Instead of increasing the joy of the Christmas season, giving presents at this time of year can often turn into a source of stress and frustration—yet another item on an already overwhelming December to-do list. When that happens, we have lost the spirit of the holiday.
As much as we claim to believe that Christmas is about giving rather than receiving, our behavior often communicates something else. If you want to regain the joy of giving for its own sake, a good place to begin is by rejecting the following common gift-giving fallacies.
1. Christmas Gifts Must Be Reciprocal
A gift by its very definition expects nothing in return. Yet at Christmastime it seems we often forget that little detail, turning gift giving into gift exchanging. A coworker surprises us with an unexpected token of appreciation and we race out to pick up something to give in return, lest we embarrass ourselves by not reciprocating. We decide that if we’re gonna give to this person, we better also give to that person so no feelings get hurt. We remember that so-and-so didn’t get us a present last year and decide we won’t give her one this year.
All of these attitudes miss the point. They also add unnecessarily to our seasonal stress by cluttering up the simple act of giving with a lot of unnecessary angst, guilt, and misguided duty. There’s a simple solution. Give what you want to give to the people you want to give to. Do so joyously, without keeping score. If others keep score, that’s their problem.
2. It Only Counts If You Give It on December 25
According to the retail industry, if you haven’t purchased, wrapped, and given it by Christmas Day, it’s not a Christmas gift. What the retailers conveniently forget is that December 25 is only the first of the 12 days of Christmas! Far from being the end of the season, it’s only the beginning.
If December is getting the best of you this year, take a deep breath and relax. There’s still plenty of time to shop and to give. In fact, that gift you deliver on December 29 or January 3 (or March 10 or July 15) may bring a much-needed blast of post-Christmas Day encouragement to someone who needs it.
Not only that, it may cost significantly less than it would have if you had purchased it in the weeks before Christmas. By the way, it’s also okay to send Christmas cards after Christmas. If you wait long enough, they will be Easter cards!
3. To Count as a Real Gift, It Has to Be New
There’s regifting, and there’s giving someone something in your possession that you think he or she will like. The two aren’t the same. Regifting is done to get rid of something you don’t want. But giving a personal possession to someone because you believe it is something he or she would like is the essence of giving. Don’t be afraid to do so.
You might have a book, a special dish, a piece of art, a unique item of jewelry, or something else that someone you care about would appreciate. Whatever it is, it could very well be one of the best gifts you ever give, in that by giving it you are giving a bit of yourself. Anyone who would look down on such a gift has his own lessons to learn about the true spirit of giving.
4. Our Christmas Giving Has to Be Equally Distributed
This fallacy comes in various forms: believing, as parents, that we need to give the same number of gifts, or spend the same amount of money, for each of our children; or believing that we should give someone the same level of gift as he gives to us; or believing that if we bought someone a present last year we need to do it again this year (and next year, and the year after that). Each of these attitudes takes a quantitative approach to giving, comparing and weighing gifts—and people—against each other.
This again misses the point. The reason we have Christmas is because God came down to earth in human form in order to give the greatest gift of all, with no strings attached, and nothing expected in return. The best homage we can pay to that greatest of all possible gifts is to approach our own giving in the same way, without any expectations, agenda, or complicated emotional baggage.
If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: it is more blessed to give than to receive. But the one who gives needs someone to receive the gift. No matter what side of the equation you find yourself on, giver or recipient, don’t allow the process to overshadow the gift.
Maybe this is your year to outdo Santa in the present department. If so, great! But maybe this year it’s all you can do to keep putting one foot in front of the other. If so, give yourself a break. Christmas will come, with or without the gifts. Forget the shopping, the wrapping, and distributing, and keep moving those feet forward until they walk you right to church. That’s where you’ll find the greatest gift of all.