Simple Gifts

Giving Lyanda


In the world of eco-hip, we are expected to eschew Christmas hype, and I am as cynical about corporate, commercial, factory-made holidays as the next person.  But I love to celebrate the turning of the seasons, and believe deeply in reclaiming the light, richness, and beauty of  Solstice/Christmas time.  I know that it’s also become eco-fashionable to “give experiences” as gifts instead of stuff.  A great idea,  so I guess I have to fess up to being somewhat materialistic when I say  I don’t want a zoo pass.  I want you to make me something.  A poem, a drawing, a leaf-rubbing, a jar of your famous plum jam, a badly knitted hat, a beautifully knitted hat.  I want something I can behold and love.  And that’s what I like to give.

For hundreds of years before Christmas was on the calendar, Europeans celebrated the return of light at the Solstice by sharing gifts, a dip into the beautifully human realization that simple gifts freely given can lift the spirit, and that in the long dark of winter, a little spirit-lifting is essential.

Still.  I have been up late on too many Christmas Eves, tearful over unfinished knitting projects.  Handmade holidays do not restore our souls if they make us feel obligated, stressed, or rushed.  But I think I’m getting the hang of it.  In the next few weeks I’ll be sharing ideas and instructions for simple handmade gifts that are easy, practical, beautiful, relatively quick, inexpensive, and can be made few-by-few as the season progresses.  I hope they bring joy.

In that spirit, the “sanctity of giving” image above is from a holiday card series by local artist Dan Cautrell, whose beautiful lino-cuts grace my new book, Crow Planet (see a sample here).  All the Crow Planet prints, as well as Dan’s other prints and cards are available through his website (when we’re not making our own gifts we can support local artists who make things for us!).


  1. Lovely, lovely sentiments! While materialism is to be contained, many of the most special items that bring beauty to my daily life were gifted from people dear to me, some already departed from this world. I love that feature of being human. As you described, there is a balance to be maintained in creating gifts for those around you, especially when honoring a centuries-old tradition such as Yule or Christmas…. not doing yourself in while doing for others. I am looking forward to your posts over the next several weeks!

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  3. Erica

    I’ve had mixed feeling about the Solstice/holiday season for a long time. I LOVE the traditions of Solstice and recognizing the return of the light. The greens. The gift giving. My minister talked one time about the importance of the dark time of year, and about honoring the time of turning within, and of resting… and I realized my current lifestyle doesn’t include those elements – so the holiday times become jangled and cranky and noiseome.

  4. When we give something we’ve made, we’re giving something of ourselves. In our family, we make our Christmas gifts, and I had to laugh when I read about your Christmas Eves past. I’ve had many of those. (One year I made all the dollhouse dolls to go with the dollhouses Birch made, and I ended up at the eye doctor for new year’s…ouch!)

    The last few years I’ve been trying to give myself the gift of peace during the holidays…time to sit by the fire, read Dickens to the girls, watch the tree and listen to music. Somehow I have managed to slow down during this season (partly because we live far from our families). I cherish the dark hours with my family drawn into the light of the fire.

    This year I’m giving gifts to my girls that they can keep forever but will be an experience too. I am looking forward to seeing what you are planning…

    Love visiting with you, Lyanda!

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