• November 27, 2014

Struggling with the gift-buying dilemma

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Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013 5:00 am

It is Dec 19 and I am by no means ready for Christmas. The decorating has been attempted, but temporarily abandoned. The baking is nonexistent. The cards have not been mailed and let’s not even talk about the shopping. Or let’s. Though I am female, shopping is not my favorite activity. And especially not at Christmas time. I wish I were the type of organized person who had everyone crossed out on her list by Halloween but sadly, that is not, nor will it ever be me.

But what is behind this strange procrastination? Let me make something perfectly clear before I go any further: I love gift-giving. I just don’t like to feel pressured or obligated to purchase, and as we all know, the holidays have become a retailer’s dream where the message is simple: Show how much you love your family and friends by buying them stuff ... even though this goes against the grain of what we’re celebrating in the first place, even though we know material things don’t equal love or happiness or satisfaction (after the initial “high” wears off. I’ve made enough impulse purchases in my lifetime to finally get that.), even though we’re all tightening our proverbial belts in this uncertain economy. And most importantly, even though “the reason for the season” is Jesus’ birth. So the big question is, why do we fall victim to this gift-giving frenzy that makes many of us feel frazzled, guilt-ridden and, ultimately, just plain bad? 

Lest you call me the ultimate Scrooge, I realize kids need toys and gifts at Christmas time — this is not about them. I’m talking about adults - grown-ups who know what they need and can pretty much get these things on their own. That would include me, by the way. 

What baffles me (and my husband) is why we keep ourselves in this somewhat crazy do-loop of commercial spending when, most likely, the people we are frantically shopping for are probably feeling the same way about shopping for us. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Not everyone is on this bandwagon, however. I spoke with a perfectly sane woman the other day who told me she announced to her extended family members that no longer would she be mailing them gifts during the holidays, but she would be happy to donate money to a worthy charity in his/her name. I thought that was brilliant. Some families throw names in the hat and choose one person to buy for. Also a reasonable and smart idea. Making handmade gifts is another way to give to loved-ones while maintaining the spirit of the season.      

This dilemma reminds me of a quirky film called “The Abilene Paradox” (aka “The Road to Abilene”), which is frequently shown in leadership and communication workshops. It’s dated but the message is timeless.  The video centers on a family of four somewhere in Texas who are laconically going about a hot afternoon, trying to figure out what to do next. Someone suggests taking a road trip to Abilene and somehow the foursome agrees to go, with little enthusiasm. So off they go to have dinner in Abilene. On the way back, each person realizes that no one truly wanted to go but thought the others did and were afraid to offer a differing opinion. It is the classic example of group-think.

For military families like ours, buying gifts is a way to “touch” people when we know we can’t be together. I get that. It’s difficult to be geographically separated from relatives throughout the year but even more so during this poignant holiday season. Gifts are a tangible reminder that we love and miss a person. Gifts are a way to say, “See?  I battled the mall for you!” 

So each year I gnash my teeth, pull tufts out of my hair and join the throngs searching for the “perfect” gift, often barely remembering that person’s clothing sizes or current preferences. It’s a gamble and I know I don’t hit the mark all the time. But I keep doing it all the while wondering if there’s a better way and how do we jump off the merry-go-round together to get to it? If you’ve solved this dilemma in a graceful manner, I’d love to hear from you. If you’re still struggling, please drop me a line and share your struggle. Or perhaps you sincerely enjoy shopping and buying gifts for all your family members and friends? Whatever the case, if we all put our heads together, we can strive to capture more of the true essence of this beautiful season.

Happy Holidays!

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