Confession. I give gifts at Christmastime. I love gifts. I always have. I love thinking about them, planning them, wrapping them, giving them, and yes, I even enjoy receiving them. It seems that in the circles I run in gift giving is in some ways frowned upon as if the very act of purchasing an item and bestowing it upon another is a sinister act that upsets the very balance between the quality of life and consumer overdose. I refuse to see it that way though. Perhaps being a relatively new father and watching the magic in my daughters eyes as she discovers the magic of Santa and the excitement she shows when ripping off wrapping paper has me jaded and lost in my pursuit of balance. Whatever the case, I maintain. There is nothing inherently wrong with gift giving during the holidays.

But wait. Maybe I should clarify or at least address the type of gift giving I am referring to.

I remember very clearly about four years ago when I said goodbye to obligatory gift giving. I allowed myself to reach a point where I no longer bought gifts based on what people would think of me. I point to those awkward moments like the office gift exchange. You don’t really have the money to participate but if you opt out you wonder what your colleagues will think of you. “Scrooge!,” they’ll say. “Oh c’mon. Don’t be a debbie downer. Everyone can go out and get something.” Or what about the family Christmas party where you draw names around Thanksgiving and then spend a month agonizing over what to get your brother-in-law who routinely reminds people a Home Depot gift card will be fine so long as it buys a whole tool and not just a few nuts and bolts! And then there is my favorite gifts. These are the ones you give to your hair dresser, mailman, UPS delivery man, child’s school teacher, etc. These gifts usually ring in at about $20 or $25 a piece. You don’t want them to think you don’t value them and value comes with a price tag! And the list goes on.

Perhaps the gifts that were most taxing to me were the ones that went to mere acquaintances. This would be the cousin-once-removed who tags you incessantly on Facebook and somehow finds out about your Christmas Eve open house. This is your next door neighbor who may or may not pop by on Christmas morning to say hello. For these people you buy a few auxiliary gifts that can be wrapped and given at a moments notice. Obviously these gifts have to be non-gender and attractive to all. In fact, I am sure this is what Applebee’s and iTunes gift cards were created for!

I think that I am trying to say is that gift giving is okay when there is sentiment behind it. We must work hard at relieving ourselves of obligation and worrying ourselves with what people may or may not think of us based on the holiday gifts we give.

You don’t have to do what everyone expects you to do.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Let it marinate a bit. You don’t have to exchange gifts at the office. I am pretty sure it wasn’t in your initial contract. You don’t have to give the mailman a gift or a monetary tip at the holidays. And just because you are under the impression that your hairdresser expects a gift basket doesn’t mean you have to actually give him or her one.

I am well aware of what I am saying. Easier said than done, right? We all want to be loved by others and respected by colleagues and looked upon highly by the UPS guy. Allow me to share some suggestions with you though to shed that obligation and give gifts that really matter to people that you really want to give to.

  • Be a solid person year round. Strive to be kind, considerate, respectful, honest, loving, and caring to everyone. What does this have to do with gifts though? Well all year long I try to be a solid friend, colleague, neighbor, brother, etc. to all. I treat them as I would like to be treated and I do thoughtful things for them year round. We don’t need an occasion to show our love for someone.
  • Say thank you. Did you have a party over the weekend? Are you doing a renovation project? Has your trash just gotten out of hand over the last week? Why not try meeting your garbage man at the curb and thanking him personally for the job he does and the service he provides your family? When it’s hot out offer him a bottled water. When it is cold, a cup of coffee. and if you want to really “show up” for him/her take a plate of cookies out or a small gift card to a local restaurant.
  • Don’t overplay not giving a gift. If you are asked to participate in a white elephant at work or something similar and you just don’t have the money or desire to participate don’t make a big deal about it. Just decline the offer and say thank you anyway. The party WILL go on without you and while you may be missed no one will shun you. If they do it may help you realize who you want to spend your time with and who you don’t.
  • Make a gift. I know it sound terribly cliche to say “make a gift” but who doesn’t love ooey, gooey, fresh-from-the-oven brownies? You can’t buy those and no gift card can provide them. But a little bit of time and effort provides some serious goodness while showing the recipient you really do care about them and your relationship.
  • Get a group gift. In recent years my siblings and I have pooled our resources to buy a gift for our parents that they will truly enjoy. Alone, none of us could buy it. But together we are able to swing it. Now I am not talking about an all expenses paid week in Hawaii. Rather, I am talking about a new Keurig coffee maker or materials to build that back deck they have been dreaming about.

At this point even I am thinking that what I have laid out is all well and good but doesn’t help how I feel when people don’t understand and instead think poorly of me when I don’t give a gift. To that I say “what about them? Does it matter? Does it really matter?” Why should any amount of energy be spent on people who are judgmental and spend time searching for things to judge and misunderstand all intentions; good or bad.

Even more to the point is that I have realized in my two years of being a father that when I choose to give out of obligation I am more or less giving in to peer pressure. And with that in mind who am I to tell my daughter not to give in to peer pressure when she sees me practicing it daily?

So in closing I want to reemphasize that I do gift gifts. I even buy gifts to give. But I give because it is in my heart too and it neither causes my family to go into debt or cause me to feel ethically bankrupt. If I have money to spend I set a realistic budget and stay within it. If I don’t I turn to other methods of gift provision and I invest myself wholly into that. I give gifts. I give them freely and I give them with love and with thought. So what of it?