The Politics of Presents
Welcome to November 1st--otherwise known as only 54 shopping days until Christmas.
When did this become our starting point? Or more importantly, how do we make it end?
For me, the gig is finally up. Yup. 2012 marks the official start of our no presents policy. No holiday gifts. No birthday gifts. BAM! There are a few exceptions to the rule. Little ones. Secret Santa, but that's about it. I know you're secretly jealous.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to address the issue a few years back. But I wasn't as strong in my convictions. It took a bit more soul searching--and needling from my husband who prodded with, "Well, you could just keep being a follower..." to put me in a brave(r) place. (Attacks on my personal character, even tongue-in-cheek, never fail to motivate.)
The problem for me? The complicated politicizing of presents, that goes way beyond massive consumerism. I'm a communicator. And a relationships girl. I like the connections fostered with others. I enjoy learning about people. Their passions, dreams. What makes them tick. Really listening to what they're saying. And I value the experiences shared with the folks in my life, way over stuff.
To me, gift giving is extension of that day-to-day connection, not some sort of obligation or, worse, a replacement for it. In its purest form, A present should say: This made me think of you. Or: I thought you would enjoy this. Period. End of story. There's no ill will behind true gift giving. No one-upmanship. No competition. It should be a simple, joyful act, to give and receive.
But when presents go rote obligation, as dictated by our society and the National Retail Federation, the communications behind them get a whole lot more complicated. Instead of buying something because you want to, you do it because you have to, cursing those hard-to-buy-for peeps on your list. But the greater truth, here, is completely ignored. The real reason they're hard to buy for is because you don't know them.
And granted, it's easy to just continue the cycle. Same as it ever was. You could follow the template, placating yourself with the tired mantra: It's the thought that counts. And maybe it is, as long as you're counting the real thought: I grabbed this right before I got to the check-out, so I could check you off the list.
And really, how is this good for anyone?
When Andre started a new job just weeks before last Christmas, and small gifts began appearing on his desk, he was faced with the dilemma of what to get his co-workers. I made the really bold suggestion that maybe it should be nothing. Maybe he could opt out of the stuff, with a personalized card, telling each co-worker how they helped him transition into his new position. It was a hit.
None of this should be revolutionary stuff.
But unfortunately it all is.