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The Gift

 

by yael alkalay

 

    Gifts can impart deep meaning. Cultural rituals throughout the world have included the giving of gifts. Loves can be sealed, lives can be celebrated with the giving of a gift. No wonder this time of year is fraught with both excitement and anxiety. Red Flower has been deeply influenced by timeless traditions of hospitality and gifting rituals from around the globe and we share those that have most deeply influenced us in hopes that they can help to bring guidance and meaning to your holidays. We are always looking, listening and trying to find more, so please share your stories with us; we will hold them dear.

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"Remember that the spirit of the gift is more important than the gift itself. That is not to say that any old thing will do as long as you give it with a smile, simply that the feeling behind will be received as much if not more than the thing itself. There is an etiquette involved in choosing, presenting, and respectfully acknowledging gifts."

- Emily Post

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There is both etiquette and feeling involved in selecting, wrapping and giving a gift and it seems no culture has mastered it quite like the Japanese. The formality and unspoken rules simplify the boundaries of what is deemed appropriate. Sometimes I crave this more structured approach which minimizes the possibility of gifting faux pas. Part of the success in Japanese practice of gift-giving is a year-round event including the seasonal oseibo and ochugen which require an exchange between family, friends and co-workers. Good gift-giving is an acquired skill and like any skill, it takes practice and time. I have been the fortunate recipient of an incredible array of gifts while living in Japan and since; craftsmanship from finely detailed Ishikawa pottery and hand-painted kimono cloth to a wooden box filled with the world’s most expensive foraged mushrooms. These gifts have bound me to a country and culture I already deeply admired and I have long pondered how my generous friends and colleagues were able to so thoughtfully and unforgettably give. RItual, skill, time, thoughtfulness, practice and presentation. These words drum like a mantra right through the Christmas season.

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Presentation is such a big part of a gift’s impact and meaning. In Japan, gifts are presented in a beautiful furoshiki wrap (no scissors! no tape! no waste!) or directly in the bag from the store in which the purchase was made (sans receipt and further wrapped in paper). The history of traditional furoshiki wrapping began in the mid-Nara era (A.D. 740) and interest in this tradition is reviving. Furoshiki is the perfect environmentally conscious packaging choice. Red flower has taken on this tradition, wrapping every gift at our 13 Prince Street shop in furoshiki - it sounds simple but we had to learn the specifics in a fantastic how-to given by Yumi of Kiteya. Notice the method of folding and how the gift is presented to the recipient - flap toward the receiver for a simple unveiling once home.

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And speaking of the environment and minimizing waste, purchasing positively furthers the good feelings of giving during the holiday season. The Finns are masters of environmentally sound gifting. It sometimes feels like Christmas has lost its traditional significance and become a celebration of excessive consumption. In Finland, a special gift is one you can’t wrap - the gift of shared time, going to sauna or an exhibition. Preserved food like jams and salted local fish are also popular and can often be made at home and presented simply. Bringing tradition back around the tree while reducing the use of electricity is this Finnish suggestion, “Christmas candles are widely used in Finland to brighten up the winter darkness. Rather than using lights, create a much nicer atmosphere with a few candles strategically placed in traditional Finnish lanterns made from snowballs or from upturned buckets of frozen water.” Think about going to Finland this holiday where making snowballs together and lighting candles makes giving playful and beautiful. I will be lighting my snowball lantern with the natural woody scent of Wanderlust.

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Being crafty in the kitchen never hurts. If you have the skills to prepare a batch of cookies from heirloom recipes, a gift of such sweets speaks not only to your generosity but to your artistry. Cookies stand out as a perfect gift for the holidays, especially when presented in a cheerful, antique cookie tin. I just received these and was deeply touched and eager to share the lovely treat.

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The word cookie first came into use in the 1700’s from the Dutch word, koekje, and have been part of festive holiday rituals long before Christmas. Ancient cooks prepared sweet baked goods of cinnamon, ginger, almonds and dried fruit to mark significant occasions. Christmas cookies, as we know them today, trace their roots to back to these Medieval European recipes.

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"Dutch and German settlers introduced cookie cutters, decorative molds, and festive holiday decorations to America. By the 1500s, Christmas cookies had caught on all over Europe. German families baked up pans of Lebkuchen and buttery Spritz cookies. Papparkakor (spicy ginger and black-pepper delights) were favorites in Sweden; the Norwegians made krumkake (thin lemon and cardamom-scented wafers). The earliest Christmas cookies in America came ashore with the Dutch in the early 1600s."

-- "America's Best Holiday Cookies,"
McCall's [magazine], December 1994

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What about choosing the gift of scent? Bringing the healing power of scent into someone’s home and life (in the form of an essential oil candle or diffuser) is meaningful in many ways. Essential oils can work little miracles on the brain - enhancing mood, reducing jangled nerves, encouraging better sleep or even improving the conversation over dinner. As essential oils are inhaled, the scent enters directly into the limbic system, no filters, for immediate impact. To learn more about the power of scent and know that you will be brightening someone’s life with the gift of scent. Local, social and environmental are also key words when choosing gifts, allowing your gifts to not only impact the recipient but your whole community. How special is that? Cultures that draw on the power of scent in gifting range from the north of Africa to the south of Asia. A few local tips - Moroccans like to get to know you before giving or receiving gifts. Wait until after the first meeting to present a gift. Color (green is popular in Malaysia), numbers (in general, avoid the number 4) and do not expect the gift to be opened on the spot - in many cultures this is a sign of greed. Across the globe, flowers and fruits are symbols of life and a gesture that is always well-received.

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This is also the time of year to consider the impact of charity. The charity of time, goods or funds donated exemplifies the recognition that the most meaningful way to give is to give as much as you can to those in need.

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"Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them."

-- Marvin J. Ashton.

 

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This holiday Red Flower is supporting the important work of
Street Soccer USA
in its efforts to reduce homelessness in children across New York City and beyond. If you are interested in joining Red Flower in supporting Lawrence Cann’s efforts please learn more at
Street Soccer USA .

"Homeless children are far too common a reality. You see how children crave and thrive on even a modicum of structure. All the research says the presence of caring adults in kids’s lives is the number one indicator for whether they finish school or not. For all we (Street Soccer USA) do with our curriculum and fancy tournaments, at the end of the day just putting caring people in their lives is about 90% of the value of our work."

-- Lawrence Cann,
Founder, Street Soccer USA .

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Gifting the gift of a charitable donation has been made simpler and more meaningful by several organizations, including donorschoose.org, charitynavigator.org and charitygiftcertificates.org

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Give, receive and be present in this holiday season.

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Warmest wishes and many blessings.

- yael

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For further reflection…
For further reflection on the meaning of giving and receiving, I found Tara Parker-Popes piece very insightful. Also endlessly inspiring is O. Henry’s, “Gift Of The Magi” and, in another vein of inspiration, the powerful Tarkovsky film, “The Sacrifice”.

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  • kari

    do you have samples of any of your products? especially your perfumes

  • Bonnie Herron

    You gave me a coupon for free postage and then I can't find it again even going backwards. I would like the oil, but I want free shipping.

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