For many, December marks the start of the holiday season. From Hanukkah to Christmas, to Kwanzaa to Lunar New Year, throngs of consumers spend the winter months in frantic attempt to find the perfect gifts. They find themselves scouring the shelves of mass merchandisers and searching the depths of the internet looking for gifts fitting for their family members, friends, and coworkers—perhaps their neighbors, mail carrier, children’s teachers, dog walker, and/or home health aide too. In rare cases they find success, landing on a gift that the recipient genuinely welcomes. More often, the recipient graciously accepts the gift, careful not to offend, with full intention to stuff it in a drawer, never again to see the light of day. With just a little intention and a sprinkle of creativity, the following suggestions will help any gift giver find things to please everyone on their list whilst also helping to move us toward a more inclusive society.
Cultural Awareness. In many ways the beauty of this season is the bevy of rituals, customs, and fantastical stories that accompany it. With so many holidays, cultures, and traditions to celebrate, there is sure to be one that interests your gift recipient while also expanding their cultural awareness. Consider giving your favorite home chef a cookbook featuring holiday dishes from a faith tradition outside of their own or the youngest person on your list a book that explains the story behind a holiday that they do not observe. That wall calendar that you always give your office coordinator, this year, select one that highlights customs from regions of the world. A simple, cultural twist on a standard gift makes it more interesting and more educational, as well.
Representation. When looking for gifts this holiday season, seek out those that celebrate your recipient. Most of us has an aspect of our social identity (ex: age, gender expression, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, etc.) that goes unheralded by the masses. Consequently, finding representation of our full selves in the marketplace can be a daunting, or even deflating, experience. Take the time to look for options that reflect and honor the complexity of your recipient. Are you buying a card for someone who is Jewish? Rather than going for a generic Happy Holidays card, or worse yet giving them a Christmas card, look for a Hanukkah option. Are you buying a doll for a child who is not white? Consider one that shares a similar complexion. It is not that you have to make sure that all gifts reflect the recipient’s identity, rather it is that if a gift reflects an identity, you should endeavor to make sure it aligns with, or at bare minimum does not conflict with or caricaturize, the recipient’s.
Stereotype Defiance. As you decide which gifts are appropriate for those on your list, do not just avoid stereotypes, defy them. Sure, it is easy to fall into the trap what would have you assume that a female secret santa would like a scented candle or that a male secret santa would like golf accessories, but there is absolutely no reason that you must. Beginners can start by avoiding staid stereotype-based themes, for example purchasing gender inclusive items (what is the logic behind hoodie, or a screwdriver, being gender specific). The more advanced among us are encouraged to actively seek out gift options that fly in the face of stereotypes; go ahead, buy the baby girl her first toy truck or the baby boy a doll. Stereotypes persist because they are embedded into our cultural fabric, gifts offer a subtle way to begin to counter them.
Allyship. Holiday gifting is an often-overlooked opportunity to serve as an ally. When looking for gifts, consider buying from stores or brands that are minority-owned. There are local directories that can help you identify these options; online outlets are beginning to add sortable identifiers as well (ex: Target and Etsy). Further, there are few reasons that items that reflect marginalized identities should not be gifted to those who do not share those identities. Being sure to avoid cultural appropriation, normalize gifting Spanish language Christmas carol albums to your English-speaking friends, artwork prominently featuring women to friends at every point along the gender spectrum, and tickets to HBCU (historically black college and university) sporting events to the non-Black sports enthusiasts on your list.
It would be laughable to suggest that your second cousin’s Kwanzaa gift has potential to right all the ills of society. However, it could be a step in the right direction. If we all were more intentional in our day-to-day activities, gift giving included, forward progress would be inevitable. The marketplace is driven by demand; to effect enduring change in its structure and offerings, we must seek out and support the makers and vendors that offer inclusive options. The thing about inclusion, particularly in the marketplace, that goes oft unsaid is that it requires continuous, collaborative effort. Support of marginalized voices cannot be relegated to heritage month observations; allyship efforts cannot be turned off when our out of office messages are turned on; and stereotypes cannot go unaddressed when they manifest in the form of toys neatly wrapped with ribbon. We must take every opportunity, including our holiday shopping list, to work toward equity.
Though written specifically to help follow procrastinators during the holiday season, this list is perennial, inclusivity is the perfect gift for any occasion.