Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Art and Spirit of Giving

One of the best things I ever heard about Christmas shopping is to honor the person to whom you are giving in your choice of gifts. This single concept is revolutionary in its simplicity. It helps me to focus not on just getting it done, but on contemplating before I shop and pondering as I shop what would honor a particular person. But what does it mean to give honor?

Some people are easy to shop for. They have hobbies, they collect things, you know what they like. Other people seem to have everything. Like my dad. If you ask him what he wants or needs, he will tell you to save your money, because he knows you don't have much. He doesn't read (such people are particularly tricky!). He loves golf, but he buys himself all the necessary paraphernalia. He may appreciate something unique, like a gumball machine for his office, but he won't actually use it. My dad, however, is a clothes hound. It might seem boring to the giver, but a nice sweater or a snazzy hat will make him happy.

There is a key in that to honoring your loved one. What will make him happy? When I was in my 20s I had a boyfriend who asked me what I wanted for Christmas. What I wanted more than anything was a VCR. This was back in the 90s when they were still kind of expensive and not everyone had one. He fussed and said he did not want to get me that! He argued that we could watch videos at his apartment. That was the point. I wanted to be able to rent a video and watch it at my own apartment, with or without him. Although he did eventually acquiesce, his resistance to honoring me in the area of gift giving was reflective of his general lack of honor. So put the recipient of the gift ahead of yourself. While you may not adore images of Justin Bieber or his music, if your child loves him, you know what you need to do!

I read a Dear Abby column once in which a woman complained that she gave meaningful, handmade gifts and that a member of her family never displayed them in her home. The giver equated the gifts being handmade with more intrinsic meaning than a store bought item. And she evidently was more concerned with what she valued than she was with the taste and interests of the person to whom she gave her gifts. While I do not advocate compromising your own morals and ethics, if the person on your list, for example, hates primitive handicrafts but loves mass produced products by a particular company, to honor her you need to buy what she prefers, not what you want to give her.

You can honor someone with a practical gift just as easily as you can with a luxurious one. I noticed one year that my grandpa's slippers were worn out, so I got him a nice, new pair. They could be worn outside, which I thought would be great when Grandpa went to get his newspaper. I never saw him wear the old pair again. There was a time when I didn't have enough money even for the basics, so gifts of underwear and socks surely honored me!

There are also the gifts of time, service and attention. A young cousin of mine has for years made it a tradition to decorate our grandparents' house for Christmas. She digs everything out of the basement and gives the gift of her time, energy, and creative talents. Inviting a friend to bake Christmas cookies at your home, helping to organize a church bazaar, and singing carols at a nursing home are all a part of the spirit of giving. This is the time of year to reach out to family and friends who live far away. A card, phone call, or invitation to Christmas dinner can go a long way in re-establishing a personal connection, repairing estranged relationships, and getting you out of yourself.

In the Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi and the ancient tea ceremony, the guest is all. If someone comes to stay in your home, remember that preparing for a trip and traveling can be exhausting, and the willingness to do this to spend the holidays with you is a gift in itself. Put the comfort of your guests ahead of yourself, nurturing them not only as family, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. They may feel left out of the family if they live a distance away, so make the effort to reassure them that they are honored and included. Most of all, set aside your expectations this holiday season for how things should go, how children should behave, what food should be served, how the house should look, what someone should know that you would or would not want for Christmas. "Should" is a 4-letter word! Meditate instead on how you can honor one another in the art and spirit of genuine giving. Merry Christmas!!

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