It’s officially gifting season, starting with a feast of gratitude, moving on to the Solstice and the sun’s return. What a wonderful human response to the shortening days: present the ones you love with some special token of your fondness, a visible symbol of your feelings. As far as anyone can tell, gift giving is a practice that stretches back to the caves.
When we give, we are concentrating our good wishes toward another and affirming our own abundance at the same time. It’s a powerful act. It’s the energetic equivalent of lighting the bonfires and the Christmas trees, putting colorful lights everywhere. Giving lights the spaces
between and within us.
The beautiful thing is that it need not be restricted to one time of year, or to one’s own familiar circle. It need not even be restricted to the material world or the physical senses; every time we share a warm, connected moment with another person, we’re giving each other a gift. Every time we make a wise choice, every effort we make to grow up is a gift to ourselves and to everyone we work and play and live and love with.
When it comes to finding tangible presents for the individuals in our lives, shopping locally is a clear path to adding layers of tangible and intangible benefits for the whole community. There’s the oft-reported multiplier effect that happens when local dollars stay local. Then there’s the glow of shared pride in living in a community that produces such wonderful items of art, food, clothing or what-have-you, a benefit that also multiplies and ripples from producer to gift-giver to recipient. There are few things more fun than hitting the indie shops this time of year to admire and support the dreams and creations of your neighbors.
True, it may be a challenge to find any disposable funds this year, as late-stage capitalism struggles to stabilize its fading grip on this poor planet and keep the billionaires’ extractive party going, which is all the more reason to spend any funds you do have right here at home. No matter how hard they try to seduce us into the mass market lane, the party over on the neighborly creative side is just always going to be better.
The gift economy, in which people pass along what they have without judging the cost or expecting repayment, is far older and more instinctive than trade. It generates abundance: people openly sharing their resources attract those of like mind like iron filings to a magnet. Indigenous cultures throughout time have relied on the gift economy with its deep currents of reciprocity for their very survival.
The vibrance of the gift economy transcends the binary logic of capitalism vs. communism, public vs. private, us vs. them. Examples are all around us.
Take My Kingston Kids, for example. The not-for-profit’s mission “to create, promote, and produce children related content, activities, and events that will empower, educate and excite families within the Kingston and surrounding areas of Ulster County” is carried forward in myriad ways: Reading Lounges, Play Cafes, photography for teens, Circus Arts Intensive and Laser Focus Fun Fitness, to name a few. Their network of partners includes local banks and fellow nonprofits of all sorts. Their family-oriented creative programming is free, their festivals are legendary, and you can also hire their talents to create your own legendary event. (Kids, and adults too, can also find a rich array of affordable fun at two other venerable nonprofits, the Center for Creative Education and the Kingston YMCA.
Or Seasoned Gives. The nonprofit arm of Seasoned Delicious Foods, Seasoned Gives works to “educate, incubate and promote entrepreneurship for the BIPOC community and women,” they’ve helped 92 businesses get started, measurably strengthened or expanded over 300 more, and educated hundreds. “Time to build our own table and help others do the same,” they say, and they’ve served over 9,000 meals at that table since 2019.
All of these organizations (and there are lots more) are making the gift economy work for all of us by doing what they do so well that they draw the support and sponsorship of a wide range of locals ranging from prosperous businesses and charitable foundations to everyday people. It’s a vast, interwoven network. Need something to wear? Beyond the 4 Walls Outreach has you covered. Need to wash it? There’s free soap at the Broadway Bubble. Struggling? Join the folks at Samadhi for some mindfulness meditation. Need holiday gifts for the kids? Check out Project Santa at People’s Place.
It’s not that things are perfect here. (Housing issues, for one, still need a lot of work.) But in this season of thanks and giving, it’s a great time to look more closely at the parts of our local gift economy that are working—and there’s no better way to experience your own abundance than by lending a couple of bucks, a hand with a project or a good idea. At every level, from personal to global, abundance begets abundance; the forces of greed haven’t managed to put a stop to it yet, perhaps because they haven’t participated.
Poor souls. Spare a moment to wish them well as you relish friends, family and freedom. Won’t cost you a dime.