Christmas Gift Giving in an Age of Guilt

If you believe the polls, everyone’s reporting that Christmas gift shoppers are crossing you off their lists while Santa is sleeping in on Christmas eve and Rudolf’s red nose is dimming fast. So much for polls.

On the other hand, you read about thoughtful people in the current recession who are creatively giving gifts that don’t cost anything to friends and relatives –offering to baby sit a friend’s kid, writing a poem or song for someone you love or donating time to your friend’s favorite charity. Gifts of love with long-lasting value.

Behind our gift giving is a society and a culture based on consumerism and guilt. Sure, I wouldn’t mind if someone gave me a new HD flat panel and home entertainment system (please email me if you’d like to do so and I’ll mention your name in a blog post, thank you). But expecting costly, colorfully-wrapped gifts in large boxes under the Christmas tree in our current recession is a fantasy, a memory of our childhood and mentally unhealthy. It epitomizes our age of guilt.

“Guilt”, you ask? “Bah, humbug, who raised you?”

I was raised by middle class parents who cared and loved me very much. My Mom, especially, made sure that despite lack of money to buy gifts, my sister and I always received at least one toy or other item we really wanted. But the rest of the gifts, especially as we grew from children to teenagers, were frequently inexpensive–photo albums and self-made items–that brought long-lasting value to our lives.

Not expecting costly, unnecessary Christmas gifts had a positive impact on my sister and me. We grew up without wanting Sony PlayStations or expensive perfumes or colognes. We learned that gifts based on love are more important than gifts based on guilt. We learned how to appreciate the thought behind a gift rather than the gift itself.

Writing this will probably make retailers weep since most generate 40% of their yearly sales during the Christmas season. But why can’t retailers capitalize on the same idea? In fact, some do.

Hallmark Cards’ “when you care enough to send the very best” has always expressed the human need to connect with relatives and long-lost friends. Handwritten cards sharing your warm feelings about others show your concern, your thoughtfulness. Writing your own words not only lifts the spirits of those receiving cards. It changes you. It moves you from guilt to “thanks giving.” It makes you more human because you’ve shared a part of yourself with those you love and respect.

So as you think of what to give this Christmas, consider your friends’ and relatives’ interests and favorite charities. How about giving non-monetary things that express your love, hope and happiness. “Give the gift that keeps on giving.” Yourself.