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A Llama for Hanukah

A catalogue recently arrived in my mail. This is no great news, since I get about two or three a day, more when companies up the ante and start getting ready for the holiday season. In one week alone in November I received glossy magazines selling goods for Pottery Barn Pre Holiday, Pottery Barn Early Holiday, Pottery Barn Pre-Teen Post- Football Season, Pottery Barn Erev Hanukah, Pottery Barn Hates Your Crazy Family Too, and Pottery Barn Babies Turn 40.

So unnecessary. We all know that once you get past the first four pages the whole thing is the same as the Pottery Barn Secretary’s Day catalogue anyway.

But this catalogue was different: it wasn’t from Pottery Barn, and it wasn’t selling stuff.

No turkey platters. Just turkeys.

No pashmina throws. Just Llamas.

No egg nog. Just some drunk chickens.

Well, actually, that’s not fair. From the pictures, it was hard to tell whether or not the chickens were drunk. I’d hate to write slander, so let’s just say they were acting really “festive.”

Point is, this catalogue, called the World Vision Gift Catalogue: Meaningful Gifts that Change the World, is all about providing people across the globe with the means to feed, clothe, educate, and generally provide for themselves, their families and their communities (hence the animals mentioned above). In addition to livestock, this catalogue contains pages of “inexpensive gifts that bring joy to children” including healthcare, housing, and access to clean water.

I can gift people their basic human rights. And do it in my grandmother’s honor!

In terms of a catalogue with holiday spirit, I think it’s fair to say it beats the pants off PB, stocking-and-garland-trimmed cover and all. I pushed all the other catalogues off the counter. I couldn’t wait to dig in to this one.

Within minutes, I was scribbling individual’s names on post-its and slapping them onto different pages. What to get for a teacher your child loves? How about item #0253 for $30, which will fill an American child’s backpack all year long with needed school supplies? For that post-feminist, Birkenstock wearing sister-in-law of yours? I’d go with the small business loan for one woman at a cost of $100. And the brother whose claim to fame in high school was that he kicked butt as his team’s goalie? Soccer balls for schools throughout Latin America.

I cannot remember when shopping felt so good. And luckily, shipping costs seem not to be an issue, so feel free to go hog wild. Get your boss two oxen and a plow. Like to buy in bulk? You can purchase an entire menagerie — 28 farm animals in one order — saving ten families from hunger this year, and even more in the years to come. (It’s a gift that truly keeps on giving. Think reproduction.)

My friends Jodi and Evan are going through a rough patch, with the double-whammy of a bad market for Evan’s business and a house that flooded while they were at Disneyworld over Thanksgiving. “We’re being kicked in the assets!” Jodi declared via cell phone, holed up indefinitely at a local hotel. “You cannot imagine our room service bill. Jason, stop jumping on the bed!” I’m so sending them a llama for Hanukah.

And a case of scotch.

At my book group meeting the other night, this topic of holiday giving came up. Well, first we talked about the book (22 minutes – a record). Then we moved on to a discussion about gifting service people and babysitters, which turned into a series of other unrelated topics, which finally circled back to the realization that we had not selected a book for next month (1 hour and 37 minutes).

The tipping and gifting conversation was interesting. First, because I found out just how cheap I am. And secondly, because we questioned whether anyone would be reducing the number of and/or dollar amount of gifts this year, in light of the world’s recent financial crumbling.

One woman said that she would not be giving her babysitter a raise, so instead she cut back the woman’s hours slightly, giving her the gift of more time off. Another person mentioned that she traditionally participates not only in the class gift for a teacher, but also goes out of her way to give a little something extra, like a Starbucks gift card or a mug. (We quickly talked her out of that habit and into a Scarsdale High School PTA Scholarship Fund donation made in the teacher’s name.) Someone else mentioned that she always generously tips her top-secret eyebrow groomer, financial crisis or no.

In terms of donations to charity, many companies usually participate in holiday giving. But, this year, those same companies have spend the last few months laying people off, cutting salaries and/or withholding bonuses, hoping to stay alive. It made me wonder what happens to charitable contributions during a recession.

Last year, 1 in 8 Americans went hungry. Imagine what the figures are now. I guess my real question is this: do we give less this year because we have less this year? Or do we give more because the need is greater? Is the amount of giving in direct proportion to how much you have or in relation to how much others require?

Some give a fixed amount yearly, such as 5% of one’s household or corporate earnings. Others give when the mood strikes them throughout the year, choosing to support their child’s preschool or an organization that holds special meaning. For others, it’s less about proportionality and more about finding ways to show you care.

>I don’t have all (or even some) of the answers, but I know someone who has at least one good one.

My friend Kate was fed up. She had purchased from Pottery Barn a beautiful Advent calendar for her daughters, to help count down the days until Christmas. Kate then went out and bought a bunch of little goodies to put inside each window.

“And you know what happened?” Kate asked me over lunch. “The girls would run downstairs each morning, pushing each other out of the way to get to the stuff first. Then, once they saw their present, they would promptly complain about it! Mom, I want what Sydney has! And, Hello Kitty? I don’t even like Hello Kitty anymore!”

She pointed her fork at me, stabbing the air with flying lettuce. “Dave and I were just done with the whole thing. I told him we had to put the Advent calendar away.”

“But I like it.” Dave began, trying to come up with a solution. “Where’d you get it, anyway?”

They were on the verge of taking the new PB purchase to the attic when they realized that they could keep both their calendar and their daughters with some creative thinking. “The idea was, let’s just have them give something every day instead of get something.”

And so, the girls began sending holiday cards to American soldiers, delivering poinsettias to a nursing home, and throwing pennies into the fountains at the Simon mall (which are donated to the Simon Youth fund). They selected gifts for other children taken from their own collection of stuffed animals, “which didn’t go all that smoothly at first,” Kate admitted, rolling her eyes. “But eventually Syd came around. ‘Giving’ is a tough concept when you’re four.”

For the record, I believe she selected for donation a turkey, a llama, and a chicken. Plus a couple of one-legged Barbies. Isn’t that a nice story?

So, from Pottery Barn to me to you, have a Merry and a Happy.

By the way, did you know that Pottery Barn is a proud supporter of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital?

You can read all about it in today’s catalogue.

(It’s right there, in the pile with this very newspaper. See it? By the toaster. There you go.)

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