Just in case you have not noticed: Christmas is around the corner. Years ago, my Christmas gift-giving approach was a lot different from now. Sometimes, I felt obligated to give material items to attempt to make up for the time I didn’t spend with people I love. Usually, little thought went into it because I felt obligated to give anything, just for the sake of giving. I purchased gifts without asking questions such as: What is the purpose behind giving this particular gift? Will the recipient find value in this gift? Is this something they need? I bring all this up because we’re on the precipice of consumption season. That time of year when all the stores and all the brands and all the websites rely on us to buy shit-loads of shit for both ourselves and our people.
Because of this, I changed how I handle gift-giving. I tend to avoid physical gifts. I love to give gifts of experience, or, if I give material things, I give consumables, such as a bottle of wine, cheese, coffee, chocolate or homemade chocolate liqueur. For me, it should be something someone can use, or, if it is an experience, it is a memory that can be shared: concert/movie/theater tickets and such. A great gift is also an evening spend together cooking, talking in the kitchen, while enjoying a bottle of wine out of new wine glasses. It sounds cliché until you actually do it, and then you will realize how awesome it is. The simple things.
How I make Christmas and shopping more meaningful: I avoid big shopping weekends to buy things (Black Friday etc.). Overall, for many, consumption is an unquenchable thirst and retailers and manufacturers know this too well. I rather support local businesses, friends, and people in my community and those who make a difference. If you could receive only one Christmas present this year, what would it be? The answer for me is simple: time. Another great gift is presence. You see, the people I care about and love mean much more to me than a fancy gadget and things.
Ultimately, it comes down to setting the appropriate expectations with the people in my life. Yes, gift-giving is a common practice in our society. Yes, many people, friends, coworkers, family expect us to hand out gifts on holidays. And yes, it is difficult to deviate from this inveterate tradition, especially in today’s consumer-driven, heavily mediated world in which our adequacy is constantly questioned. I made my intentions and expectations known to friends and family and explained why I am making the decisions I make. The people who love me support the choices I make, whether that’s choosing not to participate in gift-giving, or gifting alternatively and creatively.
Love and to be loved is what everybody really wants.
“I love you – see, here is this expensive shiny necklace I bought you”– someone I thought I knew.
Do you want to know a secret? It is support, not gift-giving, that is the hallmark of love. As soon as Christmas is over, Valentine’s Day is around the corner and stores are filled with love things and hearts. Gift-giving is not a love-languages. The idea that we can commodify love is nauseating. Sometimes I get the feeling that people give gifts to show their love because they are troubled by real love. Buying diamonds is not evidence of everlasting devotion, commitment or trust. Love is not a transaction; love is transcendent.
“Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. To love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.” – Jonathan Franzen
Obligatory gift-giving isn’t surrendering yourself to someone; it’s surrendering to consumerism and the status quo. Again, this doesn’t mean there’s something necessarily wrong with buying a gift for someone. But we should not fool ourselves by associating that gift with true love. Love doesn’t work that way. Instead of thinking of love as some sort of abstruse emotion, I think of it as an action verb (language nerd). If I want to show my love for others, I must do so with my actions. Creating great experiences for the most important people in my life by gifting experiences instead of stuff is a great place to start.