A few years ago, I wanted to surprise an administrative assistant in another state who had been absolutely great to work with. We weren’t close, but I knew from reading her social media posts that money was really tight. So I mailed her an Amazon gift card to arrive about a week before Christmas. I imagined her feeling so happy when she opened the card. Maybe it would ease her financial burdens if she had last-minute holiday shopping to do, or maybe she’d buy something nice for herself.
On Christmas Eve, there was a knock at my door and I discovered the Fed X delivery man outside. To my dismay, the dear young woman whom I’d hoped to bless had gone to the trouble of buying me a reciprocal gift and paying pricey overnight shipping fees so it would reach me before Christmas.
Had my gift really blessed her like I’d hoped? Or had it added another layer of stress and obligation to her already busy season?
Therein lies the rub with holiday gifts. How can we joyfully give and receive without adding another layer of pressure?
Perhaps we could begin by letting go of some common myths about gift giving:
Let’s Ditch These 5 Myths About Gifts
Myth #1: If someone gives me a present, I need to reciprocate.
This can be tough to let go if you’re a generous person. And yet I’ve seen in my own life how, in my zeal to repay a kindness, I sometimes diminish the giver’s original joy. So let yourself be blessed by someone else. Let someone else do a greater thing for you. Practice graciously receiving.
Myth #2: Our gifts should cost about the same amount.
Take it from me, the person who once gave a friend a $5 wooden dreidel and then opened the 14K gold and aquamarine pendant he got me. It doesn’t matter. Try to resist the temptation to make a thing out of it, and simply bask in your friend’s generosity.
Myth #3: If my creative, crafty friend gives me a homemade present, it won’t seem like I care as much if I give her a gift card.
This works both ways. Maybe you have a friend who buys you lavish gifts, while you’re committed to paying off your student loans so you give something humble and homemade. It’s all good!
Our loved ones don’t want us to take on debt to buy them gifts. Our loved ones don’t want us to pile on pressure to make perfect gifts. Maybe that’s why they’re our loved ones!
Myth #4: My partner and I should give each other personal, thoughtful gifts that we magically just “know” the other person will want and love.
Gift giving can sometimes be challenging for couples. I am a big believer in judicious hinting, a carefully marked catalog left open on a desk, and outright suggestions. Communication is a beautiful thing.
Myth #5: If someone asks for something practical for Christmas (confession: I once asked for a vacuum cleaner), we should nix that and buy them something special instead–like a folk art painting! Or a motorized tie rack!
It takes courage to speak up and ask for a specific gift, so we honor our loved ones when we take their hints. I know I’m weird, but whenever I use my nice vacuum cleaner I feel grateful!
Would Fewer Gifts Make You Happy?
We all have different priorities and traditions. You may be in a family that goes crazy giving presents, or you might be a cool minimalist who enjoys happy celebrations without gifts.
If overspending is a concern or your holiday season is busier than you’d like, you might be happier cutting back on gift giving and simplifying. Consider every gift-centered event with an eye for reducing or skipping the presents, and explore whether you could do something fun instead.
Here’s to more joy and peace for you and yours in the weeks ahead.
P.S. There’s still time to sign up for “All Done By December One,” which starts this Monday. Join Lori from Dallas, Amy from Sacramento, Debbie from Estes Park, and a fun community of folks who’ll be simplifying, getting organized early for the holidays, and enjoying a relaxed December. Join us!