At this time of year, Holiday Gift Guides start cropping up in newspapers and commercial websites. Having perused a number of those, I discovered that they are sadly insufficient for shoppers out there seeking gifts for the Mennonites on their lists.
As always, I am here to help.
Some of you might have wondered whether Mennonites partake in the whole Christmas gift-giving thing. The answer, as with pretty much any other question you have about Mennonites, is: it depends.
In recent years, a number of progressive Mennos have jumped on the Buy Nothing Christmas bandwagon. These are the more assimilated Mennonites which just goes to show that you can’t assume anything about assimilation.
In my experience, Mennonites of various stripes engage in Christmas gift giving in one way or another but very few manage to do it without a good deal of hand wringing. Ostensibly, this hand wringing is a critique of a hyper-consumerist society. But, truth be told, it could just be that we’re
Not all of us are keen on the Buy Nothing ethic but I have prepared a little gift guide to satisfy all the Mennos on your list and keep your and their anxieties at bay. You’re welcome.
This is, of course, the first recourse of the Buy Nothing crowd. I have, however, a couple of cautions for the crafty gifter.
First, those materials and tools typically aren’t actually free and so if you are trying to be frugal, you might want to think again about that homemade kayak or angora wool knitting project. Second, you know it’s December already, right? You’re pushing it a little late if you’re planning anything more elaborate than ice cube candles (which are, however, a perfectly fine gift if you are under 13 yrs of age). Third — and this is a biggy — remember that the people you are gifting to are as crafty as you. Those non-Mennos out there will be amazed at your home baking. The Mennos already have two tins of the same cookies in their pantry and a cupboard full of quilts.
You have to up your game a little for this crowd.
As for me, I’m giving everyone my homemade maraschino cherries. One of these babies and you don’t need a cocktail (but you can still have one). And, yes, I started these in July when DIY Christmas began. Of course, I’ve also been using them all fall so there aren’t a whole lot left. I’ll be giving them out one by one.
Bargains, Re-Gifted Items and Un-Gifts
I know of no Mennonites who disapprove of re-gifting. Or thrift store finds. As with the crafting options, however, to do this well, you need a fair bit of time on your hands and should have started months — or maybe even years — ago.
If you have done your job the rest of the year(s), you should be able to head on up to the cupboard where you keep all your unwanted gifts and items which you found for cheap at a garage sale in the summer. Once there, you should find an odd assortment of guest soaps, picture books from remainder bins, and trinkets. There is a particular set of guest soaps that have been floating about the Mennonite world as a sort of perpetual motion re-gifting machine since at least 1974. If you ever receive that as a gift, you should feel honoured to be a part of history. But know that you are duty-bound to pass it on.
This makes Christmas gift giving a simple matter of matching an acquaintance or loved one with the bargain basement find/unwanted gift in the cupboard. Easy peasy.
If thrift stores and garage sales aren’t frugal enough for you and you don’t have a storeroom full of old unwanted guest soaps, another option is the un-gift. Un-gifts — hand-drawn gift certificates for things like hugs and household servitude — have the added bonus of being excellent conduits for passive aggression. (Dear —, this certificate entitles you to twenty minutes of my undivided attention listening to those same stories you tell over and over again. You’re welcome and Happy Holidays).
My advice is to save the Un-gifts for when you really need them.
Fair Trade and MCC Non-Gifts
If you’re willing and able to spend a bit of money, the Menno option of choice is Ten Thousand Villages and/or charitable giving disguised as a gift.
Ten Thousand Villages began as MCC SelfHelp, a project to help artisans in third world countries find markets for their goods. Back in the day, a house decorated with items from SelfHelp had the look of the home of a newly-returned missionary. Which was nice make-believe for those of us who never did so much as a service trip anywhere. It used to be cheaper then too, letting us all believe that we were both doing good in the world and getting a deal.
Over the years, the venture has become more commercially successful and the prices have soared to market-competitive and the products have also diversified. The Buy Nothing crowd may raise their eyebrows at its growing allegiance to the capitalist hegemony but they’ll do so while sipping fair trade coffee from a hand-painted Vietnamese mug and wearing knit wool slippers from Nepal. It’s a pretty safe compromise with the consumerism of the season.
While at Ten Thousands Villages, you can also pick up the gift that comes with a tax receipt. Non-Gifts are different from Un-Gifts in that, instead of a foot massage of some such, the recipient gets the satisfaction of knowing that the giver donates to charity. These are the perfect gifts for those people who insist with sincerity that they want nothing at all.
It’s also a wonderfully passive aggressive way to tell your loved ones that they ought to be giving more to charity. There comes a time when people just need you to take such matters in your own hands. But it might not be passive aggressive. Sometimes the burden about caring about the injustices in the world gets to be too much and in giving a non-gift, you are caring so someone else doesn’t have to. Which leaves them free to relax and enjoy a cocktail.
The problem here is that Mennonites are already pretty big charitable donors and so they will see that you have merely slid the expense of a gift from the Gift category in your household budget into the Charity category. Which would still maybe be ok if the person getting the gift also got the tax receipt. Because we care way too much about our tax receipts. There’s no getting around that. We all resent that the gift of a donation doesn’t include the receipt.
The other problem with both Non-Gifts and Un-Gifts is that they are nearly impossible to re-gift or recycle into a craft project for Christmases yet to come.
Think ahead, people.
Books from Herald Press
Mennos and Non-Mennos alike are keen to give and receive books at Christmastime. All the major booksellers and a number of media outlets publish lists of suggestions this year for the best book gifts of the year.
For Mennonites, of course, you should toss aside those literary magazines and head over to Mennomedia. There, you can find bonnet rippers for the romantic in the family (though not all the big names of the genre), Mennonite memoirs, various cookbooks, and works on Mennonite theology and history. This may well be the only online bookstore in existence with a section titled “Classics: the Radical Reformation.”
Sunday School materials are another thoughtful gift. Since Mennonite Church Canada has recently laid off curriculum writers, we can expect these same materials to be in use for many years to come. So, it’s a gift that’ll last. The materials may even become collectors’ items.
This one doesn’t need explanation. You know — coupe glasses, swizzle sticks, bitters, cocktail shakers. What every Mennonite wants. Wait, what – just me?
Here’s a Christmas cocktail to enjoy after shopping (or crafting, un-gifting, perusing Mennomedia online…). It’s got cranberry and a bit of cinnamon and is the perfect vehicle for that solitary homemade maraschino cherry you’re getting from me. Unless I finish them all by Christmas. In which case, you can expect a lovely gift certificate promising an hours’ worth of me pretending to appreciate the Hymn book you gave me. And then you’ll have to buy an artisanal maraschino cherry from your local cocktail supply store.
- 1.5 oz bourbon whiskey
- 1 oz unsweetened cranberry juice
- 3/4 oz maple syrup
- 1/4 oz triple sec
- dash of cinnamon
- 1 homemade maraschino cherry
Throw all ingredients into a shaker half full of ice. Toss a bit of the maraschino liquid in there for good measure. Shake vigorously. Pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with cherry.