
A few Christmases ago I conceded defeat as I just could not continue to give gifts I was sure would end up in the landfill the very next day. I owned up to the fact that deep down I am still an iTaukei woman holding on to the roots of the mango tree in my Koro. We are women who gave useful things, things that we have worked for and my gifts therefore would best reflect this (It was also a necessity due to my malnourished bank account 😊).
I started making homemade gifts (hand knitted throws, cakes, handmade artsy cards etc) to give to friends and family. Giving what I have made with my own hands has been satisfying and at times hilarious. Cakes that don’t quite rise, family projects that are given the mickey and handwritten cards that I now cringe over are just some of the casualties of my experimentation.
For our 2017 Christmas, I customised our advent calendar. I called it our 3T Advent Calender. The T’s were for TASK, TREAT and THOUGHT. Every day we were given a task and once the Tasks were completed we’d get a Treat for dessert and a Thought about life to mull over, for instance, “Don’t hold in your farts cause it will find its way to your brains and that’s where your shitty ideas come from”.
For the Task, they ranged from something simple to the more difficult. For example, I made my family members write a reason why Christmas is special to them on a bauble. My nephew, who is with the Navy, wrote on his, ‘I love Christmas because I get to drink lots of beer’. It was my Christmas cheer alone that prevented me from sticking that bauble on his forehead but this now has a place of glory on our tree because he is currently away and I miss him. Also, this bauble is a reflection of my family and our idiosyncrasies.
The treats were supposed to be simple but the husband and the nephew kept pushing their luck so bani lolo miraculously became a ‘vakalomavinaka’ (dessert). I happily obliged baking these cause they were acing their tasks and I was grateful for their participation in my love language. You see, I was broke but I wanted to make Christmas special for us so I devised the 3T. That my husband and nephew still laugh and talk of yet another project of mine with fondness makes me happy. My gifting, for my family, at that time was….. perfect.
The bible has many perfect examples of giving and the main characteristic in every giving story is that every gift that was given was done so within the person’s ability & willingness to give. They did not borrow to give, they did not announce their intentions, they did not film the reactions of the recipient. They simply gave.
From the gift of a well-prepared room for the prophet Elisha by the Shunamite woman and her husband, to the gift to the gift of the tomb for our Lord Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea. They gave what was in their hand and within their means and to me there lies the art of great gifting. Giving something you’ve been working on, creating out and fashioning with your hands. It doesn’t have to be grand- it just has to be something that shows YOU.
As we get ready to go full swing into Christmas mode, lets not get stressed thinking about budgets and brands. The best gifts (at least to me) are the ones with your brand on it. Maybe I feel this way because I have never had a Gucci bag! However, the masi printed bag my niece bought from the Vuda Sunday Market with her pocket money has been serving me well for 4 years now.
Last year I saw a lot of great handmade Christmas gifts on social media and in the Christmas markets. I have seen masi wreaths and driftwood Christmas trees on social media which I think are just fabulous. There is growing appreciation for homemade items and I now scoff at the seven-year-old me who thought that shop bought cakes were superior to my mother’s banana cake. I want to hook myself by the ears and proudly take in the cakes and goodies mum used to make instead of being ‘madua’ (embarrassed) by it.
If you cannot create your own gifts this Christmas, I hope you support your local artisans and buy gifts from them. Remember, every perfect gift is not always perfectly wrapped and branded. My homemade gifts will probably be the ugliest under that Christmas tree but you can trust that that ugly lumpy gift will contain the trace of every love and effort that my hands have put in.
Let the genuine heartfelt gifting begin. 😊
From the 3T Creator!