To kids, the first week of January signals an end worthy of mourning. It is the end of holiday break from school; the end of a five-week stretch of special foods like turkey with cranberry sauce, eggnog, gingerbread cookies, candy canes and fudge; but most of all, it is the end of the gifts. The year will be punctuated at some point with birthday gifts, but really it is a year until the next bonanza of toys, iPod credits, and cash.
As an adult my emphasis has shifted from receiving to giving. Yet I do not participate in December gift exchanges, even with loved ones. I have grown to resent the forced giving sans inspiration represented by Christmas. I see so much stress involved in the last-minute brainstorm to identify and purchase a personalized gift. For parents who can enumerate, but not afford, a dozen things their child would love, the stress is in the budgeting. For people who feel obligated to give to the person who has it all, the stress is in the creativity.
I have nothing against providing gifts; I do it all the time. I wish I had an unlimited budget just for giving. But I only give when I am inspired. I don’t give presents at Christmas and I urge those in my orbit to refrain from giving to me. I give throughout the year. I have a knack for remembering details, and this helps me make connections when I see something months after a friend has told me she is now interested in such a thing. I keep notes about my friends. With a notepad on my smartphone, it’s effortless. I buy little things when the mood hits me, but despite multiple gifts to multiple people, I don’t exceed what would have been my Christmas budget, because I give meaningful but inexpensive or free gifts. $3.99 here, $11.25 there. A friend has announced her 2014 resolution to floss every day. At some point I will send her some bubblegum-flavored kids floss to motivate her. Later in the year I may come across a humorous reminder of her resolution and I will buy it. Not necessarily a trendy gift, but considerate; It shows that I listened to her. I once left an anonymous jar of borscht on a co-worker’s desk to restore his pluck in a mid-year lull. Not that he’s Ukrainian or terribly fond of beets, but just to inspire one of those WTF moments that gives us a pause from the troubles at hand. Sometimes my gift is just sharing a resource, such as web page that inspires (Brain Pickings, elephant journal, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, GPS for the Soul, Dogster).
Making Christmas the de facto Season of Giving is like saying “I love you” only on your anniversary. Listen to your loved ones. Know what delights them, and you will recognize the perfect gift when you least expect it. If you have the fortitude to hide that gift until December 25 (I do not), you will have achieved both the spirit of thoughtful gift-giving and the letter of Christmas law. I prefer to give year-round. The unanticipated nature of a spontaneous gift makes an even bigger impression than giving as part of the annual ritual. It fills my heart to provide these gifts and it’s my hope that the recipients feel the love without distraction from the stress and shallow nature of forced holiday giving. Christmas can carry itself on fellowship alone and my holidays have not been diminished by shunning the gifting process. I encourage others to start a new tradition in 2014. It may be impossible for parents and grandparents to stop giving at Christmas, but acknowledging the value of giving based on inspiration rather than a date on the calendar is meaningful for all ages.