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From the editor.

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents."--Jo March in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Christmas gift-giving as we know it really started in the 19th-century Victorian era. We can thank the Victorians for starting or reviving many familiar holiday traditions: the Christmas tree, Christmas cards, caroling, Santa Claus. And while the Victorians fashioned the jolly old elf as the ultimate gift-giver, they also turned the act of giving gifts into an art. Handmade presents crafted to suit the recipients were viewed as true measures of friendship and love.

"An article that one makes is certainly a more complimentary gift than one bought, for we weave with every stitch sweet wishes for the recipient that untold gold cannot purchase," wrote a magazine editor in 1890. And so children and their parents pored over publications like Godey's Lady's Book and Harper's Bazaar to find instructions and patterns for making just the right gifts for each of their loved ones.

But the notion of personalized, handcrafted presents waned as department stores began to advertise delicate dolls, train sets, and other "perfect gifts" that could not be duplicated at home. Ladies' Home Journal in 1903 rattled off a list of gift ideas to buy for everyone from sons and daughters to policemen and "washerwomen." But not everyone got caught up in the holiday madness. Some religious leaders and writers warned that the increasing demand for expensive presents was causing people to lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday.

Hmmm, that sounds familiar, doesn't it? A century later, stores are stocking ornaments and tinsel as early as October. You can't turn on the TV or open the mailbox without being inundated with advertisements and catalogs touting after-Thanksgiving sales and free gift-wrapping. The frenzy can be fun at first, but, at least for me, it always turns out to be more stressful than satisfying.

Well, the Victorians got us into this mess, and they can get us out, too. This could be the perfect year for returning to their original idea of presenting our friends and family with personal handmade gifts. Now I'm not suggesting that you embroider a pair of slippers or carve wooden animals like the Victorians did--unless you happen to be skilled in one of those areas. But a simple present made by your own hands can still have more lasting meaning than the store-bought variety. In this issue's Easy Does It department, pg. 54, Patty Roper offers 15 surprisingly easy ways to show someone you care. For many of them, the only cost is your time.

I'd tell you which ones I'm planning on giving this year, but I don't want to spoil the surprise. I will assure you that I won't be partaking in that other Victorian Christmas custom--the one that involves spending weeks preparing an eight-course feast with dishes like sweetbread pate, woodcock pie, and plum pudding. Some traditions, after all, are better left in the past.

Wishing you a joyful and unhurried Christmas season,
COPYRIGHT 2004 Downhome Publications, Inc.
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Author:Bozeman, Kelli L.
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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