Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are just behind us, while Christmas is just a mere three weeks away. We’ve entered that time of year again…the holidays. Three big traditions come up in my life around this time: getting and giving presents, seeing family, and preparing for the new year. I’m going to spend the next three blog posts reflecting on each of these traditions and how we can deepen them.
So this week I’m looking at getting and giving presents. When I romanticize it, it’s a wonderful tradition of giving and getting appreciation, support, love, and celebration. But when I’m in the thick of it, I often feel obligated, burdened, and judged.
Do I give a gift to my cousin, or my uncle, who I haven’t spoken to since the last Christmas truly as an expression of my gratitude that they’re (vaguely) in my life? Or do I give the gift because I feel obligated since if I don’t I might be judged or look down on? Do I give the gift because I have to?
I certainly do give gifts to people out of a sense of obligation. And I notice that what comes along with that is this resentment about the holidays. ”Oh geeze, better tighten my belt and stick close to my budget” I groan.
And I spend a good deal of my time picking presents while worrying about “will this person like it?”, “will they be disappointed/hurt/upset if they don’t like it?”, “what would that person think of me if I don’t get them a gift?”
I remember this worry about being judged going back as far as when I was little. My parents and other kids at school would tell me “Santa only brings presents to good children. Bad kids get coal.” What a message that is for kids, “if you’re good then you get presents, and if you’re bad you get a lump of coal while watching everyone else opening up their presents.” A reward and punishment system at its best.
But all of this resentment, obligation, and judgment seem so at odds with the general message of joy, celebration, and good cheer. And so I want to find a new way to relate to this tradition of giving and receiving.
We just left Thanksgiving, a holiday dedicated to expressing gratitude and appreciations. What a wonderful idea for a holiday! In fact, I find Thanksgiving to be one of the most fun holidays because it is completely centered around sharing a meal with loved ones and expressing your appreciation for each of them. Who doesn’t want to get invited to that meal?
And so what if for this holiday season I, and you, practiced giving to others in the form of giving appreciations. If we practiced giving one another peace and harmony by acting calm and civil while shopping or traveling. If we practiced giving comfort and hope to people as we treat them with extra patience and compassion these next few weeks. What if you and I found novel and interesting ways to give to all sorts of people in our lives, certainly family and friends, but also co-workers and strangers. We might notice that in giving some small acts of kindness each day we will receive so much more.
And what if you and I practiced receiving little joys from one another. Really receive the next time someone says an earnest “thank you”. Really take it in the next time someone goes out of their way to help you out. Really feel the joy that comes from knowing you contributed in some way to another person’s life.
Instead of focusing on some sort of material giving and getting, let’s focus on receiving and giving more joy, honesty, compassion, respect, and love to one another this holiday season.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.