It’s taken as a given that the for many of us, the holiday season engenders a mixture of stress and mania, as we try to accomplish the tasks that demonstrate our love. It is the giving of gifts that for many, indoctrinated through that potent mixture of ritual, religion, and capitalism that culminates in an orgy of excess, that stands among the more dismal aspects of the holidays. The concomitant mall crowds, as well as balancing the desire for social approval with an ever growing credit card debt, leaves much to be desired in the more modern practices of Yuletide cheer.
Yet, the act of gift giving indulges in a deeply symbolic language that cannot be easily filtered through the lens of reason. Gifts are a manifestation of our dreaming selves, our deep subconscious. They are the communication between such dreaming beings, one to another. A good gift has the potential to deepen a relationship. It is a ritualistic process and can have as much meaning as the presence we invest it with.
As a witch, I sink into the winter season by wrapping myself in a blanket while sitting in front of an open flame and staring into the icy abyss that is my soul. Winter is a time of introspection, of delving into the mysteries of the shadow. As such, I approach Yule as an aspect of both embracing this process while reminding myself of the world that will soon return. With Yule comes the lighting of the fires, the darkest of days and paradoxically, looking forward to the return of the sun.
The tradition of gift giving during Yule is one that ignites my witchy penchant for arts and crafts as much as it allows me to indulge in the more emotional parts of my personality, the parts that love to bask in the glow and warmth of human friendship, family ties, and exceptional food. The wheel of the year turns and this time is a time when I can settle into the comfort of my home and begin to contemplate; not only the meaning and direction of my life, but also the most significant relationships that accompany me down that path. The act of gift giving is an ideal site for the magical exploration of these relationships and gift giving encapsulates the attempt to distil the most intimate of feelings into a tangible expression of care.
Capitalism puts a very specific spin on the act of gift giving as an act of consumption, but it has existed well beyond the invention of capitalism and it could be argued to be fundamental to the nature of existence. Traditionally, gifts were given as offerings to spirits in exchange for favour, health, or protection. Eventually the practice evolved into a giving of tokens to express gratitude or as talismans of protection for loved ones facing danger.1 From cellular interactions to stellar dust, bodies are in a constant state of flux and exchange. Gift giving is part of an essential process of reaching out beyond the barriers of self to touch the life of another person, to instill a piece of ourselves into their lives.
Following are a series of practical exercises and experiments that I myself use and have used to invoke spiritual presence within the act of gift giving, as well to imbue the emotional and physical labour of the holidays with a sense of meaning and purpose beyond the paltry motivations of capitalist consumption.
You can take it upon yourself to create a spell that brings into manifestation that perfect “thing” for a loved one. The hunt is an ancient part of the human psyche and shopping is a modern expression of this ritual. Part of a magical intention can begin as you envision the energy of the person that you are looking for and that you can then try to find in a complementary energy out in the greater world. You are a spiritual warrior on a mission. The act of “shopping” need only feel hollow when taken as a meaningless act. It can be hallowed if we are able to engage with it as a sacred expression. The search for an object has been the centre of many a quest and no task is beneath the capacity of a person with a commitment to spiritual awareness.
You may want to dress appropriately for your hunt; take a ritual bath and don your power garments. For myself, I dress warm and well in my Sunday best, tucking a number of cloth totes into my purse with a specific route in mind. A major part of my own quest during the holidays is to find interesting people who craft beautiful and powerful objects. There is a plethora of craftspeople in this world. They create exquisite objects and are in need of support and appreciation for their talents. The intention put into your quest invests meaning and energy into the results. In effect, the what doesn’t matter so much as the how. It is the journey that makes the result most significant.
Suggestions: Check out some local craft fairs, connect with crafty people in your network, approach local artists or artisans with a commission, wander aimlessly, go to unexpected parts of the city, explore.
A talisman is simply an object that carries ritual significance. Richard Webster defines them as, “objects designed to give specific power, protection, encouragement, and energy to those who wear or own them. The important thing to note is that talismans always provide specific benefits to their owners and are usually made for specific purposes.”2 Any gift can become a talisman when imbued with the correct intention.
Whether buying or crafting a gift, it is the act of intention that imbues an object with meaning. It is often true that the most personal and potent gifts are those that adequately capture one’s intention. The more care and thought put into the object itself, the more it communicates the meaning in your heart. Start out by entering into a space of vulnerability and it will allow you to express some part of those feelings to your loved ones. As such, a gift can become a powerful communication.
If you aren’t incredibly attached to a person and need to get them a gift, you might not come to as deep a place of meaning, but a gift can also serve as a kind of olive branch, a communication of care and an act of honouring the spirit of a person. Even a simple expression of effort can help to brighten someone’s day or simply reflect that they are seen, and that can be a very important offering.
Suggestions: Write a letter to your loved one that expresses your feelings, make a spider diagram about things you notice or feel about a person including colours or other vague impressions, get out your craft kit and make something, assemble a spell box or bag that you fill with items that remind you of your loved one.
For the person who has everything, you might also want to consider the gift of experience. Many people are able to afford whatever their heart desires (and have three of each). Something that is often cherished is the gift of a memory. Whether in the form of consumables, a gift certificate to a local or a favourite restaurant, the cost of a workshop, a tarot reading, or a ticket to a lecture or play, the options are endless. The key is to think through what the experience would give to the receiver; what would the process or the effect of the experience be? Then, choose wisely in what you present them with.
Try to give something that they wouldn’t necessarily purchase for themselves, but from which they would nonetheless derive benefit. Often, people don’t invest as much in their self care as they should and spoiling someone you love with a treatment at a spa, or perhaps even an appointment with a nutritionist, naturopath, masseuse or reiki practitioner. Other ideas related to self care could involve time alone in a cabin or babysitting and/or housekeeping certificates. In attempting to give a gift of care, it is important to connect with a person’s authentic needs, whatever they may be, without judgment. After all, you are trying to give them something that makes them feel better and what works is different for everyone.
It’s important to remember that as you are rushing through your routine and trying to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s, that the act of nurturing begins with yourself. If you are not nurtured by the act of giving to others, then you are attempting to dip into a well that is already dry. The act of generosity in it’s very seed, is an act of self care. So ideally, when we are engaging with the act of giving to those that we find most dear, we must first take care to find that place of warmth and generosity within ourselves.
In the end, it is not the cost in energy, time or money, that makes a gift great. Rather, it is how clearly you are able to impart your true and authentic feelings about a relationship. In this season of care, make sure to take the time to be still, to allow your spirit to speak, and to take the time to honour each connection in a way that will also help to strengthen and support your own network of care, deepen your own sense of personal meaning and ultimately, help you along your path.
- Susan Pesznecker, Yule: Rituals, Recipes and Lore for the Winter Solstice (Minnesota: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2015). See Syndee Barwick’s review of Yule. [↩]
- Richard Webster, Amulets & Talismans for Beginners: How to Choose, Make & Use Magical Objects (Minnesota: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2004). [↩]