Christmas vintage presents on a wooden background

Gift-Giving: What’s the Point?

The simple act of gift-giving has become extremely complicated. I blame that on the consumer credit industry.

Think about it: You can be completely broke but still spend thousands of dollars on Christmas gifts—and believe it is not only your right to do so but that you are obligated to do it.

The culture has created a message that we have to spend a lot on Christmas gifts to be socially acceptable.

Christmas vintage presents on a wooden background

Gift-giving is a custom that has pretty much run amok. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose to make wise and reasonable decisions about the gifts we give.

How many of you cannot recall the gifts you gave last Christmas? How about the gifts you received? Come on, let’s see those hands. Okay, that’s just about everybody.

It’s not because we’re total ingrates that we have trouble remembering the gifts we gave or even the ones we received.

It’s because when it’s all over, the gifts pale in comparison to the joy they deliver—the love and best wishes for the season. That’s what we carry with us from one year to the next.

Gifts are Messengers

Gifts are tokens of the esteem we hold for people we care about. They deliver our love and our best wishes.

Gifts express the fondness we have for another person. Without the care, love, or concern, the gift is empty. Giving a gift just so you can mark a name off a list is a hollow effort that is likely to fall flat no matter how much money you spend.

Okay, so here’s another question:

How many of you still have a sense of the joy and good feelings associated with gift-giving that took place in your home and your life last Christmas, even if you cannot recall the specific gifts?

Look at that. Hands are going up all over the room! At least some of those gifts did their job. They delivered the joy and the love and then quietly slipped out of the spotlight.

Those who couldn’t raise your hands may be remembering the stress of finding the perfect gift, the hassle because you waited until the last minute. You might be recalling the guilt for spending money you didn’t have on things you don’t remember and you haven’t been paid for yet.

Think about it this way

If you struggle with the thought that the gifts you give must fulfill the recipients’ deepest longing and fondest dreams, think of the gifts you will give in the same way you would think of a special meal you prepare.

You want it to be delicious and for your guests to enjoy it thoroughly. But no matter how fluffy your mashed potatoes or delectable the prime rib, it’s still a meal and it will end.

Your guests will not continue to eat the meal for months to come, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t delicious and they didn’t enjoy it. They will take away the memories of the meal and the love with which it was prepared and served.

Your gifts should bring a momentary sense of joy, but it’s the memories of your expression that will live on.

It’s about what matters most

If you don’t know what to give someone, ask this simple question: What matters to him or her? You have to know this person pretty well to know the answer to that question without inquiring. You almost have to be a detective. You have to pay attention, listen, and observe.

Every year about this time I let my inner personal shopper come out to play as I spend hours researching, searching, and creating my Best Ideas Gift Guides based on personal interest, age, gender, and so forth. I don’t buy all of these things, goodness no! But I do share my ideas and what I find, hoping it helps others to cut through all the noise and overwhelm to come up with appropriate and meaningful gifts.

Not every occasion requires a gift. Sometimes a card that you buy or make yourself in which you write a really thoughtful sentiment is an excellent way to go. Caring enough to pick out the right card and then taking the time and effort to write in it can say, “I care!” even better than a gift could.

Being a responsible gift-giver will help you to be an excellent recipient as well. Knowing that it’s the thought that went into the gift that counts—not the price tag—will help you to be genuinely grateful. You cannot be too grateful. But you can fail to express your gratitude, and that’s always a bad thing.

Give something you made

Whether it’s something from your kitchen, your craft room, woodworking shop, or computer, there’s just nothing like a homemade gift. A tree ornament, plate of cookies, box of fudge, a bottle of pure vanilla extract note cards—these are just some of the kinds of homemade gifts with universal appeal.

Give the gift of compassion

Do you want your gift to say how much you care? Then find a way to show you care about what matters most to that person.

Is he or she passionate about medical research? Become a bone marrow donor. An environmentalist? Donate to an organization that reforests and plant a tree in his/her name. Do something that this person will find meaningful and then do it in their honor. Write a description of your experience and give it to your recipient.

Give what you do best

Often the most meaningful gifts and the most difficult ones to give are those that cost no money at all. A gift from the heart is a gift of time and talent.

What do you do well? Cook, clean, babysit, garden, sew, drive, shop? Whatever it is, create a unique gift certificate and make what you do the gift that you give: A weekend of babysitting, a day of housecleaning, six hours of errand running—you get the idea.

Hint: Follow up within just a few days to set the exact time your certificate will be redeemed. Your recipient may be too embarrassed to remind you to make good on the gift.

Give it in writing

Worried that your gifts—homemade or otherwise—are too cheap or not just exactly right? All of your doubts will vanish when you include a short note with each of your gifts telling the recipients what they mean to you and the value they bring to your life.

The best gift is one that delivers a message of love and joy that remains with the recipient long after the gift has been consumed, used, or put away.



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12 replies
  1. susan says:

    this is from FaceBook: THE LITTLE WHITE ENVELOPE: “It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years.
    It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas. Oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it – overspending and the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma – the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.
    Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
    Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was on the wrestling team at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.
    As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.
    Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids – all kids. He so enjoyed coaching little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came.
    That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed a small, white envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done, and that this was his gift from me.
    Mike’s smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. And that same bright smile lit up succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition – one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
    The white envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children – ignoring their new toys – would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the small, white envelope never lost its allure.
    The story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree. And the next morning, I found it was magically joined by three more. Unbeknownst to the others, each of our three children had for the first time placed a white envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down that special envelope.
    Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.”
    For the Man Who Hated Christmas
    (A true Christmas Story by Nancy W. Gavin, December 2015)

  2. Linda D Radosevich says:

    Mary, the answer to your question ‘why do we give’ is because it reminds us of the the greatest gift we’ve ever received – the gift of Jesus from God, His Father.
    Love Everyday Cheapskate and all the replies from your readers!

  3. Dottie says:

    You have some terrific ideas. A friend of mine is having her kitchen remodeled. Of course this had to start 2 days before Thanksgiving and will, hopefully , be finished just before Christmas. (It has to be a total gut job, right down to the studs and sub floor).What timing, especially when the possibility of our county going “red” at any moment! She’s been fretting for months now about what to do for the holidays.. my gift to her is to have her loan her recipes to me and I will do her baking for her. My pantry is well stocked and this will take a lot of pressure off her and keep her “cookie hounds” happy.

  4. Sherill Roberts says:

    Excellent suggestions. For us, this Christmas we have made books for each of the 4 grandkids. They love the stories their granddad tells, so he has written four different stories featuring each kid, and we have illustrated them with photos of the kids and stock photos from the internet. We have sent them to Shutterfly to print. For the 8-year-old a story of being a knight and defending the castle. For one 4-year-old a story of a board game coming to life. For the other other 4-year-old a story of going back in time to celebrate Halloween again. And for the 1.5-year old, a story of going for a walk with us and seeing all his favorite things. We have had so much fun making these books that we want to do it again, but for their birthdays. That way we won’t have all the work to do at once.

    • Danna Murden says:

      I think that is one of the most wonderful ideas I have every heard of. But may I give you one more suggestion while your at it write the story of your lives together. Or even start when you were children, how you meet and on & on. They are to little to give it to now but oh it is something they will cherish for forever just like the wonderful books you are writing now. I am 69 and lived a stones throw from my Grandparents and what wonderful memories of Grand people. And you sound just as thoughtful.


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