53: The Joy of Simpler Gift-Giving

53: The Joy of Simpler Gift-Giving

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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The Joy of Simpler Gift-Giving

The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.

~Pierre Corneille, Le Menteur

Several weeks before Christmas, inspired by articles on “alternative gift-giving” as a way to take the stress out of holidays, I decided to include my entire extended family in an e-mail discussion about how we might make Christmas easier on everyone. I ticked off the reasons in my head: (a) we all had plenty of “stuff” without adding more; (b) some of us were on limited or fixed incomes; (c) most of us led busy lives and might enjoy skipping crowded shopping malls and post offices.

Nevertheless, I approached the task with trepidation. My sister, after all, had six — that’s right, six — artificial Christmas trees she decorated every year, each with a special theme. I didn’t know how it would strike her that I wanted to simplify gift-giving. Other family members all seemed to be fine with the traditional way of buying gifts. Would they think I was trying to ruin Christmas?

My first e-mail went out in September: “I’m starting a dialogue early this year. I know that we all have our own ideas about gift-giving but maybe we could try something different this year. Please share your thoughts.” I attached copies of the articles I’d read.

As the weeks went by, e-mails flew back and forth. My son, who had recently discovered the joys of working with clay, wrote, “I think we should all give pottery!” I replied that I would welcome homemade gifts.

My mother-in-law sent a lengthy e-mail about what she didn’t want to receive as a gift, including charitable donations given in her name. It didn’t seem personal enough, she felt. I affirmed her willingness to speak her truth.

All of us chimed in with gift ideas that were both meaningful and simple. The declared winners were: (l) a family photograph from the past that came with a special memory, perhaps with a written explanation of that memory; (2) a used book that somehow expressed an attribute of the person receiving it; or (3) a special card. The only “ground rules” were that we could each choose any of the three ideas, and that no “store-bought” gifts would be exchanged or expected.

As the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas passed, I experienced a new spaciousness to the holiday season. Instead of making endless lists of gifts and trooping through malls looking for things my family might like, I roamed through my own bookshelves. Suitable books for various family members almost leaped off the shelves. I relaxed into the season in a new way, free from the gift-buying anxiety that had plagued me in past years.

Three weeks before Christmas, all my “shopping” had been done and I had a wonderful time wrapping my selections in beautiful pictures saved from old calendars — just the right size for books.

Inspired by my newfound freedom, I also decided to create a special booklet of favorite quotations for each family member, to go along with their books — something I had wanted to do in previous years but never found the time to accomplish.

Finally the day came. Our gift exchanges were joyous and peaceful. Each book was a treasured gift. My mother-in-law gave each of us a handmade card and asked us to write in them a wish for ourselves for the coming year. She collected the cards and said she would give them back to us at the end of the year to see if our wishes came true. From my sister I received a beautiful framed childhood photo of the two of us that brought back special memories; from my daughter-in-law came a humorous book that recalled my Southern heritage.

And my son… He gave us his best pottery creations to date — “memory bowls,” he called them, each uniquely created to hold whatever family treasure or written memory we wanted to place in it.

Freedom from the tyranny of gift-buying — the tyranny of living up to cultural expectations of what Christmas “should” be like — also gave me freedom to experience the joy and diversity of who we are as a family. I can hardly wait to see what we’ll do next year!

~Maril Crabtree

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