Saturday, November 29, 2008

When Greed Prevails

Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death

Please read the article, and consider if this is the way you want to remember Christmas; as a race for bargains.  When shopping for gifts becomes a greedy mob activity, then it's time to stop.

On "Just" Giving a Gift

I have a bone to pick with holiday retail advertising, and the retailer that's been especially bugging me the last couple of years is Sears, with the slogan, "Don't just give a gift. Grant a wish." Last year's TV commercials, for instance, had a Dad receiving not just a tool or a tool set, but a whole garage full of tools. 

The idea, of course, is that the prices are so low, you can afford more. But that's only part of the message that comes across. At a time when unemployment is incredibly high, and lots of people are struggling, advertisers are also letting us know that it is no longer acceptable to "just" give a gift. We must now also grant wishes.

Let me be clear: This is ridiculous. 

There is no "just" about gift-giving. Picking out a meaningful gift for someone you care about, making a sincere effort to bring them him joy, is a big deal. The act of remembering the one tool he needed and making a special effort to find it will time and time again outpace any amount of money spent on a garage full of tools. 

This holiday season, "just" give a meaningful, heartfelt gift. It will go a long, long way.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Group Gifts

I am turning 40 next month. This is a time of potential trauma for anyone, but a close circle of friends have already set me off on the best foot possible by making a Pre-emptive Birthday Strike.

I have been celebrating birthdays with these "Sisters" of mine for about a decade now, and these celebrations have followed a predictable pattern; dinner, cards, and little presents. But this year they decided to do something different to commemorate this landmark birthday. They all chipped in and got me a beautiful necklace, set with my birthstone.

This was, in every way, ideal for me; I am trying to scale back on the amount of stuff I have in my house and I love blue topazes/aquamarines. It was literally the smallest present they could have gotten me, but was so much more special than an array of tokens like notecards, books, and candles (useful as they are!)

This is a gift that has the weight of 5 people behind it - their combined affection, and wish to commemorate this significant birthday. It's not the money spent that makes it more valuable, but the fact that they combined to give it. There's an old proverb that individual strands of a robe can be easily broken, but when combined together, are almost impossible to break. In that sense, this necklace will always have an added dimension of strength and love for me.

I suspect that most of us find it easier to go ahead and get a present on our own; but how much more valued and memorable a present can be when it is the result of several people's time and money!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hierarchy of Needs: Part Three

In part three of our series on gift-giving and the hierarchy of needs, we'll talk about giving gifts as a way of fulfilling the need to both give and receive love, affection and a sense of belonging. 

All occasions are appropriate times to let the people in your life know they are loved. Even a poor choice lets the recipient know that someone cared enough to try. Gifts of belonging communicate to a person that she has a supportive community of people around them. One of the biggest ways we communicate belonging is by our presence. Showing up at a wedding, bar mitzvah or graduation lets a loved one know that they belong to a community who will show up to witness important life events. 

There are more tangible, symbolic ways communicate belonging as well. In my family, my Mom is the guru of "belonging gifts." When my two sisters-in-law joined the family, she gave them recipe boxes with cards containing family recipes and included some blank cards so they could add to the collection. For the first Christmas my brother and his wife spent in their new home, far away from the rest of our family, my sister-in-law mentioned that she had ben looking for some glass ornaments for their tree, something that would reflect the colored lights. Mom remembered an old chandelier that used to hang over the dining room table when we were kids. She pulled it out of the attic and took apart the dangling prisms, sending a box of them to each of us as Christmas ornaments. 

Gifts like these remind us that we belong, that we are loved, and that the old bonds are still intact even when we move on in our lives.  

Friday, November 7, 2008

Opting Out

We've discussed the fact that gift giving is an essential social skill, and that it is unacceptable to opt out of the practice altogether. But there are some circumstances in which opting out of the gift exchange process is the best thing you can do. 

Since we started writing this blog, for instance, Susan and I have mutually agreed never to give each other gifts. Why, you ask? We considered the possibilities:

"Hmm... a Target gift card. Great. Apparently you think of me as a third tier person."

It is not necessary to give gifts for every occasion, in every relationship. The important thing is that, if you opt out in the context of a particular relationship or situation, all involved should agree on the arrangement, and no one should be pressured into agreeing with the no-gifts rule.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

December Birthdays

Having been born in early December, I have become accustomed to a certain lack of attention regarding my birthday. The holiday season, from Thanksgiving onward, has become such a morass of Christmas parties, special year-end events and office lunches/dinners, that to try and celebrate a birthday as well seems excessive. The holiday flood washes over the Birthday-ees as well as those friends and family who want to pay proper attention; both are overwhelmed with all of the required activities of the month - shopping, travel, parties, etc. All too often, it results in a combination Birthday/Christmas gift, which is supposed to be a bigger gift than either one alone, but all too often is just what you would have given for Christmas anyway. After all, "they'll never know!"

So, what to do? We're all too busy, and picking a birthday gift with the kind of thought and attention we're advocating is hardly going to be convenient or enjoyable. Well, for starters:
  • you can count on significantly lowered expectations from the Sagittari and Capricorns in question. They've become accustomed to being stiffed or forgotten. Heck, we scraped the bottom of the barrel when it comes to birthstones - I mean, turquoise or zircon... really?
  • you can Hunter-Gather ahead of time, and have something gift-wrapped and ready.
  • failing that, you can make even the smallest effort to give them a birthday gift separate from Christmas, and it will be appreciated. Even if you haven't had time to plan ahead or get a great gift, you can still get them a gift card to a nice restaurant, or some sort of treat that says "I thought about it... I didn't forget you."
  • propose a date in January to celebrate properly with your group of friends/family.
I should mention, in the interest of full disclosure, that Kathryn and I have decided NOT to give each other gifts from this point onward; having set ourselves up as knowledgable and thoughtful about gift-giving, we should probably fail miserably!