We live in a hyper-consuming culture. It is assumed that we have to join the frantic rush to buy and give expensive gifts. And these days expensive is the norm—a CD costs $17, a good set of roller blades runs $150.
Here’s an alternative approach to holiday gift giving. Write down all the people that you bought gifts for last holiday season. Try to remember what you bought and how much you spent (not an easy task for most people). Take a really hard look at the list.
What could you do this year that would really make a difference to that person? What would really touch them? How much do you really have to spend? Could you spend half as much as you did last year—in a very thoughtful and loving way?
Now look again at your list. What alternatives do you have to buying them expensive gifts? What if you had a dinner party for half the people listed? How about sitting down and writing some of them a personal letter? For the children, how about going a little out of your way to do things with them? Where could you take them that would provide as much, if not more, pleasure as the new toys they typically receive—and end up neglecting a few days later?
Determine up front exactly how much money you will allocate for the holidays, and then stay within this limit. Most of us don’t. We approach holidays without a plan, and end up spending impulsively. Ever bought a gift you knew was too expensive simply because you were out of time? The cost of this approach can be staggering!
Now let’s look at the current fad of extravagant birthday parties for little kids. Profitable companies have sprung up to provide these “essential” services for overly-busy baby boomer parents.
When my daughter Lydia was four, she went to a birthday party where the hosts rented ponies for the kids to ride. They also rented costumes for each child. The boys got cowboy outfits, and the girls were dressed up like floozies in saloon dresses and feather boas. A photographer was hired to take pictures of all the kids. (We then had the opportunity to buy the pictures, of course!) The hosts probably spent $2,000 on this party, and the birthday boy was four years old.
I was in a beauty salon not too long ago. Sitting there, I couldn’t help but notice all these girls about eight or nine years old filling the chairs in the pedicure section, getting their toes embellished. I asked my hairdresser what was going on.
“Oh, it’s the latest thing,” she said. “It’s a birthday party! The host parents buy pedicures and manicures for all the kids who will be attending the party. Then they go out to a fancy restaurant.”
What have we come to? Pedicures and manicures for children?
I am a mom. I know how overpowering the urge is to give great presents and to create great experiences for my kids, especially when my kids see their friends getting these things. But is it necessary? Underneath all these superficial temptations, what Annie and Lydia really want from me is love, affection, and companionship. The other things, the presents, don’t really matter. Often, they’ve forgotten them within a week.
Ask yourself if the gift giving or the extravagant party is accomplishing what you really want. Does it tell the recipients that you love them more? Does it result in them loving you more because you got them something expensive?
Again, I want to emphasize that I am not against gift giving. If you just have to give your sweetie a pearl necklace or the hottest and latest snowboard, then by all means do so. But do so from a conscious and rational point of view. Don’t do it because you feel you must automatically give bigger, more expensive gifts in order to secure and preserve someone’s love—or to demonstrate your love for them.
I have a friend whose father is seventy-nine years old. In the past year he has had several health crises, including a heart attack. His eightieth birthday was approaching. All his kids were trying to decide what to give him for his birthday, and what kind of big party they could arrange to celebrate it.
He sat his kids down and said, “On my birthday, I want to spend time alone with each of you and your children. And from each of you, I want you to write me a letter telling me what you think of me and our relationship.” Their dad had never before expressed such affection. The kids were so touched they could hardly speak.
If you took ten minutes and really told the people in your life how much you love them and what they mean to you, you might find lifelong results far greater than any material gift could bring.