My New Christmas Tradition….

This is the year I’ll act on something that’s disturbed me for some time. It has to do with the Christmas gift giving ritual in my family (which is probably similar to the ritual in many western households). More about that in a moment. So, why am I changing this now?

Maybe because:

  • I’m turning 60 next year and using the opportunity to re-evaluate my life
  • I realize how fortunate I am compared to much of the world’s population
  • I still have gifts from last year that were never opened. (On this point I want to stress, this wasn’t the gift giver’s fault – I’m hard to buy for.)

My wife Dorothy and I are simplifying our lives. This started with a downsize 5 years ago. At that time we gave away, donated or discarded much of our surplus stuff. We now have a strict “No new stuff” policy. I’m pleased to report its mostly held.

My family’s annual Christmas gift exchange hasn’t changed. Ever. As I mentioned, I’ll be 60 next year. There have been occasional musings about shaking up the old tradition but we couldn’t agree on a new one. So, on it went. By taking independent action, I’ve gotten around the whole consensus problem.

Here’s my new Christmas Gift Tradition: I ask family members to donate my gift (the cash equivalent) to a charity. I know this is not an uncommon preference but it’s new to me. This year my charity of choice is the local animal rescue. That selection came to me spontaneously when gazing into the face of our dog, Spoggles (pronounced Spa-gulls). I’m so happy (and relieved) with my new tradition. I don’t anticipate any family push back either. There’s only upside, what I like to call an elegant solution.

Gift giving is stressful. So much effort goes into agonizing over what some might truly need or want. Also, there are so many things to choose from. Apparently, this is not a good thing. In his book, The Happiness Equation, Neil Pasricha describes research which shows when we’re overwhelmed with choices we do one of two things (i) make no choice or, (ii) make a bad choice. Since we see gift giving as compulsory the first option is off the table. That means a lot of gift giving results in bad choices.

When gift giving, we’re looking for evidence of joy and appreciation on the receiver’s face. They know we’re looking for it too, which makes things that much more uncomfortable. A gift giving faux pas means both giver and receiver feel, for lack of a better word, yucky. In extreme cases it can actually trigger feelings of resentment. Receiver to him/her: “How could you think I’d ever want this?” Giver to him/hers: Do you know what that thing cost?” How many times will that happen in living rooms across North America this Christmas? Merry Christmas indeed.

Christmas gift giving has become laden with expectation which is what sows the seeds of disappointment. We try to circumvent this by giving more. As a person whose done my share of last minute shopping, I’ll describe what this looks like. It’s evident on the face of a haggard Christmas Eve shopper who staggers from store to store looking for one more trinket. The empty look in their eyes tells us they’re trying to resolve the “Is this enough?” question. Unsure, they stagger on.

By asking for donations vs gifts, all of this is avoided. The double-sided guilt trap is replaced with three gifts being given: the giver to the receiver, the receiver to the charity and the charity to its beneficiaries. I’m so happy I finally clued in!

Readers with young children or grandchildren might be thinking, “Christmas is a magical time for kids. I love seeing the look of joy on the face of a child who’s just received my gift. It brings me joy too”. I completely understand. My question is, when does that magic wear off? Or better yet, when is it time to shake up this tradition with a fresher form of holiday magic? For me, it will be on my 59th Christmas.

I wish you all a magical Holiday Season and a brilliant 2018!