I know I’m not alone in associating the Yuletide with ample gift giving (and receiving!). It’s fun to plan what to get each loved one, it’s a blast to fuss over brightly colored paper and wrapping your gifts attractively, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see the anticipation and joy on your giftee’s faces as they unwrap your presents.
And yet, as the Christians say, the commercialism and materialism behind the culture of this sort of gift-giving is decidedly not “the reason for the season.” Worse still, too much focus on gifting things can turn any jolly old soul into a major Scrooge. I know that in my leaner years, I looked upon the list of people I wanted to gift, then looked at my bank account, threw up my hands in despair, and basically avoided holiday functions altogether. Frankly, that’s a damn shame. The December holiday season is one of the best excuses to be merry and celebrate with your loved ones that our dominant culture has, and the general practices we have of Yule itself are so close to the secular celebrations of Christmas that it’s a great way to gently share our faith and love with those who might not be accepting in other settings.
So what’s a gifting tradition we can adopt that eliminates the Scrooge potential and gets more to the heart of the spiritual importance of this time: the return of the light?
Well, last year the answer came to me in an unexpected vehicle: a then-recently published novel by Debora Geary. Since March of 2011 with the Kindle publication of her first novel, A Modern Witch, Ms. Geary has prolifically created three related novel series tying together characters in her “Witch Central” universe–basically groups of contemporary magical practitioners in Berkeley, California and Nova Scotia who all help each other improve their lives in incredibly healthy ways. Franky, Witch Central is one of the best treatments I’ve seen seeding a solid reality into a fantastic universe. I’m not going to say that Ms. Geary produces amazing and masterful literature–really, this is the level of “chick lit” without a heavy romantic focus–but the books are so satisfying that I happily buy each one as soon as they’re published.
Ms. Geary’s Winter Solstice 2013 publication was An Unlikely Witch, which was itself set around the Winter Solstice. In fact, the driving force behind novel’s greater plot is a scheme that Nell’s 11-year-old triplets–Mia, Shay, and Ginia–devise. Essentially, they create a new gift-giving strategy for the enlarged Witch Central community. They assign each member the name of one other member and give them the task of making one of that person’s dreams come true. It’s like a secret Santa exchange, but without the emphasis on purchasing an item under a dollar amount. In fact, the gifts the triplets propose giving are priceless.
Now, this being a work of magical realism, some of the dreams tackled are incredibly tall orders with very magical solutions–such as taking on a woman’s infertility (though that dream is ultimately solved mundanely) and making it snow in southern California–but others are quite simple. The non-magic Nat, for example, discovers that her giftee, a recently homeless girl, has a secret talent and love for painting. Not only does Nat find a way to get this girl supplies in a way that doesn’t make the girl feel like charity, but she also positions her to have her work seen by many and gain lucrative commissions in the process. In other words, she sets the girl on the path to becoming that which her heart most deeply desires: a professional artist. Another person, the octogenerian spitfire Helga, finds a way to give her giftee, a teenage boy, space away from the tight-knit community to pursue a first love without interference.
I think it would be a wonderful Yule tradition to put something like this into practice within our own communities–whether in a coven, family, or association of adopted loved ones. Sure, Yule is a great time to give physical tokens of affection–desired store-bought trinkets, homemade sweets and savories, etc.–but it’s also the best time to shine a little light on some of the dreams we lock away in the deepest darkness of our subconsciousness. In the process, we’ll end up giving our giftees something far more important than a bauble they’ll forget they wanted in a few years: they’ll get glorious memories of time spent together with those they loved as well as help in becoming the best versions of themselves.
Who could ask for anything more?