Years ago, I began to observe the holidays with little participation. Up until then, I was fairly typical, excited to get gifts, excited to give them, suffering from great disappointment when someone showed little care, and ultimately feeling depressed after the holidays because the exciting time was over and it was back to the mundane for a whole year.
I think it started when I realized that all the people who gave me gifts did so out of duty rather than out of care. I realized that not receiving gifts would be better than receiving half hearted gifts, so I chose to remove myself from the process as much as possible.
A turning point was a gift I had requested one year after several years of not wanting anything specific (and being given money). I had asked for a very specific item and I was really excited to be able to use it... ideally the same day as received. The day came for presents to be exchanged, and I was again given money because it was too difficult to order anything online. I quite upset, and it had nothing to do with the gift itself - I could easily buy it myself and I was given more than enough money to do so. What hurt me was that I wasn't important enough to put any effort into getting an actual gift. Money was handed to me as a gift, out of duty rather than love. The same gift-giver extolled how much time and effort they had put into a gift given to someone else at the same time, even going so far as getting a much more involved item than what was originally asked for.
If I'm given money as a gift, I can find a use for it but it isn't what I want from my family or friends. If they are going to give me anything, it should show that they care... and if they don't care then they shouldn't give me anything. I don't want to be paid my dues for being a relative, I don't want anyone to feel that they are tied into doing something just because they are tied to me by name or bloodline or circle of friends. That completely misses the point of gift giving in the first place. Nothing emotional is shared, and there is no item in the world I want that can replace an emotional connection.
Conversely, I received a gift from someone that is made from a printed out photograph and office supplies. It has no value, but the photograph was selected and it was made and decorated with care... with me in mind. My friend could have said "I don't have any money" and left it at that, not given me anything. But they cared enough to think of something I'd love and make it themselves. That is a gift that I still cherish. In fact, it sits on my desk and I occasionally pick it up and look at it. The photograph was from time spent with that friend that was crazy good fun, and the memories it brings back are really all that matter.
This year, things have changed a bit. I've begun to seperate the people out of my life that have made it clear they don't genuinely care about me. People who don't value my feelings or pay any attention at all to what matters to me do not have a place in my life. I care about them but my presence isn't helping them and their presence isn't helping me, and it is time we both go our own way. With that having been decided months ago, I've been more and more cheerful as this holiday season has approached. I'm full of holiday spirit for the first time in years, because I've lifted the burden from myself of looking at the holidays as an excersize in spending time with and buying things for people out of duty rather than love.
Everyone who is getting gifts from me this year is getting at least one item that is handmade or modified in some way. Whether its taking a plain article of clothing and adding a design to it so that it's perfect for the recipient, or working on folding hundreds of paper cranes, I think about the person constantly while I make the items. The entire time, I'm imagining how much joy they will get from the item while they hang it, or wear it, or when they see it. I imagine that they will probably have it for years and that it will bring back pleasant memories of our time together, whether we still know each other in the future or if thousands of miles seperate us. I put my love for that person into what I make, and I cannot imagine a greater gift to give to someone than love.
This holiday season, no matter which religion you follow or if you follow none, there are three amazing gifts you can give to the people on your list:
When people want things, it comes from a deeper need - the need to feel special, loved, and understood by those around them. We have been trained to believe that love comes in objects and that the more spent is the more special we are.
Don't buy someone a unicorn figurine just because they like unicorns. That's the easy and kind of thoughtless way out. It's simple to do something that is obvious. It takes little thought, little consideration, little love. It is ultimately meaningless, just another empty moment in time that could have been spent in genuine human connection with someone.
If you can't make something, write something. If you can't find the words, make a mix tape (CD, Ipod, whatever) of songs that do have the words. Spend time with them, make them dinner (or cupcakes!), or - gasp - sit down and talk to them, and do most of the listening! Do something that shows you care in a way that they can feel in their heart. If you don't care that much, you shouldn't be buying gifts just because of duty.
Love, true love, involves sacrifice. That sacrifice isn't always the painful kind, but it means giving some of your time, your effort, or your patience to someone in order to benefit them and bring them joy, peace, and happiness.
None of those things can be bought in a store.