Thursday, November 18, 2010
On one hand, I can't believe I'm already blogging about Christmas (I'm one of those purists who refuses to decorate or listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving) but with the stores' Christmas promotions already in full swing, it feels like the right time to say a few words about Christmas presents.
Seriously, one of my favorite parts of the holiday is wrapping presents, and since Kate has arrived on the scene, I have LOVED buying gifts for her. Partially, she's just so much fun to buy for, but it's also that it doesn't feel so superfluous shopping for her. She grows out of clothes quickly, so I don't feel bad about buying her new clothes (though I'll almost never pay full price). No, she doesn't absolutely NEED new toys aimed at her exact developmental stage, but she "needs" them a lot more than Matt or I (or most other adults we know) need anything.
And that's what gets me. The pressure to wrack my brain to find gifts for people who don't need anything. The knowledge that other people are wracking their brains to find gifts for Matt and I.
I'm not saying we should do away with gift giving. Yes, it's a commercial and consumeristic twist on a religious holiday celebrating the birth of someone who had nothing and no place to lay his head. (My favorite line from the new sitcom Outsourced, in which an Indian customer service rep balks at an American novelty mistletoe belt buckle: "This is how you celebrate the birthday of the son of your God?") But gift-giving is also a special tradition that--at its best--emphasizes selflessness and generosity toward others.
I just worry that the cultivation of generosity is being replaced by social pressure: we feel we have to give something, so we find just anything to give.
I hate that feeling, and I hate the idea that others might have that feeling on my account. So, there are several ways that I can think of to combat the "urge to splurge":
1. Don't buy just to buy.
It's fun to see a huge pile of pretty packages under the tree, and (if you have any clue what to get them) it can be fun to shop for other people. I love stumbling upon something and thinking "oh, this would be perfect for so-and-so." But if there's not much that the other person needs or really wants, don't buy things just because you think you "should." I haven't got any great ideas for Matt this year, but I know he shares my values on this issue and will understand if I give a goat through Heifer rather than buying him a sweater. (Still hoping for a good idea, though :0)
2. Don't compare the cost.
This one actually has two applications: a) don't compare the amount you're spending on one person to how much you spend on another. This will just lead to meaningless "add-ons" to one person's gift to make it equal to another's. (I hear siblings can be picky about this as kids, but I think adults can look at the big picture.) And b) don't compare the amount you think someone else will spend on you. People have different budgets, different gifting styles, etc.--and that's okay. No one should feel pressured to spend beyond their budget.
3. Follow the "want/need/wear/read" guideline.
I've heard about some families that give a certain number of gifts to each person, one gift per category: something they want (a toy, a necklace), something they need (socks, a new hard drive), something they can wear, and something to read. This is a nice way to keep spending under control and--for families with kids worried about such things--to keep things fairly equal.
4. Give to those who DO need it.
There are people in need year-round, of course, but in this season so marked by shopping and giving, it is a natural fit to make giving to those people not just an afterthought but an essential part of your celebration. Budget for your gifting to the various toy drives and agencies that ask for year-end contributions just as you would budget for gifts for your family. Shopping and wrapping are part of the joy of the season, even if not all the gifts end up under your own tree.
How do you approach Christmas gift-giving? Do you have any tricks or traditions to keep gift-giving meaningful and heartfelt in your family?