Medium is the Message – The Case for Handmade Gifts

This past weekend my family and I threw a wedding shower for my oldest sister Theresa (it was Mexican-fiesta themed).  As custom, she received a multitude of CorningWare, FiestaWare, – and cases of Yuengling (my family has strange, but awesome customs).  However, no other gift made her shed a tear besides what my cousin Jen gave – a scrapbook of family recipes and photos, including older photos before my grandparents’ passed away.  We have an existing published family recipe book we receive upon college graduation, but the fact that Jen, a busy mother of three young girls, took the time to make something unique and special, meant more than the FiestaWare Theresa has had her eye on (is it fair to say for years?).

I have been thinking about the phrase from Marshall McLuhan “the medium is the message”, meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.  Usually applied to conversations about media and communications, I couldn’t help but think how it relates to gifts.  When someone takes time to make something for you that is truly unique, it means much more than a gift purchased.

The fact that people take the time to make gifts now means more than 10 years ago.  We are busier than ever and shopping has become much easier.  Through advertising and the social space, it is easier to have the thought that those “must-have” items of the season could be applicable to everyone and therefore save you time to do something else; mostly work.

I remember when my friend Liz from high school borrow my notebook and painstakingly deciphered my chicken scratch writing and typed up all of my prose, poems, and short stories.  I still have it and remember her gift out of all I have received from my friends that Christmas.  Relatively at no cost, the effort was what counted so much.

Yesterday, Leo Babauta posted an entry on Zenhabits“The Case Against Buying Christmas Presents”.  For suggestions on what to do instead of buying gifts, he said to “make meaningful gifts”.  The best gifts I have given the past two years are paintings to my parents and grandparents.  Painting for other people, especially loved ones, is challenging.  There are always time constraints and the PRESSURE to make something not only you like, but the receiver would like too.  However, hours put into a painting when I have no hours to spare is worth it when you know it will be hanging in their home for years.

So I challenge everyone to give one custom, handmade gift this holiday season.  I’m not saying you need to go back to making macaroni jewelry boxes, but you can purchase a gift that is unique and custom to the person you are giving it to.  All in all, time is scarce nowadays and no one has any to spare.  That’s what the message is when you give a meaningful, handmade gift – you gave time to really consider what would make someone feel special.


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