By Phyllis Kennemer
Does gift giving cause you stress during the holiday season? Could it be that you are caught up in “rules” for gifts that produce anxiety and may no longer be serving you? Take a few minutes to reflect about the following tenets of gift giving and consider your own “rules.” Perhaps it is time to think about changes that could increase your enjoyment of the upcoming season.
Rules of Gift Giving
Rule 1: Reciprocity – Get a gift; give a gift.
Do you feel like every gift you receive demands a gift in return? Suppose your neighbor brings you a plate of homemade cookies. Do you accept this sweet treat and thank her sincerely or do you go into a tailspin because her kind gesture was unexpected and you do not have a gift for her? Do you rush out and buy a box of candy to take to her the next day?
Rule 2: Equality – Price tags must match.
How do you feel when you give a friend a gift that is relatively inexpensive and she gives you one that obviously cost twice as much? Are you embarrassed? Do you apologize? Do you start thinking about something you can get to supplement what you have decided looks like a skimpy gift on your part?
Rule 3: Perpetual Gift Exchanges – Once begun, never undone.
Let’s say that when you lived in a home in Loveland, you exchanged Christmas gifts with a neighbor. The next year, you send this former neighbor a box of salt water taffy from your new home in Salt Lake City. The recipient of this gift immediately puts the reciprocity rule into effect and sends you fudge from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. The cycle keeps repeating year after year, even though you no longer have any other contact with this person.
Rule 4: The List without End – Come one, come all.
As families and social groups grow, where does the gift giving stop? It seems that everyone loves giving gifts to babies and small children. We send books and toys and games to grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews, grand nieces and nephews – but these babies eventually become teenagers. Is there an age when gift giving is no longer meaningful? And it is not just children we add to our lists as family relationships expand. What about husbands and wives of siblings? Sometimes our gift giving even extends to unrelated in-laws. What will you give the parents of your daughter-in-law this year?
Changing the Consciousness of Gifting
Let’s consider how this whole tradition of gift giving began. Most sources agree that the concept of Christmas gifts originated with the Magi who visited the baby Jesus soon after his birth. The Bible provides very little information about these men. They are mentioned in just a few verses in the book of Matthew. Scholars have speculated about where these visitors came from, their ages, and even the actual number of people who arrived. But one thing is certain, these men did not bring their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for any of the reasons mentioned above. Their gifts were presented in a sense of honor and respect. They did not expect the baby Jesus or his parents to give them anything in return.
Those of us who continue in the tradition of holiday gifts might want to consider the wisdom of these first offerings. Do our gifts reflect honor and respect for the recipient? The real purpose of gift giving is to celebrate the joy these people bring into our lives. When we make our gift selection with thoughts of what we like best about the recipient, we are more likely to choose a cherished gift, regardless of the price.
Remember that it truly is “the thought that counts.” A thoughtful gift giver is observant. When visiting in a friend’s home, she notes the preference of colors in the décor, the towels in the bathroom, the book on the end table. When shopping together, she notices styles and accessories that cause her companion to stop and exclaim. When having a meal together, she makes a mental note of foods her friend really enjoys. This attentive gift buyer will have many ideas as the holiday season approaches.
We want our gifts to reflect a celebration of the joy in our friendships and relationships. We want the receivers to feel a sense of our honor and respect for them. When this happens, the gratitude they express will be sincere, because the gift is “perfect.” Will this be the holiday season that you release your perceived rules of gift giving and enter into the delight of choosing thoughtful gifts for the people you really care about?