Greetings from Madison, where it’s raining and gloomy. But after a Friday and Saturday that were warm and sunny, I can’t complain too much. As I’ve already reported last week, I have sworn to buy all holiday gifts this year locally or to make them myself. The only real stunning revelation here is asking, why I didn’t do it before? I have enjoyed Christmas shopping in only very small, sporadic bursts, and I really hate malls. I’ve lived in a town for the past 9 years or so which makes it relatively easy to shop only locally. Why did it take me so long?
One answer is surely the power of the consumer impulse at Christmas. It’s nothing new to go on and on about how Christmas has become a holiday that really celebrates consumption rather than anything else. But it seems to me that it celebrates consumption by playing on guilt. Yes, we are consuming like mad around the holidays. But we are, mostly, buying things for other people. And we must get them the right thing, the perfect thing, the thing that will make this Christmas the most amazing one ever and ensure that they will love us for all eternity. Or maybe at the very least, we must get them the thing that doesn’t make us look like complete schmucks. With that mindset, it’s harder to say you’re only going to buy locally or make it, because then you might not get everyone the perfect gift. And then…schmuckdom.
Well this year all my presents just might read, “From: The Schmuck.” Maybe because I just like saying that word in my head.
|Sweater from Little Golden Fox|
There are, thankfully, a lot of gifts you can buy around Madison. Books. Jewelry. Candy. Yarn. Art. Nuts. Bird feeders. Stuffed animals. Clothes. Pottery. Cupcakes. Beer (who doesn’t want beer for Christmas?). Massages. Antique sewing machines. Soap. Perfume. Bath bombs. Musical instruments. Coffee and tea. Dinners at lovely restaurants.
If this list isn’t specific enough, I’ll share just four purchases I made this Friday evening strolling around Madison with the spousal unit, my stepdaughter and her friend. Some of these actually are gifts for me, but you get the idea.
Gift #1: We started at Eco-Massage, the lovely little yellow building on West St. at the end of my favorite alley. There was quite a spread, and I purchased a gift certificate for a 30 minute massage for someone whom I cannot name for fear of spoiling their holiday surprise (don’t you wish it was you?). A massage from Jennifer Payne, who owns Eco-Massage, is really the best present I can possibly imagine getting, personally. Luckily, I give myself this present as least once a month. If I moved slightly up in my income bracket, I would give myself this present once a week. Or, maybe Jennifer would just allow me to come in and lay down on her massage table, which has an instant Pavlovian effect for me. I feel relaxed as soon as I lay down on the massage table, because my whole body knows what’s coming. That’s priceless, but in Madison, highly affordable.
|Solid perfrume from All Good Things|
Gift #2: After Eco-Massage, we headed up to Main St. and down to Broadway to check out the Christmas tree. I asked my daughter, jokingly, if she wanted to get her picture taken with Santa. “Well, I guess, we could,” she said, and I’m not sure if she said this because she thought it was I wanted to hear, or if some part of her really still wants to be able to get her picture taken with Santa. At any rate, the line to see Santa was long, so we stopped in at Little Golden Fox, a new store in Madison located at the corner of Broadway and Main. This was our first time in Little Golden Fox, and we were quite pleased. They sell a nice assortment of locally handmade items as well as upscale consignment. I bought a beautiful sweater from American Eagle there for $8.75. Crazy! The next day, my husband and stepdaughter went back to buy me a new Christmas stocking. They also have incredibly adorable handmade baby clothes.
Gift #3: We had passed one of my favorite Madison stores, All Good Things, on the way to the Christmas tree, but it was packed. On the way back, we stopped in to take advantage of their special on soap, because I’m running low on Lemongrass Sage. I’ve been thinking a lot about smell lately, and am contemplating a whole post on the subject, but just let me say here, you cannot underestimate the effect of good smells on your quality of life. I’m very into lavender, and bought a little tin of their solid perfume, Lavender/Patchouli. With this perfume dabbed on me, it’s like I’m walking through my days with olfactory Prozac; each whiff of lavender makes me happy. Possibly because each whiff reminds me of my massage (see Gift #1), but also because lavender just smells really good. The scent is supposed to be soothing, calming and help with emotional balance. If you see me walking around constantly smelling myself, just know that I’m trying to maintain my emotional balance.
|Yarn from Harriete’s Knit Knook|
Gift #4: We were going to eat dinner at Shooter’s, a lovely sports bar which also has some great beers from Sun King Brewery in Indianapolis on tap. But they, too, were packed. The whole town was packed, all weekend long, which was stupendous, if just the smallest bit annoying in that moment when you were wanting a beer with your dinner. Instead, we ate at Hong Kong Kitchen, where we were treated to free sugary peanuts for dessert. My husband headed to Blush with the girls, another new store that’s very popular with my stepdaughter and her friends. I headed to Harriette’s Knit Knook to buy some yarn. These three colors will soon become a hat to match my stepdaughter’s new purple pea coat.
My parents and grandparents tell stories of doing all their holiday shopping in downtown Cincinnati or Covington. By the time I was small, you went downtown only to see the toy train display in the window of one of the department stores. Walking around Madison on Friday night, it wasn’t particularly winter-like weather; the temperature was in the 60s. But you could imagine that maybe this is what shopping would have been like back in the day, before people pepper sprayed each other to get the best deal on an Xbox.
It reminds you that buying things used to be a largely human transaction, a social transaction. Buying and selling doesn’t have to destroy communities, but can actually make them better. It certainly makes me feel better about spending money when I know, like, and care about the people I’m buying things from. If most of the power we have as individuals in the world has been reduced to our power as consumers, the least we can do is consume carefully and in a way that might help to create the kind of world we’d like to have.