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Jennifer Preston: Presence, not presents

Posted on December 6th, 2023 By:

I don’t need to tell you that holidays whip us into a frenzied state. For a time of year dedicated to bonhomie brimming with sparkling frivolity and wishes for peace, this season can be downright overwhelming.

The seasonal focus on gifting also has a tremendous impact on the environment. Christmas alone accounts for a 25-30% increase in global waste from packaging, gift wrapping, cards and food.

But this year can be different, for both the planet and its people. Take a five minute time-out and see for yourself.

Whole or hole

Start by asking if you feel satisfied, well, happy and whole after all that celebrating. If the answer is yes, congrats! You nailed it.

If instead, knots are beginning to form in your brain and body at the mere idea of shopping lists and RSVP’s, you can turn it around with alternative ways to enjoy the season — sanely.

There are two requirements. Simple to say, difficult to do: 1. Slow down. 2. Be present in the moment. If we do this, even a little bit, we invite a sense of well-being to envelop us and add treasured memories to our life.

If it feels like time is moving way too fast, the solution is to slow down, not to run faster. 

Cultivating peace

If your seasonal traditions emphasize activities that leave you overstuffed, overbudget and stressed out, take a cue from Germany, a country that invented a word to convey the contented feeling we long for in a single word – gemütlichkeit (ga-mootlich-kite).

It encapsulates that delicious sense of coziness, warmth and good cheer we seek to experience. A single lit candle on a wintery night, a crackling fire, reading a book snuggled on the couch — this sense of contentment is so important to the culture that they named it.

Gemütlichkeit doesn’t need crowds,” writes Lakewood author Susanne Bacon in her column, Bacon’s Bits. I’m betting it doesn’t need retail either.

Bacon goes on to explain: “It can be anything that makes you feel cozy. Gemütlichkeit can even change its personal concept depending on what your needs are at the time.” She points out that the concept developed after Europe’s Napoleonic wars (ca. 1815-1848), as people sought peace and simple comforts. When pushed to stressful extremes, we’re forced to reassess priorities.

Far from the madding crowd

The Danish capture this feeling with the word hygge (hyoo-guh). According to, hygge is about “taking time away from the daily rush to be together with people you care about — or even by yourself — to relax and enjoy life’s quieter pleasures.” Various iterations of the word can be traced back all the way from the Middle Ages to an Old Norse word meaning “protected from the outside world.”

Several years ago, hygge was a popular trend in North America where manufacturers were quick to cash in on the popular movement with books and products that promised a sense of hygge. However, by creating another thing to consume rather than experience, it misses the point.

Hygge and gemütlichkeit aren’t about buying something. They’re about doing something that leads to a sense of wellness. Thankfully, we already have on hand most elements that create the peaceful atmosphere we’re after.

Imbuing your life and home with these sensibilities can be a simple act, like sharing laughter with friends on game night. If it does involve an object, it can be as simple as a lighting a candle or sipping hot cocoa while gazing out the window to watch snow drift to the ground.

The hardest thing about hygge and gemütlichkeit are that they require being fully present in the moment while we’re surrounded by distractions shouting for attention. Cultivating stillness and appreciation are keys to contentment, which is difficult if you’re out of practice as most of us are. Consider for a moment what it means about a culture that doesn’t have language for these experiences.

Replace presents with presence

Think back to a cherished memory. I’m betting that memory has less to do with spending money and more to do with spending time.

For me, my most valuable treasures are moments spent with family and friends when there was shared laughter, thoughtful conversation and play, often accompanied by food and drink of some sort. Time slowed as we enjoyed each other’s company, bestowing a sense of well-being and peace.

Even if you’re feeling down beforehand, getting together with someone you care about reignites your sparkle.

Making memories

Consider what you can do this year to experience more connection. Search for activities that leave you feeling inspired and built up instead of wrung out. In Gig Harbor there are several places to go and share activities while also learning a new skill.

For the fabric inclined, Sew Hip and Rainy Day Yarns offer workshops for individuals or groups. Stitch-O-Roo & Art Too has after-school sewing sessions, Mom and Me classes, holiday craft workshops and even birthday party packages. AR Workshop is a DIY franchise offering a wide array of craft classes with projects ranging from making custom wooden signs and ornaments to doormats.

Just over the county line is Yoked Farmhouse and Brewery run by multiple families yoked together. They regularly host events where you can tour their farm, pet baby goats and sip a cider. They also host workshops for woodworking, holiday wreathmaking and more. (Their food service is closed for the season, so be sure to bring your own snacks.)

Until we have our own here in the Harbor, drive down to Olympia’s Hands On Children’s Museum for a day of unstructured play or curated activities with the wee ones.  A membership makes a great gift for parents. Doting grandparents, aunts and uncles and family friends also get to share in the fun — if they’re invited.

If these sorts of handicrafts and experiences aren’t your thing, I bet they are for someone in your circle. Most businesses offer gift cards, which is another thoughtful and eco-conscious purchase. Gift cards purchased from local shops and restaurants also seed money back into our community.

Connection is key

Of course, you don’t have to go anywhere or even spend much money to enjoy a craft or learn a new technique with a friend. A quick online search reveals a plethora of seasonal crafts suitable for any age and skill level.

Recall making salt dough ornaments or peg people when you were young? I do and can’t wait to share the experience with my nieces and nephews! Not only are these activities fun to share, they’re an eco-friendly alternative to kits sold in chain stores.

Check out Sugarhouse Workshop’s peg gnome tutorial featuring hats and cloaks made from stitched fabric scraps. Woodlark’s Blog has tutorials for making 3D paper doily snowflakes, salt dough advent spirals and free printable downloads, like mushroom and bird gift tags.

‘Tis the Season

If you’re looking to buy eco-friendly gifts and decor, you may be surprised to learn that our local Ace Hardware is stocked with felt ornaments, paper garland and advent calendars from Germany. There’s also an aisle that includes wooden toys and games from companies focused on sustainability like Melissa and Doug and Petit Collage.

Across the street, Teaching Toys in Uptown Gig Harbor manages to pack a ton of goodies into their small shop. They have a great selection of kids’ books and toys that promote sensory play and learning. And free giftwrap! 

Gifts that go away

Gifts of experience like tickets for live events, movies and museum memberships is another eco-friendly way to celebrate the holiday season while minimizing environmental impact.

Physical gifts take up space, break, then get thrown out. Rather than saddle someone with another knick-knack, one of my favorite things to give are gifts that “disappear.”

Think candles, books (handed down or donated afterwards), homemade food, especially if you’ve foraged it and preserved it yourself, and gifts of experience.

Ocean 5 is a fun, family friendly gathering spot to play and eat. While I’ve enjoyed free Trivia Nights and a few rounds of bowling, they also offer an arcade, laser tag and  virtual gaming suites. The coffee at The Cup and cozy lounge are also great!

Giving doesn’t need to be complicated, expensive or built from scratch. Inviting a friend over for a pot of tea and conversation is enough for a sense of well-being to settle on your soul — and theirs too.

Local good cheer

To bolster the yuletide spirit, connect with your neighbors during the annual Holiday Lighted Car Parade from 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 16. This is a free community event sponsored by the Gig Harbor Kiwanis and others benefitting the Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank. It features 80 cars decorated by locals, a Santa Village with Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman and vendors.

The parade begins and ends at Uptown in the parking lot across from Fondi’s, where you can visit with Santa, drop off a food donation and new, unwrapped toys that will benefit our community. For details on staking out a good spot on the parade route and donation needs visit the event’s Facebook Page. 

Speaking of local good cheer, check out these top ten easy, eco-friendly gift ideas:

  • Time for Travel: If travel expenses are keeping you from seeing a loved one, offer to pay part of a hotel stay or plane ticket.
  • Homemade Gifts: Create your own gifts like homemade candles, soaps, or baked goods. This not only reduces waste but adds a warm, personal touch.
  • Plants: Houseplants not only make great decor but also contribute to better indoor air quality and you don’t feel like you’re saddling someone with another knick-knack. DIY herb garden kits are both fun and practical, especially for people that like to cook with fresh seasonings.
  • Zero-Waste Picnic Kit: Put together a basket or backpack (my preference for “emergency” picnics) with items like a reusable lunchbox, cups, stainless steel cutlery, and cloth napkins.
  • Experience Gifts: Instead of physical items, consider gifting experiences like concert tickets, cooking classes, or spa days, which generate fewer environmental impacts.
  • Upcycled Products: Look for gifts made from upcycled or recycled materials, such as bags made from old sails or jewelry crafted from repurposed materials.
  • Subscription to Eco-Friendly Services: Gift subscriptions to services that deliver sustainable and eco-friendly products, such as eco-conscious beauty products or organic snacks.
  • Local and Handmade Goods: Support local artisans and reduce the carbon footprint of shipping by choosing locally-made products.
  • Books and E-books: Consider giving books or e-books. Our local bookstore Invitation Bookshop offers gift wrapping, stationary and more.
  • Charitable Donations: Make a donation to a charity or environmental organization on behalf of your recipient.

Let’s wrap it up

After the festivities are over, gift wrap, ribbons, plastic bows and single use packaging add a lot to the landfill. Consider eco-friendly gift wrap to reduce waste and add a special touch. Here are top ten creative and sustainable alternatives to traditional wrapping paper:

  • Fabric Gift Wrap: Use scarves, bandanas, or squares of fabric to wrap gifts. The recipient can then reuse the fabric as they wish. Try cloth napkins or tea towels that can be used in the kitchen afterwards. This adds an extra layer of practicality to your gift.
  • Furoshiki: Try out Furoshiki, which is a traditional Japanese style of wrapping that can be used to present gifts in a stylish and eco-friendly way. It’s like origami for fabric.
  • Newspaper or Magazine Pages: Use old newspaper, magazine pages, or comics for a creative and recyclable wrapping option. Add colorful twine for a festive touch.
  • Brown Kraft Paper: Recall Julie Andrews singing, “brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favorite things,” in The Sound of Music? Kraft paper is a classic and versatile option for gift wrapping. It can easily be decorated with stamps, markers, or natural elements like dried leaves.
  • Reusable Gift Bags: Invest in fabric gift bags that can be reused for years to come. As an alternative, many chains and grocery stores have fun, colorful shopping bags for sale that cost a lot less than single use bags. And they’re great for larger, outsized objects. You can also design your own tote with a print on demand (POD) service like Spring and Red Bubble.
  • Maps or Atlas Pages: Repurpose old maps or atlas pages for unique and travel-themed wrapping paper.
  • Seed Paper: Use seed paper for a double-purpose gift wrap. After unwrapping, the paper can be planted to grow flowers or herbs.
  • Linen Bags: Linen bags are a durable and reusable option for gift wrapping. Choose from various sizes in complimentary colors for a sophisticated look.
  • Recycled Wrapping Paper: If you prefer traditional wrapping paper, look for options made from recycled materials. Unfortunately, metallic wrap cannot be recycled and goes directly into the trash.
  • Reusable Ribbon or Twine: Avoid using plastic ribbons and opt for reusable options like fabric, twine, or raffia. My family has a tradition of collecting and reusing beautiful ribbon for future gifts or craft making.

The goal is to reduce waste and promote sustainability. Whichever eco-friendly gift wrap option you choose, consider the reusability and recyclability of the materials. Which brings me to my next topic, glitter without guilt.

Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

Glitter, the gift that keeps giving. And giving. And . . .

I can’t finish this article without mentioning glitter. If you’re serious crafter, you may be aware that there’s a saying about glitter, which I can’t repeat here. But jokes aside, it absolutely “infects” everything within a 30-mile radius.

While writing this article, I discovered that it’s also something of an ecological disaster, which breaks my heart because I love making cards and tiny treasures with the sparkly stuff.

Much of today’s glitter is made with plastic and according to the University of Washington, it’s yet another microplastic threatening the health of our planet and people. It’s also unrecyclable. Putting a card sprinkled with the stuff into a recycling bin contaminates the entire batch. The whole lot has to be thrown in the trash or risk gumming up recycling machinery. So, where does it go? Into our soil, water and bodies.

For an alternative, I’ll be checking out Bioglitter or Projekt Glitter, made from responsibly sourced eucalyptus cellulose. It’s biodegradable, safe for oceans and can even be used on skin.

Out with the old, in with the new

Finally, what to do with old electronics after the new ones are opened. Since electronics contain harmful materials like lead and mercury, tossing them in the garbage allows hazardous waste to leach into the soil and underground water supply. So, after the new tech is opened, head to Gig Harbor’s e-Waste Pro to drop off the old tech for FREE.

You can leave laptops, phones, printers and more to be safely recycled. They also offer free pick up for commercial businesses and provide secure data sanitization for everyone.

Until next time, I wish you and yours a season of light, love and peace.

Jennifer Preston

Jennifer Preston

Jennifer Preston of Gig Harbor is an award-winning writer, designer, eco-advocate and certified Master Gardener.