You'd probably be a bit puzzled if the best gift your true love could come up with was a partridge in a pear tree … followed by a daily array of turtle doves, calling birds and French hens.
Whether for true love, family, friends or cohorts, virtually every religion and culture participates in gift giving to celebrate end-of-year holidays. But the tradition has clearly evolved over the years.
In ancient Rome gifts were likely to be symbolic – evergreen twigs to signify long life, dried fruits for abundance, coins for prosperity, a lamp to light the journey through life. In a different way, the symbolic can still outweigh the practical for gift giving. And what better symbol than continuing good health?
Good health basket – In the days when fresh produce was scarcer than it is today, our grandparents opened their Christmas stocking breathlessly to find one fresh orange and a handful of walnuts and pecans. Capture that tradition with an adult gift of a gift basket overflowing with fruits and nuts – apples, pears, bananas, pomegranates, papayas, dried peaches and apricots.
Apricots and bananas are rich in potassium; apples are a good source of pectin and soluble fiber; and some consider the pomegranate the ultimate heart-healthy food. Nuts are equally nutritious – chock full of vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, selenium, zinc and B vitamins.
Because of their relatively high fat content, nuts were once considered off-limits to dieters. Most of the fat in nuts is unsaturated, however; if substituted for saturated fats, rather than merely added to the diet, nuts actually have a beneficial effect on a person's cholesterol profile.
Olive oil is another monounsaturated fat that offers health benefits when eaten as part of a heart-healthy, moderately low-fat diet. An eye- and palate-pleasing gift basket might include two or three bottles of high-quality olive oil with some loaves of whole grain bread that you've baked yourself or picked up from your favorite bakery.
Mediterranean dreaming: There are many health-oriented cookbooks available, but, in the spirit of the holidays, they may seem a bit austere. The Mediterranean diet, which has been gaining favor among health professionals, offers more pleasure. The focus is on vegetables, fruits, olive oil, garlic, whole grains and, if you wish, a glass or two of wine.
Of numerous cookbooks oriented to the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, consider those of Marcella Hazan (Classic Italian Cook Book, Marcella's Kitchen) or Patricia Wells (Trattoria, Patricia Wells at Home in Provence).
As Wells writes in the introduction to one chapter: "Give me vegetables, vegetables, and more vegetables. As a side dish, as the main course, as a solo player, as part of a symphony of wholesome gifts from the earth. Serve them hot, serve them cold, bathe them in olive oil and garlic, grill them, roast them, braise or saute them."
In our fast-paced world with little time for gourmet cooking, a countertop grill might be an even more welcome gift. For a quick meal, grills are as easy to use as a fry pan, but they are designed to let the grease drain away while preserving the dramatic flavors of grilled food.
Relaxation – In our fast-paced world, relaxation is important. Consider giving your true love – or friend – a gift certificate for a massage or a month of upgraded service at the health club, offering massage, whirlpool or sessions with a personal trainer.
Exercise – If your loved one likes to exercise, there are many health-oriented gifts to choose from:
- Exercise clothes.
- A heart rate monitor.
- Exercise mats, dumb bells and a bench, a balance ball.
But what if your gift recipient does not exercise? What you consider encouragement may well come off as nagging – which is definitely not part of the holiday spirit. A better way to encourage exercise may be through companionship: a hiking or canoeing trip together or nine holes of golf every weekend.
For the kids – Kids are easily pleased with gifts – well, sometimes. If you're trying to choose between a video game, CDs, a soccer ball, skateboard or tennis racquet, the healthy choice should be obvious. Why not give your child a gift that tells them to keep on being physically active?
As with adults, the best presents are often experiences which create a bond between the person who gives and the one who receives the gift. More important than what the gift costs is what it says.