Focus Encore: Why give gifts?
There’s a lot of forethought, and sometimes a lot of stress, that’s a part of the holiday season. That’s completely counter-intuitive considering the holidays are supposed to be a time to relax and enjoy time with family and friends. During this encore hour on Focus, we talked about why certain expectations are attached to the holidays and what we can do about it.
For the first half of the hour, host Jim Meadows talks with University of Illinois Professor Harry Liebersohn, about the reasons we give gifts. He does research in Europe and says even though the act of giving a gift implies the same thing everywhere, traditions surrounding gift giving vary widely from culture to culture. He’ll also tell us about how the definition of what a gift is has evolved over time. Then, on the second half of this hour on Focus, Susan Salterburg of the University of Northern Iowa joins the show. She’s a part of an outreach program called “Reclaim Your Holidays,” that’s trying to spread the message that simplifying the holidays and giving fewer gifts is not only 100% acceptable but also more environmentally friendly.
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My holidays are for relaxing but shopping for gifts can be anything but. How did gift giving become such a big part of it all. I’m Jim Meadows said today on focus we’ll talk with gift giving historian Henry Lieberson. He’s a University of Illinois professor who studied Christmas gift giving traditions to different countries with different motives and reasons that go along with them. Then Susan Salzberg argues for reclaiming a holiday concentrating on what’s really meaningful about gift giving letting go of the other stuff and becoming more environmentally friendly in the process. Holiday gift giving today on focus .
Program continues after the news.
Welcome to focus on Jim meadows and right now a lot of us maybe most of us are spending time and thought buying gifts for other people and perhaps wondering what they’ll get for us. It may not even feel like a choice but like something everybody just does for Christmas and there are other times when gift giving is customary are seemingly mandatory like birthdays weddings anniversaries etc But why what’s the meaning of it all. Well later on during focus I will talk to someone with ideas about regaining control of the holiday gift giving Rush. My first guest right now can tell us why we give gifts in the first place. Every labor son actually wrote the book on gift giving it’s called The Return of the gift a European History of a global idea. It looks a gift giving Custance in Europe carries a history professor here at the University of Illinois welcome to focus. Thank you Jim It’s a pleasure to be here. Now I understand gift giving done on one’s own for personal reasons but why do we give gifts. In connection with certain occasions like Christmas birthday anniversary whatever.
Well I had a very basic level. Gifts are a way of recognising each other’s humanity gifts are our way of recognizing what is special about the other person and our interests and doing that is heightened at these holiday moments but maybe it’s worthwhile for us to just step back for a second and think about what we mean by a gift . There was a great French sociologist anthropologist a man named Marcella most who said gift giving is really threefold there is a social obligation to give. But also to accept the gift and to reciprocate and to understand what we mean by a gift we really have to widen our understanding to encompass all three and the second aspect that’s important to keep in mind is that gifts are not just material things we give each other many kinds of gifts freely generously. Every time we say thank you every time we give our time for something special we are involved in this network of gift giving back and forth.
Well it sounds like the gift giving and when we talk about the gift the gift. It’s just an object unless it’s involved in the process of gift giving someone is giving it and someone is getting it.
Well that’s right I mean it depends on the social meaning and what we make of it. So let me give you a little example of what we mean by this. Let’s imagine a group of a dozen guys they work together and once a month they go out for a drink and when they go one person buys for everybody else. So there’s your gift. Well where’s where’s the return. Well you can imagine where the return is the next month. Another person buys and round and round it goes. Now let’s imagine guy number twelve. The night he’s supposed to be the person with large Yes he says Sorry guys my favorite one nine hundred seventy S. rerun is on can’t make it.
Well he has failed in the obligation to return and you can imagine that this does something to the way his buddies imagine Tim to his social standing in the group. So that’s sort of the circuit that’s involved in the gift.
Well we’d like to hear your thoughts about gift giving what do you love about gift giving what works for you and you can call us call us and tell us about it. Our toll free number is one eight hundred two two two nine four five five that’s one eight hundred two two two W. i L. L. Our e-mail address is. We’ll dash talk at Illinois dot edu And we also welcome your questions. On Facebook and Twitter. The same sort of rev represent us and I’m going to get that word right. They have that same sort of feeling of of mutual obligation. I’ll get around it that way. Yeah. That comes into Christmas gift giving as well.
Yes I think it does. Everybody wants to bring something to the holiday season.
And sometimes I think we’ve all been in the situation of forgetting to bring a gift for a major holiday or a birthday party and then you feel terrible you feel as if you’ve lost face in some way and there is that element of obligation that most of us have experience.
I’m wondering I’m thinking back to being a kid at Christmas and one of the first obligations. Of my young life that I guess I was really aware of is the idea that I’m supposed to buy my parents Christmas print and of course I’m using money that they gave me I have no wealth of my own but it does start it does start that early doesn’t it. Even though it’s an equal relationship the mutual gift giving is still there.
It does it does and one of the things that we do with our children very early on is to educate them and turn them into good anthropologists educate them in the art of gift giving. So and Sally since I was seven year old Harry or Jim a scarf that he didn’t want and your parents say oh where is that thank you note that you were supposed to write to Aunt Sally and when they do that they are being good sociologist with Marcella most and saying the gift is three fold you have to return it.
OK the three fold. Let me tell me about the threefold part again make sure.
Yes Yes because we give but then there is the obligation to accept. So imagine our guys with the drinks again.
If there’s one person who says One night I don’t want to accept your offer of a drink that’s a pretty striking social statement that you’ve made you are really distancing yourself from somebody when you do that so except Ince is also a part of the art and of course we teach each other to accept gracefully.
OK and that and that comes in mind when you say your the father accepting. Oh I don’t know the necktie from from from your from your young son .
That’s right another part of that social obligation.
Let’s take a caller with something to say about gifts online for Jeff from Morris Good morning you’re on focus.
And good morning merry Christmas First off every Christmas Happy Holidays and a Happy Hanukkah company or I could say but. I don’t have a lot of money to get laid off work so I basically I make my own. I’m a woodworker by trade and I do a lot of I make a lot of gifts of my own but I don’t ask anybody for anything I don’t need it and I can’t take it to the grave so I’ve already had more than my share stuff and so what my dad told me it’s all it’s better to make something from you. Well like you were saying in a letter that it is from school to start buying it and I think the other thing is to know the person if you know the person well enough that you’re buying that particular person for that that you know you should know well enough to he or she might want and like you say I try to make my own and give as much they can I think we’ve got to materialistic run here anymore and I just like to see more people giving things. Whether it’s whether it’s a toy or maybe giving back you know a way of helping others in a tank or in a halfway house or donating their time doing something I think that’s that to me it means more to me than it does just a materialistic thing. Thanks guys great show.
Thank you Jeff thank you much for your call. And I’m wondering here I’m wondering here are different ideas of what sort of gift to give. Does that come into the differing cultural traditions that you see out there and I know that you you you studied specifically what goes on in Europe. What do you mean what are what are they seeing as to what sort of item the gift should be.
I yes and I first just want to affirm what our caller Jeff had to say I think those are beautiful comments and really good principles for everybody as we go into the holiday season. If that you’ve made it thinking about the other person does. Those are really really great comments. Now as far as differences go I think that most if not all societies have gift giving practices and they do differ from place to place sometimes in subtle ways so in Germany where I have spent a lot of time as a German historian gift giving is a little bit different if you’re invited to somebody’s house for dinner and you bring a bottle of wine. Normally people will not use that bottle of wine for the for the meal instead they regard it as a household gift the whole point is they have made a dinner for you and they will enjoy your return gifts at some later date . Now compare that with the Midwest which is famous for the potluck where everybody brings something to the table and it’s a whole different conception of what it means to give the idea that we’re making the meal together and I think that behind those are really very different conceptions of.
What a society is what a household is that you can see in the little example of the gift is something like of the potluck a specifically American development.
Oh I think it is. I think it’s very distinctively American and I have to say as somebody who grew up in suburban Washington D.C. that the potluck was new for me when I came to the Midwest.
OK So May And so not not just American Pie but perhaps a regional regional I think so.
I think so.
OK. And in the European tradition it’s more like your visiting. Well you know it’s not like a lot of a lot of people gathering together it’s like you’re visiting somebody else’s household that’s it.
There is this sense of the house the household as a sort of enclosed unity which you’re visiting as an outsider rather than the more intimate in a certain way Potlatch with the kind of the barriers are lower between inside and outside the household.
OK that sounds like it sounds like that may be. Key difference between two gift giving traditions I wonder how that. I wonder how that plays out specifically when it comes to something like Christmas.
Yes Well I think that that well of course Christmas is different in Germany because Christmas would be very much more restricted to family. There’s a great sense of intimacy and again sort of the the lines are drawn more formally around the household in Germany whereas here I think we do more with visiting at Christmas time.
And so there might be you know there might be little bits of gift giving at work and and among friends. But the focus is really on family and you know in a country like Germany.
Yes yes I think everything closes down more radically around the family in Germany.
We are talking about the tradition of gift giving. And later on we’ll be talking about ways to maybe take back control of that gift giving. A tradition with Susan Salter Brad my guest right now is Henry and Henry Lee persona and he is an expert on gift giving tradition so he’s the author of The Return of the gift. European history of a global idea or wondering about your gift giving tradition so you can give us a call about them at one eight hundred two two two nine four five five that’s one eight hundred two two two W. i L. L. and you can e-mail us a W. while I’ll dash talk at Illinois dot edu And we welcome your questions on Facebook and Twitter at Focus.
Five eight zero that the tradition of gift giving even family gift giving I am gathering is relatively recent the last couple of hundred years as far as Christmas is concerned is that do I have that right I think that I think that that’s true but at the same time we have to remember that people have always given gifts within the family so if you think about wills and inheritances that’s a very big category of gift giving and people have always given a lot of thought to what will I give my children and how will I divide my things up among my children. And of course there’s a lot of potential for pleasure there and remembrance of of one’s parents. And also there’s a lot of potential for quarreling about the dividing up of the gifts.
Those are sort of when you’re talking about wills and inheritance you’re talking about a sort of a once in a lifetime thing once in someone’s lifetime anyway.
That’s that’s right at the same time of course sometimes people give a little bit early and maybe your mother has an heirloom necklace from her mother and she decides to give it to her daughter when her daughter gets married that kind of things. So. So there’s a lot of I mean in a way it’s a great art. There’s a lot of discretion that can go into this kind of momentous gift giving.
And when someone gives that momentous gift what are they saying.
Well they they may be they may be there’s some kind of recognition that’s taking place.
Let’s imagine for example that the mother gives the necklace to her new daughter in law and this is a way of saying you are part of this family. So it’s a way it’s often a way of assigning a certain social status. So anybody else.
So it’s not just a personal message to the recipient of the gift it sounds like that gift giving is also meant to be seen by others.
That’s right that’s right there’s always a large sort of social perception that goes along with it and that may be you know one of your three children gets the silver. And as you as you do this you say well you know Mary is the responsible one should really take care that silver for a lifetime.
Well that’s quite a statement about that child if you make it public here in the context of Christmas giving. One thing that strikes me is there’s one channel of giving. Which is the giving that comes under the the entire the entire little ritual of Santa Claus Santa Claus St Nicholas Father Christmas Day I don’t know what they have in Germany if they have a figure like that is it it’s not important the way it is in the United States.
It’s actually much more an American thing.
Maybe it is strictly American and in America then it seems like a whole level of giving is assigned for as long as the child will continue to believe in it to the to the channel channeling of Santa Clause as if as if this supernatural figure was able to step in and do the gift giving.
Well maybe there is something really very humanly important something magical behind that because that heightens the magic of gift giving for the child in the idea that we feel with gifts that it’s something we don’t necessarily deserve but that’s just sort of pops down.
From On High and that that really links to something very deep in our religious tradition think of the gift of grace. One very basic Christian idea.
We don’t deserve grace but it descends upon us and it may be that in this other form of Santa Claus that something is certain reflection of God Is it worth the grace you know you’re making me thinking right now something of church and there’s a there’s there’s a moment at least in the Episcopal church that I attend where members of the congregation bring up both the bread and wine that will be used in communion but also the money offering that is taken from the congregation they present it to the the priest at the altar and then the priest says All things come of the old lord and the congregation replies and of the sign on have we given the hand that seems to be touching on that idea of of of a gift of a gift of grace a gift or that gift from God that can’t really be equalled by. Bye bye mortals giving back. Although they try.
That’s that’s right and I think that often we feel as if we’ve been blessed in our own life that we want to give back in some way and that goes all the way from the philanthropist to endow say a building to the smallest gift within a community that this this idea that we want to give back and of course there again we have a reciprocity the idea that we’ve been blessed and want to return in some way.
Did you find that that sort of gift giving the sort of philanthropic gift giving work to the same way in Germany as it does here in America with this is actually something that’s rather different I think in Germany and other European northern European countries there is a certain idea that you you give you sacrifice to the state do you believe that the state.
It’s good we do much more private and philanthropic giving in the United States much much more than Germans or other northern Europeans do so there’s a real contrast of traditions there is that more of it goes through the state in Germany.
I think it does I think it does and I think I mean I know also that they had in Denmark people really identify with the state they think it’s good and they take satisfaction in the social works that the state does for the whole community and for a lot of Americans they can be really one hundred eighty degrees the other way is that they identify with being against the state or being wanted to be wanted to be suspicious or apart from the state.
That’s right that’s right but at the same time they may really believe in private philanthropy they may do a great deal of it and you know it’s very interesting in a place like New York these big sort of boards like the the the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the opera house people give countless hours they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars and they give hundreds of thousand dollars in the hope. Of being on the board of a foundation like that and no matter what their politics is they believe in a big scale on this kind of private giving. And of course you can believe in both you can think that the state does good and believe in philanthropy as well.
Is there less than private. Is there less private philanthropy in a country like Germany.
Well much less much less much less it’s really hard. You know I’ve spoken to people from educational and other institutions who’ve told me that they’ve gone to potential donors and the donor said well why should we be doing that that’s the job of the state isn’t it.
I’m wondering in countries where that where the tradition is that way do private charities work with the government more and try to find funding there.
They do they do in the German specifically have very ingenious combinations of private state giving for education and culture and actually it’s shifting now in Germany everybody is trying to develop private funding as well as state funding but the divide still is is is very distinctly there.
But that still leaves personal gift giving as being something apart from I guess the idea of gift giving for the community and in America there may be more the idea of. Public gift giving that is gift giving for the public good that done on one’s own.
Yes Yes Yes And you know it’s so interesting if we look at it because it’s clear that people of great wealth they do this partly because they want to be loved they want to have high status within their community and they compete with one another for that status like who gets to be on the board of the Metropolitan Opera. And there’s a kind of healthy competition since in the end we the public are certainly winners from this kind of philanthropy.
This makes me think I’m wondering how a story like say Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol plays in a culture like Germany where so much of the story is about Ebenezer Scrooge learning to give learning to give gifts and some of them are personal family gifts some of it is about Ebenezer Scrooge is being reunited with the relatives he has been estranged from but some of it is also about giving that perhaps in some countries would be relegated to the state he decides to give the gift to private charities that he refused to give at the beginning of the tale. And he decides to you know give gifts to the family of his employee the Cratchit that again that he would never thought of at the beginning of the story. Take a story like that to Germany and how does it play.
Well I think that is a healthy reminder that gift giving can take many many different forms. And certainly Germans idea of community one of the forms that it takes is collective self-sacrifice that if there is a crisis that we all have to pull together. And that’s certainly a sort of German public virtue that is very admirable even if it doesn’t take the same form of private philanthropic giving that that we know in the United States. So I think we want to also be sort of tolerant of different patterns of giving that take place in different societies.
So perhaps Marley’s ghost in a German version of A Christmas Carol would come for an entire town rather than a businessman.
That sounds plausible it does indeed.
When we come when we come to the rituals and the expectations of gift giving. One of the things we hear about one of the things we’re really talking about we’ll be talking about this hour is how this can chafe with people how they feel that they’re there doing things that they’re expected to give but they’re not giving up. They’re not getting the sort of personal reward out of it that’s too much of it’s for show too much of it is is an empty ritual. Do those sort of problems our misgivings come up in other cultures as well.
They do they do and I think you know the element of compulsion can be so strong in gift giving so much you’re expected to give and so forth that it takes a lot of work to reclaim gift giving as an art. No I think this has been true in all times and places . Let me tell you about a famous example that the anthropologists talk about nuts what’s called the hula ring from a set of islands the Trowbridge and islands off of New Guinea and the coolest shells were valuable shells they were like heirlooms that you would give to somebody else that went from Paul Ryan seashell. These are like sea shells that were polished but the main thing is that other important people had already owned them they went from powerful person to powerful person. And one of the things about these shells was you weren’t supposed to hoard them. They were like heirlooms but we usually give the heirlooms down through time. They gave these shells across through society so there was always sort of a struggle. You were proud of your shells you wanted to hold on to them but you’ve got to give if you can’t just hoard it you have to give that child to somebody else. And so you know there are always these these very serious struggles about gift giving. Doing it in the right way. Reclaiming it for ourselves.
In your study of gift giving and German culture did you find a debate going on maybe a minority opinion no matter what everybody is doing. Some people saying no we shouldn’t do it this way it’s not really valuable we should do it this other way.
I think the big German thing in history going back to the to the nineteenth century was the idea that gift giving should always be selfless that you don’t expect reciprocity you don’t expect to return . And most people thought that way in the nineteenth century and this is where Marcel most really bowled people over when he said I actually stand back a little bit and you’ll see that you’re always part of this network of giving and receiving. I’m arch I want to I want to take just a little bit to call some attention to Marsa most and also how you spell his name so people can look them up I know that if you go to Wikipedia you’ll find some stuff about amazing if nowhere else you will He was a great guy and a U. S. S. is the last name he was a marvelous man and you belong to a little community of scholars that gave a lot that sacrificed a lot to each other during the First World War and after the war he did a lot to preserve the memory of other fallen colleagues so he was a great gift giver. Jim if we have time to say one word about China and gift giving I want us to think about China and the panda because Chinese aren’t great gift givers. And one of their great forms of gift giving is giving pandas to zoos around the world and of course they gave two pandas Ling-Ling and lean wings partner to the National Zoo in Washington in one thousand nine hundred seventy two. But they continue to give pandas to other zoos right up to the present day they loan them now because there are so few pandas left but they are this is this is a great instance of gift giving in the present day world.
OK that’s an interesting interesting one to think of or think of.
All the cute videos that you can find online about pandas at zoos around the world the web cam for the National Zoo in Washington.
Yeah yeah of the band as we’ve been talking with history professor Harry Harry Lieberson. He’s an expert on gift giving and author of the book The Return of the gift. Yes it is upon I understand the play on words European History of a global idea it’s published by Cambridge University Press and hardback and Kindle editions it is no doubt a great gift idea and it’s time for short break thank you very much Harry for being on focus with us and we’ll be back in a moment with more and a different take on gift giving with Susan Salzberg I’m Jim Meadows it’s focus on W.Y.L.L.. We are back on focus on W I L L I’m Jim meadows and we’ve been talking about gift giving the pressure to give gifts and somehow get it right can be relentless at this time of year. Perhaps you’ve taken steps in your family to put some controls on the Christmas rush by channeling how you do gift giving and we’d like to hear your ideas along those lines this half hour our guest Susan Salzberg has a few of her own she is with the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa at Cedar Falls.
Susan welcome to focus and thanks for inviting me.
Now you’ve proved your ideas under the title reclaim your holidays what does that mean and how do the holidays need reclaiming .
Well it’s about being intentional about the holidays to focusing on what matters most to you and most people probably don’t need to reclaim their holidays they recall maybe they are doing them the way they want to do by other people. Commercial commercialism early is how we. And at least for most of us to start telling ourselves stories about how much we have given material gifts for people to so people that we love them and that is not going to show our love. But it’s not the only way.
Now I understand there’s really sort of a side effect that that you get out of this you are with the Center for Energy and Environmental Education and that by making up perhaps gift giving a little more emotionally sustaining you can be environmentally sustainable as well.
That’s absolutely right. The research shows us that the things that matter most to us are relationships leisure time where we could pursue activities that we like and my heart confirms that those things are true and so when we consume a lot of material goods that generate waste in all forms and if it doesn’t make it happy we do need to start questioning that it would be to our benefit.
Question that you just said yourself that your heart confirms that these things are true that you have a personal experience an aha moment of the of your own that led you to think about the holidays in this way.
Well I’m I’m lucky that I grew up in a family that I guess we didn’t have very much money and so we did simple things and many of us of my generation I’m fifty three had a much more simple holidays than we have now so my aha moment was really more my work in the environmental field and how often people in the environmental field are telling people what not to do and this is about telling people what to do and what is you know how to have a richer fuller life. And it’s even about indulging indulging in things that matter the most to us .
No I understand it in going over the subject you looked at studies and there have been studies about this about what really makes us happy and you know in the context of Christmas and the holidays and gift giving what what can you what can you say in general senses what really does make us happy.
There are a lot of studies out there in fact I’m halfway through it in another article of science related to that but the things that make you happiest are I think faith comes up there as something that helps us be content and relationships some of the genetic but I think it’s interesting that happiness in America peaked in the one nine hundred fifty S. And that’s really after World War two when we really started consuming a lot more.
And I’m wondering if there’s a tie there.
OK Well we’d like to hear from from all you all you folks listening about what about the holidays makes you happy. What traditions are practices in gift giving in the holidays of satisfied you earlier in this program we heard. From our car listener Jeff and Morris who who works with wood and likes to make his own Christmas gifts if you have any particular practices or traditions let us know about them. Our phone number is one eight hundred two two two nine four five five. Our e-mail address is talk at Illinois dot edu or on Twitter and Facebook and focus. Five eight zero and the phone number again one eight hundred two two two . W A L L Susan Salter burger when it comes when it comes to gifts gifts don’t necessarily have to be things or objects.
You know they don’t have to be in fact one of the bits of research but what I found interesting is that when our money is invested in experiences people remember that longer so giving a gift that’s not a product like maybe giving a gift to the theater or getting your family together to go to a cabin or a couple maybe go to a bed and breakfast. You’ll remember that longer than well material.
Yeah any idea why that is the case because obviously you can have an object the object could be around forever. Why doesn’t that resonate the same way as as the memory of something that you did.
I’d love to turn that question back to you . Can you think about whether that resonates with you.
What what material gets you received in the past few years and what experiences have you had and what surfaces you write I’m thinking of a lot of objects and they’ve sort of passed along the way.
Actually the thing that’s most memorable about Christmas was you know really the moment of you know me and other me and other members of my family sitting around and and opening the presents together being together the you know the trees always there I always remember that as a large part of it. But but but all the objects sort of become a bit of a blur after a while. Is it my getting Am I getting the something the part of your own point here is that that’s the sort of thing you see as far as what people find rewarding about the holidays .
Well I I think we will talk later about those gifts and how fun it is to have that unwrapping ceremony and all the anticipation but we’ll get to that but when I think about the holidays for me and my personal experience the things I remember are spending them at people’s houses and or going family has a tradition of going to a state park here in Iowa where twenty of us can be together maybe in a couple of cabins have enough space have a neutral territory and then go hiking together play games together some large group games. We’ve also gone to Colorado and done sledding fifty those kinds of things and material gifts. I just can’t remember very many although I can remember a few material gifts that I’ve gotten over the years that I really value but out of all those gifts that we get that are material. I would challenge your listeners to tell us which ones they remember because it seems like there’s not very many that we remember .
Now in your case were these the way the traditions already worked in your family or did did you make some intentional changes in order to to reclaim the holiday Oh I guess some of both.
I grew up on a farm and so though I didn’t have kids of my own I wanted my nieces and nephews were born and they all were living in cities and some of them in larger cities. I really wanted them to have a connection to the out of doors and so getting them getting us to a state park and experiencing a cabin and hiking those kinds of things was part of my family growing up but also something deliberate about wanting to pass that on to the next generation means of the past the past the pass on the tradition of these activities that’s on the value and being in nature and what it can give to us.
And I’m sorry go ahead.
Oh I just was happening if that made sense.
Yes I think so. I’m wondering as you as you’ve been talking about these things to others what sort of responses you’ve got and maybe especially for people in families where perhaps the big thing about the presents can be you know it’s a lot especially if you’re a kid perhaps it can be sort of an addiction that you don’t want to see go away.
Oh yeah and I want to say again I don’t have kids and so that’s a huge disclaimer because that is a challenge .
This is not a prescriptive program and everybody has to do it their own way.
Maybe it’s just finding one new thing to change to to really do what you want to have happen during the holidays. But I remember as a kid the anticipation was huge relief on the way to see those presents under the tree and to have a stocking in the whole ritual with Santa Claus . So I’m wrapping guesses this is just fun but teaching values is also important .
And so balancing those things I think is. Something that many of us would like to do better . I know we can’t immunize kids from advertisements but we can talk to them about choices. Friend of mine a colleague of mine years ago I remember she would say that she would drive down the road and her kids would say mom why can’t we have a car like that and she would say well we can but the tradeoff is that I want to have as much time to spend with you because I would have to be in a job that required a lot more of my time. And so even Hawking the kids and helping them understand what the tradeoffs are. They’re having thousands of presents under the Christmas tree versus a simpler Christmas. They may opt depending upon their age they may opt for the more time and attention .
I’m wondering here are some other parts of you know of Christmas traditions just the decorating. There’s I can’t think of a more decorated holiday outside of say maybe a wedding than than Christmas and there’s a large drive to do that but that’s also that’s just a lot. That’s just a lot of it another way a lot another set of stuff a whole bunch of paper are what are our plastic for that matter that they get that goes out in a room and around the house and as I can see in the yard lighting up as well . Do you see an alternative when it comes to that sort of urge to decorate.
No I would say that if people have the real urge to decorate and they enjoy it and they’re not burdening their family with expectations to help them with everything the family doesn’t want to help then decorate have fun with it but I know that there are lots of alternatives and one hundred things I did recently was I saw this cool Christmas tree built books and apparently libraries around the nation have have built these large trees that are that have lights on them.
It’s made of books and so I’ve made my own little miniature Christmas tree out of books and have lights Robin is really charming and so that’s certainly a green alternative to cutting down a Christmas tree.
But I’d say if you really want to cut down a Christmas tree cut down a Christmas tree get a local one.
I’m struck by the idea of a Christmas tree made of books exists like these books piled up in a certain shape is that how it works.
Yes they’re piled up and triangles and I Googled I saw a picture on Facebook of that. And then I Googled How do you build a book a Christmas tree out of books and there were several different sites that I read it in and it took me not very long at all to do it.
Selves and the books are reusable afterwards no books are hard.
Yeah yeah these are my hardened and top cover books around the house.
I probably use about fifty in this particular small modest tree probably a foot and a half tall I’ve read that somebody used one hundred books in their house they had about one hundred books in their whole house and they used all of them and made it three for three.
Oh I can give you a quick I was just looking online as she spoke. One place you could try googling for is a website called the Mary Sue which describes itself as a guide to girl of geek culture. It has photos of twelve different Christmas trees made out of books. When at least one of them is perhaps a little tough on the books but the other ones other ones are not and there are very many different ways that you can pile books together to make a Christmas tree and yes put lights on them. We are talking about our ways of reclaiming the holidays with us. Susan Salter Burge if you have some ideas about your own Christmas traditions. Still time for to give us a call at one eight hundred two two two nine four five five that’s one eight hundred two two two. A W I L L Our e-mail address is. We’ll talk at Illinois dot edu I am really struck about that that’s a sort of a non-destructive of way of decorating in the holidays are there any other you know decked decorating ideas that come to mind.
Now we have a list of them that’s not my area because I have other people that I work with who have done stuff with that but we do on that we plan your holidays. Org Web site. I have ideas for greeting the holidays using natural material there is no one or the fundamental idea cranberry for example can be put in basic although cranberries also they they use a lot of chemicals to grow a lot of many of the cranberries. So there are lots of kids think about it but that would be a natural product that you could put in your compost pile.
When it comes to wrapping the presents I imagine there’s a will there’s certainly a lot of paper that goes in there is there are other alternatives to all that all that bright shiny colorful paper which sometimes I find that people are almost reluctant to throw the throw out because I just want to look at it a little more.
Yeah well and you know just looking at something we have a little hand out on reclaiming holiday site called I would share their innovative ideas and I’m sure there are a lot of Illinois and you could share their innovative ideas were welcome that we have a Facebook page and so people could go to rethink their holidays and click on that give us their ideas. At one of the people that I talked to and that sewing clock gift bags for all of their gifts and she said she started sewing gift bags that could be used every year instead of wrapping paper. Five colorful fabric on sale at the end of the holiday season and then throws a few more bags for her collection every year and puts a drop string at the top and a couple or a colorful ribbon or cord and they look beautiful under the tree.
Now she did say her youngest son did request that I rap.
Why do you get each year and wrapping paper because you love the sound and feel of ripping open the paper so it sounds like it’s a little bit of not necessarily doing away with some things but maybe maybe modifying our art our downsizing a little bit to more reasonable proportions not really focusing on what you want.
Well what is fun and meaningful for you and so I think one of the things that I was thinking about before the interview was that we have a handout online that asked people to assess their holiday season and just take five minutes to think about last holiday season and then rank the meaning in pleasure they got from various activities and then do they want to do more or less of that the coming year so that’s a one way of being more intentional and that’s called the five minute assessment.
And that’s really looking back and not what do you think you’re supposed to do but what you really truly found rewarding.
Well I’m afraid we’re just about out of time here. We’ve been talking with Susan Salter burgh of the University of Northern Iowa about reclaiming the holidays which you can find out more about reclaiming the holiday’s dot org And also and I should say that reclaiming your holidays is the correct reclaim just reclaims market this right or I will just send people astray.
Reclaim your holidays dot org And also look up reclaim your holidays on Facebook and we’ll have links on our website at will dot Illinois dot edu slash focus. Susan Salter Burke happy holidays and thanks for being on focus today.
Thanks so much Karen.
Thanks also to Professor Henry Lieber son of the University of Illinois for talking about gift giving customs during the first half of our program and thanks to everyone who called or e-mailed questions during the program today. We invite you to continue the discussion on today’s program at our website at will dot Illinois dot edu slash focus and we are likely the first results on your search engine if we just type in W I L L focus today’s show was produced by Lindsey Moon Jason Croft as our technical director. Tomorrow on focus you may not like everything about the way meat is produced in America but marine Ogle says it’s simply a matter of an industry doing what it takes to give customers what they want and what we want apparently is no price to meat and plenty of it to marine Ogle writes about the meat industry her book in meat we trust. She’s my guest on Wednesday’s edition of focus. We’ll be talking about that tomorrow this is focus on W.Y.L.L..