The holidays is a time of year when most people start planning for family get-togethers, holiday parties and most importantly—what presents they need to buy. It’s a time of year that seems to have a life and energy of its own. A sort of frenetic pace, where everyday life become even more hectic and stressful as we think of the million and one details we have to take care of for our holidays to be “perfect.” And the pressure to buy gifts for everyone we love and don’t love seems to come automatically into the forefront of our minds regardless of whether or not we have the money to spend or even want to spend it. It’s as if we have all resigned to the fact that the only way to celebrate the holidays is to spend money. But is it?
Now I’m not here to suggest we need to forget about the holidays all together. We all have memories of our childhood holidays that we carry with us as adults and as we create our own families. Some of the memories are joyful and comforting, while others we might rather forget. But regardless, they all were an important part of our family tradition and history.
So why do the holidays have to be such a stressful and costly time for people? Why do we automatically feel the need to buy overly expensive items that have no real meaning or value? Why do we continue to think that the only way to show we care about someone is to buy them a gift they may or may not use or even like. Why does showing a 5-year old child that they are loved mean we have to buy them the latest IPad for the holidays? Or our partner or spouse a new piece of jewelry or plasma tv? Or our teenager a new Playstation?
So what’s really going on?
Without going into the psychology of advertising and consumerism, we’ve all been sold a big lie about our beloved holiday traditions. The lie that spending = love. The lie that if we don’t buy the latest electronics, clothes, jewelry or object for our loved ones and those we know, that we are somehow a bad person. That if we decide not to exchange gifts for the holidays or focus on the deeper meaning of family and togetherness, that we’ve either been drinking too much of the eggnog, or we’re just another scrooge. But this of course, is far from the truth.
Spending has very little to do with expressing our love or caring for someone. Gifts are, at their core, a way to acknowledge someone and show our appreciation for them. It’s a way to show we thought about someone else and took the time to think about something that might give them a sense of joy or happiness. But it can never substitute the time we spend with those we care about and how we are with them. The compassion and concern we show for a co-worker who seems stressed at work, a friend who is going through a rough time in his/her life, or our child who needs our time, attention and support. These things can never be expressed in a something we buy, because a gift is only meant to be a symbol at best. It can never equal the gift of your time and kindness to those you love. Never.
I’m sure there will be many people reading this who will say, “Yeah right. Not give my kids or wife a gift for the holidays. Are you crazy?” So I would ask the question, “Why is it so crazy?” Why is giving a purchased item your only option? Why is it the only way you feel you can acknowledge those you care about?
So what if you wanted to consider some alternatives to only buying costly gifts this year. What are some possible options?
1) The first thing is to talk to your family and friends about changing your tradition to either not exchanging gifts, or drawing a name from a hat and only buying a gift for that one person in your family.
2) Another option is to talk to your family and friends about setting a monetary limit for the gifts you buy each other of $15 or $20 for example.
3) Make something for those you love from your creative expertise. Maybe you know how to paint, make jewelry, cook, play music or have some other special skill that you can offer as a gift rather than buying something.
4) Give the gift of your time such as going on a special picnic with your loved one(s), take a fun recreational class together or create a camping weekend. With my friends, we used to go out to lunch together instead of buying a gift. This was nicer than any gift we could have given each other and it gave us another reason to spend time together.
5) Instead of spending your time running around buying gifts, take some time with your family to volunteer. Teaching your children to appreciate what they have and showing them that giving their time is more valuable and in the true spirit of the holidays is a much better tradition to set in place and a better example.
6) Start your own traditions. Talk to your family and friends and create your own new traditions that have meaning for you instead of doing the same old gift exchange. You might find that people are more responsive and happy to do something else. I know when I first talked to my family and friends about not exchanging gifts, there was a feeling of relief for all of us.
If you're at all tired of feeling the pressure of having to run around buying gifts for the holidays, or maybe you have some financial reasons to scale back, try at least one of these options. Start a discussion with your family and loved ones, offer some options and decide together. Give kids an opportunity to pick an alternative to make them a part of the process, but hold firm to your final decision even if they don't initially like the idea. It's totally normal for people to feel a bit out-of-sorts at the beginning, but in the long-run, you'll be saving yourself and those you care about a lot of time and stress during the holidays and creating more balance-- which is the best gift of all.
Tania Manczarek is a holistic swiss army knife. A trained therapist, intuitive energy worker, certified yoga instructor, massage practitioner and hypnotist, she focuses on healing through the mind/body/spirit connection and is passionate about helping people live an authentic and balanced life. Originally, from Los Angeles, she left to travel the world over 5 years ago to find her own path of healing and to follow her dreams. Now living in France, she offers individual wellness services by phone/Skype, events and retreats in France and abroad.