I'm also not religious. Neither is the new husband, but we were both raised in households that celebrate Christmas. There's no question that we'll continue to do so with our parents and siblings, but what's to be done in our own little house. Should we exchange gifts? It's our first married Christmas and we're talking traditions.
We want to live a more sustainable life, a simpler life. A life that where there is a place for everything and everything in its place: A life with less stuff. A life that is less materialistic.
I like giving gifts and don't want to live in a world where gifts aren't given. I, personally, fight incurable narcissism and gift-giving is a way to break out of myself, to reflect on who others are, their likes and dislikes, their passions, their needs.
But, what if, after some reflection, you realize your loved ones are just as sated as you? What to get for the person who has everything? In the last few years, I've been trying to shift to consumables and re-suables in gift-giving, to functional art and whimsical utility.
Gifts that are fleeting
Some of my fondest memories are of traveling and trying new foods with my long-time friend Julie. I have ideas on what to get her and her husband for Christmans, but when I really think about it, what I want most and what I hope she wants most is focused time and shared experience -- just like when we were teens. This year we plan to go out for a swank meal (sans the children) instead of exchanging presents.
My Dad, who isn't online and won't see this (Mom might -- don't tell!), thinks going to the movies is a luxury. He's getting gift certificates for his local movie theatre. Maybe I can talk him into going Christmas night with us.
The perfect gift is shared experience. It doesn't always work out. Sometimes you might not want it to. I'm not here to judge. Other options: Coffee, fine wine or even local beer. Everyone has something that they love that is to be experienced or consumed -- leaving no trace.
Gifts that are sustainable
|Courtesy of McSweeney's.|
|Courtesy of Sally Harless|
My brother, by the way, is very good at gift-giving. He bought me my first New Yorker subscription. Another year it was a bottle of Absente, the closest thing Americans could get to real absinthe until 2007. It tasted terrible, but I enjoyed imagining life as a degenerate artiste.
Gifts that give
I'm tempted by the Heifer International charity gift catalog of but Ms. Manners frowns on donations on behalf of someone. "It's very nice to give people presents and it's very nice to donate to charities, but let's separate these two things," she says. If you do get a charity gift, Ms Manners has advice on how to word the thank you note.
Gifts that are just too much
Give but give responsibly. Reasonably. IU researchers are finding that the generous of heart are thought to be anything but.
Don't give too much. Don't give too little. Don't give something that will take up space and depress someone's spirits, and cost money to keep. Ugh. Gift-giving is fraught. Gift shopping can be a joy, but it can also be disheartening when you realize you don't know someone well enough to know where to start. Maybe it's time to do something about that.
On the other side, the delight in receiving is not in the having, but the unwrapping and being the focus of attention for a moment. Sometimes there are well-intentioned misses. In these cases, gift-receiving allows for the practice of grace under disappointment.
The lessons of grace and delight are the reason that I want very much to maintain Christmas-time gift-giving if/when a kid enters the picture. Matt worries about religious traditions to which neither of us subscribe. It's a discussion for another day. This year Matt and I decided not to exchange, but we've still given a gift to ourselves: a stay at a bed and breakfast on our visit to the family.