Dec 24, 2013

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Happy Holidays: A Look at Gift-Giving

Happy Holidays: A Look at Gift-Giving

Is it really Christmas Eve already?! How did this happen?! Oh yeah…. time just keeps on moving forward. And yet I’m still unclear if it is appropriate to say “Merry Christmas” anymore, or if I should choose the generic-yet-thoughtful “Happy Holidays” as I move about the world. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone, of course!

All joking aside, this time of year has its own unique flavor for each of us. Some are prone to depression or sadness, while others burst into Holiday Cheer. Some have fond memories of Christmas past, while others not so much. Many choose to go the traditional Christmas route, putting up lights, decorations, and getting a tree. Others, like our family, take a lighter approach to the holiday, focusing on spending time together as a family and having fun, while not really feeling a need for the other stuff. My view on this is like my view on life: There Is No One Right Way.

I wonder, though, if there are ways to approach this season that don’t work so well anymore; attitudes we take out of tradition or cultural programming, not necessarily practicality. The main tradition I see being twisted into an exhausted population is the idea of gift-giving. Now, I admit, I could write an extremely long post detailing the nature of transactions vs. unconditional love, the history of the Gift (did you know gift-giving is more present in prehistory than barter?), and even the origins of Yule (the original pagan Winter celebration prior to Christianity), but today is not that day. However, I’d still like to poke around a bit and take a look at where we might be coming from when “giving” a gift.

My husband and I have been together 11 years now, and we rarely buy each other gifts on designated holidays. Some people respond with a certain amount of shock to that fact, but it actually works really well for us. In the beginnings of the relationship we gave because we thought that’s what you’re supposed to do to let the person know you care about them (and how much!). Our first Christmas together he bought me a sweet little diamond necklace with diamond stud earrings. I could tell there was a lot of anxiety about the whole thing: would I like it? Is it my style? Did he spend enough to show he cares? Is it too soon for diamonds? I began wondering if all that anxiety was worth it!

To answer that question, I must admit something: I am finally at a place in my life where I can say I am grateful for my first marriage. It helped in throwing me so far away from myself – so far away from my own inner strength and confidence – that I now have heightened awareness when my life is heading even close to that direction. Now that I have experienced certain pains and dramas, no matter how uncomfortable it is in the moment I take the initiative and move through the pain, instead of hiding from it or arguing against it. After experiencing unhealthy relationship in many forms, I can catch myself and others before we head down that path. So when, after dating Adam for less than a year, I saw this anxiety surface, I had the awareness to notice it as something worth shifting. Thankfully, he was willing to take a look with me at what most people take for granted: we have a choice as to what traditions our family follows!

A decade or so later, and our way of doing (or not doing) gifts on the holidays continues to be a fit for us. It has given us the opportunity to reveal and heal cultural concepts that say anything like “Your ability to give me a great gift is equal to how much you love me.” It takes anxiety, guilt and shame out of our interactions with each other, leaving more space for love and presence. When we initially sat down to make this decision, the hardest part was the “what will everyone else think?” “Will people know we love them if we don’t buy them stuff when they expect it?” Well, they seem to. The Universe has a way of matching us up with people who get us (when we allow space to understand, love and accept ourselves!) – I am happy to report I have experienced no funkiness around our choice, and we feel free to give in other ways throughout the year.

Finally, I’d like to touch a bit on the child aspect of all of this, because mainly I have been focusing on the gift exchanges of adults. Personally, we do give the kids presents for Christmas, but not very many. Several years ago I sat down all three of my boys, and explained to them that we have decided to not do big gifts on holidays anymore. The good news, though, is that we will be less likely the rest of the year to deflect wants to Christmas and Birthdays! The way I see it, children develop and grow so quickly, and if my son is craving an item, there must be something in it for him right now. Why should he be told to wait until one of these designated gift-giving seasons? What if that is six months from now? Do you know how much a child’s needs change in six months?! So, instead of the rote response of, “You’ll have to wait until Christmas,” we can take each desire on a case-by-case basis, honoring the want that is going on today, as well as whatever financial state we are in at the moment. While it took a bit of adjusting, the kids seem to like it better, and haven’t missed the excessive gift-giving of past days.

In the end, I must ask us all: What Do We Really Want?

If what you want is Joy, does it have to come wrapped in a package?

If what you crave is Love, are you getting it driving around to 10 stores to buy gifts for people?

If what you desire is Connection, don’t you get more of that with presence than with presents?

Only you can answer these questions for yourself, and again, it isn’t about finding a right answer, but one that works for you and the people you tend to surround yourself with. A quick rule of thumb, though: if you feel guilt come up when you think about gift-giving, then you may want to adjust your traditions! True giving comes from the heart and is given freely (no guilt required, no strings attached) and received freely. Each one of us can make a difference in the world just by shining the light of awareness on our habits and beliefs around holiday giving and why we do it; then we are more free to shine the light of our Presence on those who matter most.

Happy Holidays from me, Starr! As usual, I would love to hear your about your thoughts – and traditions – below.



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