The weather outside is frightful and the fire is so deligh–you know what? You all know the song. You know what time of year is coming because you have calendars and you have brains.
And while we all have different ideas on the “reason for the season” we also live in a culture in which we give gifts regardless. I do not believe Christmas should be some capitalistic ode to materialism, but I also like to buy things and wrap them up and watch people get excited about receiving something. I mean, it is a tangible way of showing love, and that can be a good thing. There is nothing inherently wrong with giving gifts, and we shouldn’t convince ourselves that there is just to be greedy. Gifts are good. They aren’t everything, but they are something.
What isn’t good is stressing out over who to buy gifts for. My wife and I are in this mode right now. Since we do much of our shopping on Thanksgiving weekend, this is red alert panic time for us. We are making our list, but in checking it twice, the question comes up: Do we really have to buy something for your Great Aunt Edna whom we see like once a decade? For fear of being reprimanded, I don’t ask this question out loud. But for all of us, perhaps it would be wise to begin discussing a plan for buying Christmas gifts.
And here are some other criteria to consider when it comes to Christmas gift-planning:
1. What is our budget?
Gift giving should be a bit of a sacrifice, for it the sacrifice that often makes the gift (this is why women don’t like receiving gift cards for anniversaries, fellas!). There is something about spending time and money on the recipient that says to them, “Man, you are worth it!” But if you shout to that person that they are worth it, and then, because of it, spend the rest of the year telling your kids that they are not–“Sorry, Mikey, you can’t do summer camp this year because we loved Uncle Ted a Camaro-worth at Christmas”–well, that is no good. Figure out what you can spend on each person, and stick with that figure.
2. Establish who is getting gifts.
As families extend and spread out, they should talk openly about this. Siblings get married and then start having kids and in-laws and pretty soon, well, Christmas goes from the “most wonderful time of the year” to the “most likeliest time to get a loan.” Figure out what the plan is as a group, and consider the situation of others before your own. Since gift giving is about showing love, realize that we can also show love by accommodating the financial situations of our families.
3. Make a list.
In a world without giants, getting carried away is typically an individual choice. Nothing sneaks up on us and grabs us and forces us into debt. No, we do it to ourselves by avoiding planning and details. By making a list, we can establish parameters that keep us from going overboard or forgetting anything (and then over-compensating at the last minute as if the person knows we forgot them).
4. Don’t be fair.
Some people want their gifts to be fair, so they will commit to spending $40 on everyone. Then, when they find a great sweatshirt for dad for $18, they feel guilty and then buy more for him without much thought–just junk to fill a cart and assuage guilt. Or, they find a great gift for mom that cost $70. They go ahead and get it–because it is sooooo perfect–and then add to dad’s gift out of guilt. This happens when we view gift giving as knocking out a to-do-list rather than what it is: an expression of love achieved through time and resources. True wisdom sets a budgetary limit on gifts: a ceiling of sorts. Then you shop for the right gifts for each person. If you see a thing and think, “Oh! This is perfect for Uncle Hank!” You have your gift for Uncle Hank as long as the thing is below the budget ceiling. A $10 perfect gift it is exactly equivalent to a $100 perfect gift because perfect = perfect. If you find something that is outside the budget, leave it but don’t forget about it. Say you think the item would be perfect for dear Uncle Hank but it is $15 over the budget set for his gift, find something else for him in the budget, but then, when all your shopping is over reconsider how things look. If you are under your overall budget, you can return your other gift for Uncle Hank in exchange for the pricier option. So you have a specific budget for each gift which adds to the overall budget you set. There is freedom within these confines, but it has to be exercised in a methodical fashion in order to work out.
5. Keep the joy.
Giving gifts is the tangible expression of generosity. Don’t let finances rob you of that. If money is tight, make your own gifts: write a letter, knit something, build something, draw something. Keep the heart of gift-giving and the joy of it, and don’t let all the commercial guilt and hubbub rob you of that joy. And don’t put a price-tag on generosity, for it is not dictated by price but by the heart you have.
Enjoy the giving and the receiving of gifts, and while that is not the ‘reason for the season’ it is the basis of the very occurrence that prompted a celebration–it was after all, the giving of a gift.