this season of giving

Several years back, Kris and I both tired of the focus on gifts during the Christmas season.  We have the good fortune not to lack for ‘stuff’.  We didn’t like the way the emphasis seemed to be more on shopping, stuff, and consumption – and not on the spirit of giving (rather than the spirit of shopping).

We discussed some alternatives with other family members.  One idea considered was establishing a low price cap on gifts.  This idea was roundly disliked, because it meant that were you to find the ‘perfect’ gift that exceeded this limit, you couldn’t get it.  While this would limit the consumer-focus to our holiday (and require some imagination when shopping), it sort of skirted the issue – limiting but not eliminating the buying.

Another idea was to give only things that we’d made.  While very consistent with the spirit of the holiday, not everyone is confident in their gift-making abilities.  In my own case, I don’t know how many years I would have been able to get away with giving framed photographs to family members.  And since I don’t draw or knit, my options from there are currently a bit limited.  It also presented some logistical issues for family members travelling – not everything handmade will travel well.

What the adults began doing last year was for each of us to identify a cause significant to us, and give them a gift on behalf of the family.  On Christmas morning, each of us shares what the cause is, and why it speaks to us.  This feels very consistent with the spirit of the holiday, it has the benefit of helping people less fortunate, and it lets each of us share these thoughts with the family.

From my standpoint, this makes the holiday more about hope.  That’s one of the greatest gifts you can give, isn’t it?

From year to year the causes vary – which affords us the opportunity to gain understanding of a broader set of issues that we care about as a family.  I thought about sharing some of the causes to illustrate this point, but part of me wants to keep this part private, so as not to encourage comparison or judgment of these things.  Different things speak to each of us, and that means we all get to learn from each other.

The kids still get traditional gifts, but more and more, they’re shifting to making things for us or for each other – pieces of art, or photo albums.

These changes have felt very nice.  The acting of giving like this requires us to think about what we value, and how to put these feelings into words and actions.


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