Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gift Giving

This morning I started contemplating the origins of gift giving. With so much cerebral research about to be had, I figured doubling my normal amount of morning coffee would be in order.

Giving gifts for special occasions is nothing new. It predates written history and has continued throughout, continuously evolving while at the same time remaining quite traditional. People have given gifts to celebrate the birth of children, coming of age, marriages and everything in between. However, who decided what events to give gifts for and what events in life are just not considered gift-worthy? It seems this is also something that varies culturally as well as religiously. But I’m not here to raise a philosophical debate over which religion or culture is the right one because, honestly, I don’t think there is any one way to live life. I am, however, going to try to attempt to explain why we give gifts.

It depresses me to no end when I see pictures or video of people trampling each other the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, just so they can get the latest toy or gimmick the store has on a super sale. Especially when, chances are, that same toy or gimmick will end up in the trash before the following Christmas. I don’t understand if it is some kind of challenge or bragging rights these people get out of it or if the underlying factor is a sense to feel like you are one of the Joneses, even though you are barely getting by. Another part of me feels bad for these people, knowing the societal pressure to spend hordes of money on presents so their kids don’t feel left out or worse, picked on by their fellow classmates.

I grew up poor and yes, was made fun of for not having the latest fashionable clothes or the newest Transformer or He-Man action figure, but never had a sense that I was somehow not loved enough for receiving second hand Christmas presents and clothes. Don’t get me wrong. I knew that some of my friends indeed had more than we did, but also had friends who had considerably less. The point is not how much you have, but the thought behind such gifts and the recipient understanding the reason for getting it. Instilling these values in our kids seems to have gone by the wayside as I see more and more of them growing up with a sense of entitlement and very little in the way of gratitude. This is a general assessment, mind you, and I know that it doesn’t speak to everyone, but it does seem to be a growing epidemic.

As a kid I used to spend months making Christmas presents for my aunts, uncles and cousins, as well as siblings and parents. I didn’t do this out of an expectation of getting something in return, but because I simply wanted to give. I continued this to an extent as I got older, making annual Christmas ornaments, even taking time off work to accomplish everything I wanted to do. For me, the act of giving means a lot, especially when money is at its tightest. It definitely means a very lean January and February to make up for it, but in the end the sacrifices are worth it. So perhaps I shouldn’t condemn the people fighting over the last twenty dollar DVD player or pushing their way through the crowd to grab this year’s Elmo craze because maybe, just maybe, they get the same satisfaction of seeing the smile on the recipients face as I do.

So while we may not get the same gifts the baby Jesus received from the Magi of gold, frankincense and myrrh, may we continue to live a life of giving of ourselves for others without expectation of anything in return. You may surprise yourself by how much more meaningful it is to give than to receive.

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