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Best — and greenest — gifts come from heart

Winter approaches. The sun is tracing a lower arc in the sky while cooler temperatures turn leaves to gold and cause us to bundle up against chilling winds. The days are accented with longer shadows and darkness comes earlier with every sunset. Nothing makes a home feel more inviting at this time of year than a good dose of holiday cheer, especially when it’s of the deep green variety.

Gift-giving is at the core of the holiday season and the best gifts also happen to be the greenest, but perhaps not in the way you might think. Green gifts can represent the best we have to give while reducing the more harmful aspects of our collective consumption.

‘Tis the season to go shopping, right? Black Friday (or Buy Nothing Day as some choose to celebrate it) is thankfully behind us but the shopping-induced carnage is far from over. The trampling of customers rushing to get a good deal now seems a yearly event . Hopefully the physical trampling is over, but there is no doubt that many will injure themselves financially in yet another round of "Shoppers Gone Wild." It is the sad result of commercialization that equates dollars spent to actual caring (or worse, obligation); combined with the desperation of economic scarcity.

Most of the consumer products offered by retailers will benefit multinational corporations and are almost assuredly made in China or some other country where the simple quest for human survival is leveraged into corporate profit. Somehow that doesn’t conjure up the deep green holiday spirit I have in mind. There is a better way.

I think the best gifts are those that keep on giving, year after year. It is ideal when they are used regularly, last a long time and serve as a reminder of someone special. Their cost has nothing to do with their value. The very best ones are actually made by the hands of the giver, infused with their energy and creativity. Fortunate are those who have such treasures.

Years ago, my mother-in-law, Terry, worked for hours, days and weeks to create beautifully crocheted afghans, soft woolen blankets that are as practical as they are delightful. Over the years, she gave several to my wife and me as gifts. They have provided us with years of comfort and warmth, in just the right proportion. Every time we bundle up against the chill of winter, we think of her with appreciation and love.

My sister also has one that she keeps in her classroom of third-graders. Every year she tells us how much the kids love to share that wonderful afghan. She always tells them the story of how it was made by a remarkable woman with a lot of love in her heart.

What makes these gifts all the more remarkable is that several years ago Terry suffered a stroke. She can no longer crochet and misses it very much. Her beautiful afghans are now irreplaceable heirlooms, reminders of her incredible spirit and generosity.

Nothing from China could ever replace the significance of Terry’s gifts. Made by her hands and her heart, each one was the product of a woman who cared deeply about those she gave them to. It all comes down to love. My experience tells me that the best gifts are infused with that special ingredient. They can’t be bought at the mall.

Marvelous things happen when we give of ourselves with thoughtful purpose and sincere intent. In so doing, we can create a holiday experience of the deepest and most satisfying shade of green. We all have an unlimited budget when it comes to the key ingredient. Why not spread it around?

Happy holidays to you and your loved ones.

Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, a company committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. For more information and links to additional resources relating to this column, or to reach Steve, please visit www.greendream.biz.

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