Why Do Gifts Matter?


To Give Or Not To Give…That’s the Question.


In this era of rampant consumerism, where more is always better, have you ever paused to re-consider your stance on holiday gift-giving?

Current trends like minimalism encourage giving experiences, or even opting out of the process completely.  The majority of us, however, go merrily along spending, wrapping, and exchanging in a frenzied cycle.  I’ve often wondered if there’s a middle ground between gifting overwhelm and abandoning the practice entirely.  

While most of us acknowledge that people are more important than things, this exchange of physical objects still plays a huge role in our relationships.  Author Gary Chapman actually identifies Gifts as one of the ways that human beings prefer to express and receive love.  

Indeed, my youngest daughter’s primary love language is Gifts.  Like most mothers of little ones, I received countless tokens of affection—plucked dandelions, crayon drawings, scribbled notes, and shiny baubles found on the playground.  Moreover, she relished receiving these types of mementos in return.  A penny shined to coppery perfection, an elegantly smooth rock, a tiny animal-shaped eraser, or an unexpected piece of chewing gum would elicit huge grins and hugs.  What seemed to matter most was the idea that someone had been thinking of her, and simply took the time to show it.  


Why Do We Give Gifts?


For someone with an ardent desire or an urgent need, gifts can be incredibly gratifying.  For the giver, witnessing joy and delight on the recipient’s face holds just as much meaning.  

The reasons for gift-giving tend to be rooted in both religion and ritual.  Many holidays such as Christmas and Hanukkah are associated with gift giving, and some include the tradition in their narratives (the tale of the Three Wise Men).  Beyond that, exchanging gifts is often a deeply held family custom or a habit among friends and coworkers. 

However, certain situations can arise that cause us to question the practicality of this annual exchange of resources.  For example, some folks are tricky to buy for or prefer to choose their own possessions.  Others find freedom in simplifying, and no longer wish to accumulate more stuff.  My in-laws regularly request only consumables or gift cards to their favorite restaurants, as they’ve long since down-sized to a comfortably small condo.  

Yet the expectation of gifts this time of year is rarely questioned, and so the meaning behind the present can be easily lost during the harried holiday season.  


What Are Your Intentions For Giving?


Spare a minute to think about how closely your desire to show appreciation or affection matches up with the experience of giving:

Pile of presents under the tree.

  • As you sit to make up your shopping list—scribbling down ideas, stores, and budgets—do you pause to consider the intention behind each gift?


  • As you shop and purchase, wrap and deliver each present, do you cherish the time spent, or struggle through the additional holiday stress?  


  • How often does your giving fall into a routine—either from a sense of obligation or reciprocation?  


We all want to honor and appreciate those who have touched our lives.  Consumerism and busy schedules encourage us to buy a tangible item as the easy choice.  But is it always the best choice?

Before giving this year, what if you truly considered your intentions for the occasion…

What message do you want your gift to impart?

I love you.

I value you.

I’m a good gift-er.

I know you so well.

I want you to be happy.

You deserve the finest money can buy.  


Do Our Gifts Reflect the Recipients’ Needs?


Presents tend to look shiny when newly wrapped, filled with the promise of adding delight and convenience to our lives.  Yet how often have you received something coveted, only to realize that it wasn’t the quick fix you imagined?

Here’s a list of questions to ponder before spending money in the stores this holiday season:   

  • Is this the best fit for the person receiving it?
  • How was it made?  How long will it last?
  • Who benefits from the sale (small business or box chain)?
  • Where will it ultimately end up?  Do they have space for it?
  • How much maintenance does it require? 
  • What are the time and energy costs to using it? 


When you’re selecting a gift for someone else, it is essential to differentiate between something you’d be happy to receive versus something that would hold real meaning for them.  

Here are three key points to remember when evaluating ideas:

  • Is it something this person really wants or needs?
  • Will they find value in it?
  • How could I make it more meaningful?


Giving gifts can be a rich experience or an obligatory habit.  Don’t cut the most important person (the recipient) out of the process by failing to consider what matters to them.  


What If You Want To Scale Back Your Gift Giving?

The best gifts are not things.


Spend a little time looking back at your childhood holidays… 

  • What was your most cherished gift?  
  • Your favorite holiday memory?  
  • What did you look forward to as a kid?


Once you’ve got a sense of your treasured past and your hoped for future, clarify your reasons for scaling back—a tight budget; desire for less stress; more time to enjoy seasonal pleasures; or the longing for a simple holiday.  

Growing up with my sister, we loved taking turns opening the tiny matchbox containers of our hanging Advent calendar, and singing along to Christmas carols.  I also cherish the memory of vacationing with my girls for a weekend in the White Mountains–bundling them under warm blankets for their first sleigh ride.  Ultimately, I want our holidays to be about enjoying classic Christmas movies, decorating the tree with beloved ornaments, and spending time together without an agenda or someplace to go.  

When you’re already a part of a fixed tradition of giving, though, it can be challenging to make changes.  There’s a lot of worry about what people will think, if they’ll feel slighted or unloved…

It’s best to find a quiet, uninterrupted time to talk with family and friends about how you’d like to celebrate the season differently this year.  Be open to their feelings (which might not be as enthusiastic as yours), and be willing to take the changes slowly.  

Of course, the time to have those difficult conversations is early, well before the holidays are even in the dreams of retailers.   So making significant changes might be something you plan for next year’s holiday season.  


How Can You Reconnect With The Spirit Of Giving?  

Wrapping a gift by candlelight.


Very few of us want to eliminate gifts all together.  Sometimes exchanging them is just plain fun.  So what can you do to make it more meaningful?

Consider the why behind your gift, and then seek out alternate ways to express your love without breaking the bank or drowning in a sea of wrapping paper.

  • If the holidays have religious significance for you, perhaps you can share your faith in quiet testimonial or a community-based service.  
  • If this season is about helping those in need, volunteer your time or donate to a charity dear to your loved one’s heart.
  • If you cherish family memories and quality time, gift experiences that you can share—activities everyone loves or adventures you’ve been longing to try.  
  • If the tastes and smells of the season call to you, make your own baking mixes and soup starters, or scented candles and bath salts.  
  • If you simply want the spirit of the holidays to be about more than what’s inside a box, make the time to tell people how much they mean to you.  A personal note or words from the heart are often all it takes…and they will be treasured forever.  


How Will Gifts Fit Into Your Holiday?


For your weekly Small Step, reflect on last year’s festivities…

Did they lean more towards excitement and joy, or stress and obligation?

Remember to think about not just the actual date, but the weeks leading up to the event, as well as how your time and energy was spent.  Allow a few moments of silence to relive the experience.

Then ask yourself:

How could I make this year’s gift giving more meaningful?  


Your Small Step might involve fewer gifts.  This year, I’ve told my daughters there are only three presents under the tree from Mom & Dad.  Instead of a laundry list of the latest fads, I want them to prioritize and ask for meaningful things—gifts which will bring lasting pleasure.

Maybe you’re not changing how much you buy, but you want to improve the quality and value of what you do give.  For years, my father would make simple, dime-store type of requests.  I used to feel frustrated that he wouldn’t ask for something more significant, giving me a chance to celebrate him as the wonderful man and father he is.  

Finally, I realized that getting him what he wanted was the best gift for the holidays, and I put all my energy into making it special.  The time he asked for a back-scratcher because of his limited shoulder mobility, I knew he meant the simple, five-dollar plastic variety.  It was my choice to search out an oak version with a leather wrapped handle.  Even though he still got exactly what he asked for, I wanted the quality to reflect my love and gratitude for all he’s done for me.  


What Are Your Gift Intentions?


I invite you to share your intentions for gift giving this year, to help us all remember what’s important before we set foot in the mall or click on a cyber-deal.  

No matter where your giving falls on the spectrum of simplicity to extravaganza, make sure that it not only respects your finances, but also your true feelings about what gifts mean to you and those you love this holiday season.  

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