Personal growth

Baaaaaaaaah humbug: bucking tradition

Last night, Ryan asked me what I want for Christmas, and I refused to tell him. I’m not being cruel; I know he’s creative and thoughtful enough that he’s not relying on my answer to help him decide what to get me (in fact, he said he’s already purchased “two of” my presents, and I’m sure they’re wonderful). I just don’t believe in making a list of things you want and expecting someone else to go buy them for you. The whole thing just seems too selfish.* I have issues with the whole practice of gift giving at Christmas as it is. Which is not to say that I don’t participate in it; I do. It’s also not to say that I don’t enjoy receiving gifts; I’m only human. And I like giving gifts, too. I try to find things that are unique and thoughtful and I truly enjoy giving my friends and family members presents that they will appreciate. But nowadays Christmas is such a commercial holiday, it’s often disheartening.

Every year around this time, I start thinking of what I can do for my young nieces to help them learn the true meaning of Christmas, to help them appreciate what they have and understand how fortunate they are compared to other people. Should I take them to a volunteer at a homeless shelter or a food pantry? Adopt a family who is experiencing a difficult time and can’t afford to buy presents? Have them pick out some livestock from the Heifer International catalog and make a donation in their names to a third-world family in need? Invariably, despite my good intentions, I succumb to the commercial pressure and buy them something they can enjoy unwrapping, only to end up wishing I had done something different. Christmas at my brother’s house is a complete frenzy. The kids tear into presents at lightning speed, barely registering who gave what to whom. In half an hour, it’s all over, a pile of toys already forgotten on the floor. We play games, but there are few real traditions, and it’s all kind of a letdown afterwards. I don’t have kids; I’ve kind of always been the spinster aunt, so I’ve never felt sure of my role in trying to stop the madness or introduce more meaningful activities.

I haven’t decided what to give my nieces this year, but the Heifer International idea is sounding more and more appealing. The last thing I want to do is add another video game or DVD to their collection. I kind of wonder how it will be received if I decide to be the weird aunt who bought a goat for a farmer in Uganda instead of a “proper” Christmas gift. (It’s probably way too late to be worried about that sort of thing though; I’m already the weird aunt: I joined the Peace Corps, I’m still single at 34, and I don’t want kids.) But the girls — the two oldest, at least — are old enough now to understand that there are people in the world whose needs are far greater than their own, and to start thinking about ways to help them. Maybe it’s time to start creating some new traditions.

*The exception to this is wedding gifts. If I ever get married, you’d better believe I am hitting up the registries.

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One comment

  1. I am 32 and I have a nephew who has everything he could dream of wanting at the snap of his fingers. I feel much the same way you do about gift giving and the value of things vs connections with people and also am at a loss of what to do about it. I always thought it would be wasy to follow through with what was in my heart. All of my college friends were very familiar with my thought process. But those friends are scattered across the nation and now I have new aquaintances and work friends and my boyfriend’s family members who I have known for a while, but haven’t bonded with on the same level as my college friends. But I know they’re opinions (or shall we say expectations) about presents ect, so now I feel stuck and uncomfortable. I’ve heard these people complain about what they are given! I don’t want to give anything to people like that.
    What I’ve ended up doing is being a bit alienated. I don’t send my nephew birthday presents for now (while he’s very young), but I send the whole family a Christmas gift. Last year, it was a citrus basket since I live in Florida; the year before, a cookie basket. I don’t get anything from them, not even a thanks, but I know from family chatter that my brother expected me to be a more involved aunt and wonders why we don’t have a better relationship. But we don’t speak much and it’s uncomfortable when we do b/c we are entirely different people. I don’t understand forcing something just b/c you are biologically related to someone. Perhaps when we lived in tribes, and peace was essential for survival of the group. But people live far apart and essentially have NO relationship, yet we force obligations upon each other.

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