My name is Pa and all I want for Christmas is a desk. Please PLEASE bring me a desk and I swear I will never EVER ask for another thing.
P.S. Thank you!
Or at least that’s what I think I wrote to Santa in fifth grade. I didn’t have an envelope or a stamp and couldn’t bring myself to ask Dad for either of those things because they were so precious in our household. So I did what any creative ten-year-old would do. I made an envelope out of a piece of paper. I drew a stamp onto the corner of the envelope, colored it in, and hoped the mailman wouldn’t notice it was fake. Then I walked the letter down to the mailbox and listened to it slide to the bottom of the outgoing box with a thunk.
I’m sad to say I waited all Christmas for that desk but never got it. In fact, I stopped believing in Santa that year, but I never stopped believing in the magic of Christmas. Because of the lights and the music and the hot drinks, this is the only season when I actually feel like hugging people (LOL). But, IAH (in all honesty), the magic is really about the act of giving itself, and that’s why I’m changing the way I’m giving gifts.
Consumerism stole Christmas
The stores and sales have got the best of most of us, don’t you think? The need to buy, buy, buy is strong. How can it not be? We’re bombarded with advertisements on TV, on the radio, while passing through downtown. Our social media feeds are full of top ten, twenty, thirty lists of the best gifts for him or her under $50. The pressure to get the perfect gift sends droves of people to the mall, Alex and I included.
I left him alone to look for a gift for his dad, and when I came back twenty minutes later, his shoulders were droopy, the color had drained from his face, and in his eyes I saw the tired look of someone who had given up. “All of this stuff makes me sick,” he said.
There was a lot of stuff. And the worst part? Everyone was going through this stuff, trying to find the perfect gift. At one point, I kept seeing the same three people circling the store--like I was doing, actually--like birds of prey looking for their next meal.
“The truth is,” Alex continued, “we’re all just playing a guessing game. We don’t really know if they’ll like our gift or not.”
He began to point at items in the store. A $10 game set. A $19 Bluetooth speaker. An $8 pair of stripy Christmas socks. “All a waste of money,” he muttered before asking that we leave because he couldn’t breathe in that store anymore.
We ended up finding a small gift that neither of us were super excited about. We left there with disappointment in our chests and a nasty taste in our mouths, but on the drive home, Alex said, “Well, it’s not about the gift itself. It’s about the act.” And I do believe he’s right.
Three gifts that are all about the act
Here are three gifts that I’ve started giving since my late 20’s. At first it was mostly because I didn’t have any money (credit cards and grad school loan payments were kicking my butt), but as it turned out, these gifts saved my belief in the magic of Christmas.
The gift of time
Every year, gifts get shinier and more expensive. There’s always a new gadget to play with, a wider TV, a phone with a better camera or more storage. When I have no money, when there are no gifts coming, the next best thing to give is time. An evening cooking, a board game night (Pictionary is my family’s go-to), a day playing in the snow. Sometimes, just being in each other’s presence is enough.
And not just being in each other’s presence, but being present. Keeping the phone out of our hands. Unplugging from the machine and connecting to the people around us. Really taking in the smell of cinnamon rolls, our loved ones’ laughter, and the warmth that the light of a Christmas tree lends a whole living room.
The gift of meaning
I don’t hide the fact that Alex and I are not rich. In fact, we’re living paycheck to paycheck and trying to be as careful as possible with our finances (even a midnight splurge on ice cream is a no no). That means this time of year sucks. There. I said it. It really sucks.
But it also means the days when we just buy the first thing (or things, YIKES) we see are long gone. We have to put effort and thought into our gifts. For me that means either making gifts or thinking outside the box about gifts. Maybe picking a candle to remind someone of home. Maybe a Christmas ornament that I spent weeks stitching together. Maybe a box of candy they haven’t had since they were a kid.
When giving a gift of meaning, the physical gift itself is just the “box” in which the real gift is delivered.
The gift of experience
I have six siblings and every Christmas, I give each of them a $10 gift card to the movies. In Chico, we can still see a movie for $5 on $5 Tuesdays. I know this gift never disappoints because there’s always a big movie out during Christmas, and it doesn’t matter whether or not you felt it was any good. What matters is that you got to see the movie so you can discuss your point with everyone else. To me this gift transcends $10.
When we got home from shopping, Alex went straight to the bathroom and washed his hands. He said it was because everything he touched in the store had been touched by hundreds of other people, but I think it’s something else. You see, I washed my hands, too, and even though it was because of germs, it was also because I wanted to remove the stain of consumerism.
Maybe one way to fight consumerism is to return to a more simple way of giving. This Christmas, whether or not Santa is the bringer of gifts in your family, I encourage you to consider what it means to give. Then ask yourself whether the gifts you are giving align with your meaning.
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