With my oldest son getting married at the end of the year we announced that gifts would come in the form of cash to be spent on that trip surrounding the marriage and not in pretty, wrapped presents under the tree. I’m not sure who that is harder for–me or them. I’m a gift giver from way back.
My youngest son (18) at first claimed this was a cruel entry into adulthood. Depressing, was the word choice. But that conversation has evolved throughout the month. He’s become very aware of the commercialism of Christmas/Hanukkah and has evolved his consciousness. He has become aware of the stress surrounding the holidays. It’s been amazing to watch his awareness expand.
What I’ve noticed is he’s right–about the stressful part. Since I started working at 15 (when I had 3 jobs), I’ve bought what I’ve learned is an abnormal amount of gifts every Christmas. I’m an over-giver from way back. In my teens, I always put WAY more thought into giving gifts than my peers did. I didn’t realize it until the moment of exchange and then had this feeling like, “Ok. I may have overdone it–again.”
It’s hard in your teens to find the balance between giving and receiving equally well. Hell, many adults don’t ever get that down. I watch my son’s teen friends struggle with wanting to get gifts for people they love and not having the money to do it. This expectation weighs heavy on them as they watch all the motions around them painting the picture of what giving looks like. You know. The Jared Jeweler guy who has a happy family because he gives good gifts that makes his wife love him. It puts so much pressure on them to get it exactly right whatever “it” is. The focus becomes this “it” and the accumulation of more stuff and the whole Truth and Love get placed on the back burner due to the hustle it takes to attempt (and never really reach) that mirage of perfection.
In adulthood, the same issue lingers. On average, I purchase around 100 gifts, wrap them, and either put them under the tree or deliver them. I love doing it, as gifts are my love language. I love getting them. I love giving them. My favorite thing is finding the exact perfect gift for someone that they didn’t even think of themself. I love to watch the excitement on their face. Equally, I love getting those types of gifts that shows the person giving it knows me an inch more than I know myself. I still live in the shadow of gift giving perfectionism.
So not giving gifts with bows does not come easy for me even now. I think about it every day. But here’s the thing I’ve noticed. I have been freed up in time for other forms of giving. For example, I’m not a huge cooking enthusiast, but I’m keenly aware others enjoy it when I do it. One of those fans is my youngest son. He’s been wanting a turkey. Last Sunday, I started with a fresh turkey from the local butcher, my husband’s mom’s homemade applesauce, peanut butter and chocolate chip homemade cookies, baked beets, marinated mushrooms, scalloped potatoes, stuffing, fresh green beans, and homemade gravy. Did I mention I overdo? This meal, one that wasn’t full of expectation or ritual but rather just me playing in the kitchen and pouring love into my family’s favorite dishes, nourished me far more than when it’s expected in Hallmark holiday form.
I find myself less tolerant of these illusions each year. As we were driving home from dinner last night, we had a great conversation about the commercialization of Christmas. We talked about the Truth behind the holidays. A friend was dropping a gift off for my son and we talked about being able to receive without having to feel a giving obligation in return. He said it was really hard for him and I knew immediately what he meant. During the month I had people give me gifts and, practicing my “other types of gifts” Christmas, I didn’t have a bag to hand back. We talked about the receiving part and how that is equally important to learn.
In the end, this Christmas for us has been about focusing on what’s important, paying attention to relaxing and side-stepping holiday stress, learning the balance between giving and receiving and how both are equally important to master.
This has been the best present not under the tree.