What kinds of gifts are on your holiday shopping lists this year? Did you brave the crowds and venture out for Black Friday? I remember when Black Friday was the day after Thanksgiving, so-called because it kicked off the holiday shopping season and the day when retailers turned a profit, but it has been starting earlier and earlier each year and basically lasting until Christmas Day. Many merchants were proud to announce sales that began many days before the day after Thanksgiving. Did you do your part in supporting local merchants by shopping on Small Business Saturday? And in case we miss those opportunities or still have more to buy, there’s always catch the online sales on Cyber Monday. For whatever we want to argue the upcoming holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah represent, we cannot escape the commercialization of either holiday. Yet, aside from my black Traveler’s Company traveler’s notebook, which is beautifully embossed with my name and which was given to me by sons, I can hardly recall anything I received as a gift last Christmas or anything that I gave as a gift to anyone else. I am not against gift-giving, and, in fact, love giving gifts more than I love receiving them. And still, in the grand scheme of life, they bear little significance.
I have been grappling with the value of giving and receiving gifts, as I embrace the idea of minimalism and mindful consumption. Even with trying to be so thoughtful, it is often difficult for me to discern the gifts I get on a particular holiday from all of the other “stuff” purchased and consumed throughout the year. Perhaps, more importantly, gifts are never what I remember about any holiday. Are they really what matters to most people? Just the other day, Cormac, my younger son, pointed out that he loved the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He found the time leading up to Christmas to be exciting. He loves putting up decorations, preparing holiday food, sending and receiving Christmas cards, and listening to Christmas carols, which he requested we start playing the Saturday before Thanksgiving this year. He loves making a Christmas list and anticipating receiving a special gift or two. He loves getting or making something special for me, for his older brother, Aidan, and for our dog, Zelda. But then, he commented that Christmas Day, the day we all wait and prepare for, is a bit of a downer, rather anti-climatic, because all of our energy is focused on this one day and then, boom, just like that, it’s over in a flash, and what are we left with?
Often we are left with a bit more debt, a bit less money, and more stuff. But really what delights so many of us during the holidays are the rituals, the pageantry, and the traditions -- they are the magic of Christmas. Does it really matter what we exchange in those beautifully wrapped packages and boxes? I honestly think it is the least of what matters and not what really makes any of us happy or the world a better place. Then what would be better to give than material gifts, or perhaps, in addition to material gifts?
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having said, “The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all others, charity.” These are all gifts that require us to give of ourselves. They require us to live with an open heart, gracious spirit, and plenty of respect, both for ourselves and others. He could be right. I think the material gifts that we give around the holidays are often the least of what makes them special. We have far more to give than bottles of perfume and wool sweaters. When we give of ourselves, our time, our respect, our energy, our friendships, and our integrity, we make individual lives better and we make the world a better place.
My plans for giving in 2020 are based on my quest for a more meaningful life and align with Franklin’s thoughtful suggestions about giving. Perhaps you would like to consider them too. I plan to give or practice more of the following:
- My heart/Love
- Respect to others
- Model good behavior
- Respect to myself
- Be charitable
And, in addition to that, may we find more opportunities to gather with family and friends, more ways to add healthy and positive routines to our days, and more opportunities to celebrate the little things in life every single day.
From my family to yours, we wish you a wonderful winter holiday season and a life rich with celebration.