Twelve Hopeful Gifts for the Holidays

Here are @ twelve hopeful gifts for the holiday season, with reasons for their hopeful qualities. Some of my choices may seem a little dire, such they also acknowledge the non-hopeful circumstances surrounding the hope, but each hopeful thing is what it is by way of its opposites, which I take to be – in general – despair, resignation, and cynicism.

First, three books:

The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society. Franz de Waal.

This leading primatologist brings us the hopeful news that we are not the purely selfish, greedy, and power-mad, as certain now obsolete theories about our essential nature have been leading us to believe. Empathy – the ability to see and feel things from another’s point of view – is a human “given.” Thus it is not (always) true that when you scratch a philanthropist you see a hypocrite bleed, not is it true that those who – for instance –risk their lives by jumping into freezing rivers to save perfect strangers are doing it out of some weird kind of self-interest. Best news we’ve had in years! Empathy has its limits, of course. But so, it appears, does ruthless greed.

The Gift. Lewis Hyde.

What better to give than a book about gifts? I keep extras of this amazing book handy at all times, to give those who need it. It distinguishes clearly between the two methods of exchange: buying and giving. Here’s the blurb: “By now a modern classic, The Gift is a brilliantly orchestrated defense of the value of creativity and of its importance in a culture increasingly governed by money and overrun with commodities. Widely available again after twenty-five years, this book is even more necessary today than when it first appeared. An illuminating and transformative book, and completely original in its view of the world, The Gift is cherished by artists, writers, musicians, and thinkers. It is in itself a gift to all who discover the classic wisdom found in its pages.”

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Not everyone might like to read about cancer over the holiday season, but on the other hand quite a few might, especially in this hopeful context. A great many of us know people who have had some form of cancer, or else we are those people. From the blurb: “… a magnificent, profoundly humane ‘biography’ of cancer – from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence.” It’s a mystery story too, as generation after generation took a shot at trying to figure out what this killer was. Mr. Galen in the Library with the Black Bile?

Next, for this season of feasts, two hopeful food-centred gifts. How about a donation to:

The PEN Prison Farm Herd Co-Op (Canada). This herd consists of cows that were rescued when Canada’s federal prison farms were shut down. You won’t get a charitable donation receipt for this, but you will help in the upkeep of some heritage cows, in hope that they will one day be returned to prison farms and aid in the rehabilitation of prisoners.

Farm Forward: USA. “Farm Forward implements innovative strategies to promote conscientious food choices, reduce farm animal suffering, and advance sustainable agriculture.

Next, two bird organizations: “Hope is the thing with feathers…” Emily Dickinson.

Saving bird habitats also saves whole ecosystems, and helps indigenous peoples by preserving their traditional means of livelihood – and maintaining forests helps water management and conserves one of the big oxygen-producers on the planet.

A small one: PIBO. Located on Pelee Island, the Pelee Island Bird Observatory tracks migration through this crucial flightpath, gives tours and explanations of its work, and reaches out to kids through its educational programs. A little donation here makes a big difference.

See also Balzac’s Atwood Blend bird-friendly coffee. They got the name, PIBO gets a dollar a pound, the Smithsonian gets 25 cents for its bird-friendly certification work. Taste-tested it at our house, too!

A big one: Birdlife International. Birdlife is a large ground-up network that works with national partners in over 100 countries. It knows you can’t help birds without helping people in those habitats. Its U.S. Partner is the Audubon Society, its Canadian ones are Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada, its UK one is the RSPB. For other countries, go onto the Birdlife website and find the country partner.

See also In the Wake of the Flood, the documentary made by Ron Mann of Sphinx Productions of the book tour I did in 2009, with raising awareness and funds for Birdlife and bird life as its goal. Profits from the sale of this DVD also go to Birdlife partners.

And two for animals:

Panthera: dedicated to the survival of the big cats, a group that is very much under threat.

And of course World Wildlife. That familiar panda logo has accomplished so many things already…

And one for fishes: Oceana: “Oceana seeks to make our oceans as rich, healthy and abundant as they once were.” An uphill struggle, but a crucial one. If the oceans die, we’re in grave danger.

And one for general green gifts: Treehugger

And finally, a connection between art and healing:

Art For Healing (San Francisco); and Art For Healing Foundation (Montreal).

Both place soothing and uplifting artworks in hospitals and jails. Yes, the science is in: it does have a hopeful effect…


Filed under 1, YOTF Tour Blog

5 responses to “Twelve Hopeful Gifts for the Holidays

  1. Girl Fren'

    Inspiring list, Ms. Atwood. Thank you. I’d forgotten Dickinson’s poem until thinking about grand-daughter named Hope the other day; slightly pre-teen, a bit over-shadowed by an older sibling. Think I’ll ask her to memorize & recite this at a holiday gathering, to make it hers:
    Hope is the thing with feathers
    That perches in the soul,
    And sings the tune without the words,
    And never stops at all,

    And sweetest in the gale is heard;
    And sore must be the storm
    That could abash the little bird
    That kept so many warm.

    I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
    And on the strangest sea;
    Yet, never, in extremity,
    It asked a crumb of me.

  2. I’m just researching an article for Little Pickle Press’s blog around the theme of need vs. want, and have some of the same charity ideas that you’ve presented here. I may just link to your post if you don’t mind. Thanks. Happy holidays!

  3. Pingback: RT @lisydney @MargaretAtwood’s 12 Hopeful Gifts: | Simon Bugler: Freelance Web Designer

  4. Emil Cessan

    Oh how awful these wonderful things are, that also help satisfy the need of a helping persons soul. From the one the other is born at the same time. In the absence of greed and human traits, this would not need to be. You say it is a good thing, I say it is a shame that it has to exist along side the destruction of the planet, well you might think, danger solemnly lies upon the humans, the planet possesses the real laws.

  5. Lianne

    I love that your list is so rich in caring for the soul. Wonderful ideas, for sure.
    I would also propose giving the gift of educational and medical care for children in need.

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