The Gnarly Tree
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The Gnarly Tree

Giving Up Traditional Gift Giving

Photo Courtesy of VladimirFLoyd c/o Canva

In my musings about why traditions can be healthy/unhealthy, comforting/nightmarish, full of peer pressure and sinful food — there is one tradition that can get out of hand fast: gift giving.

Let’s get one negative (but real) habit addressed and out of the way, gift counting. My husband says “it happens.” It would be naïve to argue otherwise. Growing up in capitalist America some folks have specifically expressed their love for the gift giving tradition. To many it is the cornerstone of Christmas. Forget how many specials try to hammer the “true spirit of Christmas” into our consciences. Gimme!

Please forgive the clear holiday bias-Christmas is the primary holiday my family celebrates. Shout out to Hanukkah, though. Eight nights of small gifts sounds just lovely. And simple. Why does traditional gift giving feel so complicated sometimes?

Anyone who has tried surprising someone with a special token runs the risk of getting that person a gift they didn’t want. Hope the recipient is a good actor! Is there anything worse than watching someone happily tear open gift wrap to then cringle like you gave them a dead rat? Unless you despise them, then it’s probably great schadenfreude. In our modern age, especially in CoronAmerica, virtual wish lists intend to cut out that “unpleasant” experience of not getting what you want. (I suppose entitlement is a feeling we all get every once in awhile.) However there is a good chance sharing a wish list takes away the surprise element of gift giving. Personally, that is my favorite element of gift giving.

Once again, while working on our Christmas list I have to remind myself how everyone has different gifting philosophies. For some it’s transactional. For others it’s a way to assess “how much they love you.” (Ew.) I feel confident in being blunt here: it seems that everyone having a shopping list can devolve gift giving into a chore.

You know what else is a chore? Dying your hair. No bear with me, there is a point. While spying on Facebook for leads on what gifts our friends kids might like, my husband commented on how many people now have gray hair. I couldn’t help but laugh when I reminded him how there was still a pandemic on. Sure, hair dye is still widely available and back in Oklahoma (despite the spike in Covid cases) salons are open. Yet a lot of people we know seemed to shrug their shoulders deciding “eh, not important this year.”

Oh, how I wish we had the ability to do the same about gifts. After all, what makes or breaks any tradition can be a large group of people deciding that some things are just not worth the effort or stress. Sure some purists will be like “what’s Christmas without gifts?” Well, the holiday can still be about parties (virtual ones recommended this year). It can mean more time spent actually looking at your family and friends instead of your shopping cart. Or resting as the year begins wrapping up, allowing yourself time to reflect. There’s food (if you’re lucky.)

Christmas cards are a tradition I personally work to keep up with. I aim to add a personalized note to every one. Each card takes time and not feeling obligated to schedule shopping would be a gift in itself. I imagine a new holiday card design; akin to a wedding invitation with the pre-stamped “RSVP” card bearing the return address. “Do you really wish to exchange gifts?” Please mark yes or no, dear friend. If it’s really “the thought that counts” then why not give each other the gift of more personal time?* The actual present, see what I’m getting at? I wonder how many of my friends and family would feel relief having one less person to shop for on their list.

Now if you’ll excuse me…it’s back to calculate shipping times for ordering last minute gifts. After all, quarantine doesn’t fix the tradition of procrastination.

*Yes, yes. We all got “more time” in some ways this year, but 2020 hasn’t stopped December days from feeling shorter with the sun out for less hours.

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R.C. North

I have some thoughts about the time soup we're living in called life.