A member of my family recently asked me what I wanted for Christmas. It was a beautiful gesture by somebody dear to me who knows me well and knows that I generally appreciate gifts I know about more than surprise gifts. But the question still kind of caught me off guard.
As I thought about how to respond and the words came to mind, I realized a few things:
I don’t want to “want” much. Sure, there are things I need, and I would never deny that. It make me human. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that the less I “want” things, the happier I am, because I am thinking less about these things that I don’t have.
I’m not a big fan of holiday gift-giving as a rule. There is the well-known thinking out there that having a societywide holiday often increases rabid, unnecessary consumerism – which I agree with. But there’s also this thing in my head that keeps telling me that a gift given on a big holiday is less special. Why? Because it was given on a gift-giving day, as opposed to simply because a person was thinking about me.
It’s not that the person that gives me a gift doesn’t think I’m special, so much as it is a feeling that the intimacy of the act of giving a gift to me – the privateness of it – is diluted by lining it up with a societal holiday. I feel the same way about giving gifts to others. Those that know me know I’m not that good at giving holiday gifts, because I don’t see them as “holiday” gifts; I’d rather just give a gift the moment I think of it, whenever I am able to, when it’s most convenient both for the person who receives my gift and for me.
There are great exceptions to this, of course; what if you only see someone on the holidays, and want to give them the gift in person? Perfect time to do so. And some people may think completely the opposite of what I think: some folks would rather receive gifts on a holiday, presumably because it shows them that people did not forget about them, especially amid the gift-giving hurly-burly.
Then there’s “how I should feel.” Of course, we know about those people that give gifts and expect you to have a specific reaction to it, putting the pressure on you if you aren’t completely appreciative – but I’m talking about something else: Sometimes, when somebody really does give you something from the bottom of their heart, something that is well-thought out, that clearly took who you are and what you like into account, and you know it’s a sincere gift and not a way to guilt-trip you, but … what happens when you know inside that you just won’t appreciate it like you “should”? That you won’t use it, admire it, or remember it the way you would ideally?
I’m a big fan of doing the holidays on your own terms. The way you feel it’s right. If you love someone or see someone in need and you want to cheer them up, give them something. If you need some time to yourself, give it to yourself. If you are in need yourself and could use some help, let yourself receive. I think that anything else, in which you have to fight with yourself to fit inside someone else’s box, can often get into “faking it” territory and messes up the spirit of what a holiday should be: a time to enjoy yourself, take a break from the routine, catch up on the people and things you love, and, for once, not be a slave to social dictates about what you should and shouldn’t do and feel.
So … Happy Holidays! And if your holiday is looking like it’s going to suck in some way, well … you’ll be interested in what I wrote about that at this time last year.