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Cercis: No Seasons nor Reasons Required

While there are established times of the year that get officially branded as “gift-giving seasons,” or those special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, and showers) that get special Hallmark attention, I grew up with a different tradition of gift-giving: the treasured tradition of cercis. My mother hails from the low country of South Carolina, but she attended college in the state’s midlands in Columbia before moving to upstate, where she raised my sister and me. And somewhere between the Atlantic and the Appalachians, she encountered the cerci tradition (also spelled circe, circi, sercy, searcy, surcy, surcee, and infinite other variations, but consistently pronounced sur-see) and, lucky for me, she passed this custom along to her daughters.

You may be wondering where such a word originates, as it has a very different twang from other Southern-ese, like “fixin’ to” and “y’all.” It’s something you might associate more with a white-gloved debutante than say someone with a bottom lip full of smokeless (not that the two are mutually exclusive). As for the word’s origins, there are a lot of rumors and speculation– another area the South excels at, some might say (bless their hearts). There is a private all-girls college in Columbia, SC that has a long history with the tradition, but it doesn’t seem they actually created the cerci phenomenon. Some linguists, namely Joan Hall, editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English (aka DARE), make a connection to the Scottish word “sussie” (to care, to take trouble, to bother oneself), which in turn is derived from the French word “souci” (care, trouble). Some connect the word to the Irish that settled in the South. Personally, I do sense something French-like about the word, but seeing as three semesters of Latin does not a linguist make, I’ll leave that mystery to the word detectives.

In order for a gift to qualify as a cerci, it must, first of all, be a surprise. Secondly, it must be something small and somewhat inexpensive, but thoughtful. Generally cercis are given as a thank you for something the recipient helped you with or as a “just because” present– something you see randomly that makes you think of someone so strongly and instantly that you are magnetically drawn to connect that person to that object via the magic of the cerci without waiting for a birthday or hallmark holiday. Examples of cercis I have received include mittens that display the words “over here” when you wave, a box of dark chocolate caramels (always a solid choice), and a small hand-carved wooden spoon from India (the handle is a bird head, so it looks like I have a feathered friend nesting in my tea cup, which always makes me smile). Generally when you thank the giver, the response is “oh, no thanks needed- it’s just a little cerci!”

Non-southerners are often puzzled when they encounter this tradition, but many quickly adopt it once the cultural shock wears off. The south isn’t the only place you will find a culture-specific tradition in regards to gift-giving. In Zanzibar, there are many different gifting traditions intertwined in Swahili culture, and the term zawadi or gifty is used similarly to cerci. In the Netherlands, surpriseavond is a Sinterklaas (Christmas) party held on the evening of December 5th, prior to which names are drawn out of a hat. People must either make a homemade present or buy an inexpensive present called a surprise (spelled like the English surprise, but pronounced ‘sur-pree-zuh’) for the person they drew. Usually the sur-preee-zuhs are connected to a favorite hobby or treat and are wrapped up very dramatically and generally humorously. However, the most treasured part of the surpriseavond is the original poem (Sinterklaasgedicht) that must accompany each gift, which is read out loud at the party, often as a funny riddle about what’s inside the ridiculous packaging.

What special giving traditions do you practice and how did you come by them?

p.s. Looking for a cerci for someone in your life? Check out our special “Gifts for Celebrating” section!

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Chicks in Flight

Between business travel, vacation, and family/friend visits, we chicks are on the move. And we need items in our life that prevent our feathers from becoming ruffled in route, from hectic holiday travel to the bimonthly work trip. While we have no control over the traffic on the beltway, delayed flights, or missed trains, we can at least show up packed perfectly for the potentially perfect trip. The universe will take it from there.

Blogfessional: packing is not my strongest suit (by a really longshot). So over the years, I’ve paid close attention to friends of mine who are the quintessential queens of the road– their suitcases are always ready to put on display at Macy’s or say a TSA checkpoint. I have sadly little original wisdom to share with you, other than the golden rule of always double-bagging shampoos, sunscreens, and other sticky liquids in ziplocks (I’ve never regretted throwing in an extra ziplock). However, I have accumulated some knowledge for you from TWK (those who know– hey, if teenyboppers can make up acronyms so can I)! :-p

  • Technology is your friend. Friends of mine and their four children are, like me, serious bibliophiles. Pre-iWorld, they used to lug suitcases of books across the country– and even the Atlantic– on their family vacations. Thanks to Kindles and iPads, they no longer have to hold up the baggage check-in line while they shuffle books between suitcases to avoid weight overages and the related surcharges (the Harry Potter years must have been especially challenging, hey?). Now they can preload library downloads (audiobooks and ebooks) on tablets before they take off on their adventures– it’s always a smart idea to start a road trip or airport journey with a fully charged e-reader fully loaded with on-the-go entertainment! Also if you are driving, it’s smart to look ahead via the GPS or google maps to figure out your stops—it gives you something to look forward to and helps breaks up the trip (coffee-aficionados, I’m looking at you: be you a Dunkin-roo or a Buckster, I know you gotta get that fix, for all our sakes).
  • Layers are also your friend. They are, in fact, your forever friend. My sister-in-law never leaves for a trip without her black pashmina—it matches everything, is easy to throw on and off, can be bawled up for sleep if you forget your neck pillow, and fits easily in your carry-on. Going between hemispheres and very different climates, I’ve had to walk through a summertime airport in a ski jacket that wouldn’t fit in my carry-on; however, I was so glad to have it at my fingertips when I was deplaning in sub-30 snowy weather on the other side. Raincoats, flashlights, and umbrellas are also on my “friend list.”
  • For a road trip, beach trip, or even as your carry-on, you can’t beat a great tote bag. Lands’ End, L.L. Bean, and Thirty-One, for example, all make monogrammable totes in different sizes and colors. Some are open on the top, some zip. I’m sure you can find one that will be just perfect for you.
  • Hydration on the go: One of my NYC friends uses a platypus water bottle that she can empty and roll up for travel, then refill on the other side of the security gates. They can be tricky to clean, but at least you know TSA isn’t going to confiscate your favorite water bottle. Plus they take up very little space when rolled up and not in use.
  • Toiletries and Jewelry: Nothing worse than getting to where you are going to discover your jewelry is in an impossible knot or that your toiletries are spread throughout so many different pieces of luggage you have no idea where anything wound up. For this, you can find some great organizers here on this site: there’s an insert for keeping your purse or briefcase organized, a weekend or vacation jewelry case, make-up and toiletry cases, and even a lingerie-specific tote.
  • For the mommies: Small clear or mesh zip bags so you can pack the whole family in one suitcase. If you have wee ones, ditch the stroller and go for the baby-wearing technique for air travel so you have your hands free (same idea as bringing a backpack instead of a wheelie bag). It can be very hard to navigate airports with a stroller, and most resorts have them for you to borrow or rent. If you are visiting family or friends, hopefully they can just ask the neighbor for their spare stroller.

Now it’s your turn to educate me! What are your go-to tricks of the travel trade?