Thoughtful Gift-giving

Yesterday I posted about balancing wants and needs. I had so many interesting responses that I would like to explore this topic a bit further…

I am sure most of you are still going about your last-minute gift shopping. I know very few people who plan far ahead and have nothing left to buy after Thanksgiving. Everyone wants to give gifts to people they care about. It is a way of expressing their love and showing that they took the time to think about what the recipient would really like. And this again comes back to the black and white of needs and wants, but throws in the gray of what would make someone happy.

One reader said her son had come to appreciate the “care” package she sent him every year, even though it included necessities as well as some special items. I think it is wonderful that he now sees this as an expression of her love for him (priceless) and does not measure the value of the gift itself. Does this mean we should not give extravagant gifts? Another reader pointed out that Jesus accepted oil as a token of devotion. If offering this gift felt right, it should be accepted even if it is expensive.

The purpose of a gift is to make the recipient happy, and by extension, also bring happiness to the giver. We all love to see the expressions of excitement, surprise and jubilation when we bestow a gift on someone and the feeling of pleasure that we get from their reaction is rewarding. By contrast, when we see the disappointment or fake excitement (which we can all see through), we feel like we have failed.

I think we have set ourselves up for this by asking children of a very young age to tell “Santa” what they want. Many parents also use the threat of “coal” for bad behavior, which implies that children deserve the gifts simply because they were good. Instead of teaching children to accept what they get gratefully and express their appreciation to the giver, we knock ourselves out trying to secretly buy the wished for items (and if you heard of the Black Friday atrocities, we even knock out others), and by the time the kids realize who had given the presents all along, they are so used to crediting Santa that they often forget to thank us. So over time, the joy of gift-giving has turned more into a chore. If we expect unrewarding reactions, we put less time into our efforts. Sadly, it should not be this way.

Whether it costs $10 or$100, a gift is an expression of your love and should reflect that, loud and clear. As we make our gift choices for people, it is also important to maintain our values. If we are against playing with toy guns, for example, we would not purchase one no matter how high on the wish list it ranks. But then we are faced with a dilemma of not getting the reaction we would like from the recipient, or regretting our breach of values later.

So we keep searching for the perfect gift idea. Something that balances our values with an item or service that will have meaning and bring pleasure, whether it is a need the recipient doesn’t yet recognize, or a luxury that falls within these guidelines. Whatever we do, it is important to give from the heart and show that we care. That is the greatest gift of all.

Balancing Wants and Needs

With Christmas approaching,  my relatives have asked what my children want for a gift. I have dutifully passed this request on to each of them, only to get the response, “I don’t really need anything.” Well isn’t that great news? I suppose that means I am doing my job so well that they have no outstanding basic needs. Except I look at them and notice that they are each growing out of their favorite clothes, t-shirts or soffee shorts. When I suggest adding those to their list, they only shrug and say they will think of something.

I wait for a few days and then get handed lists with extravagant wants on it- a pet rabbit, a pair of pistols, a giant furry beanbag and a livescript pen. Now I suppose those could be categorized as wants, but are they realistic? Why do I ask them to come up with their wildest wishes and then crush their hopes by saying these are too expensive or not acceptable?

Balancing our wants and needs is always a delicate act. My son needed snow pants and a ski jacket. He would have liked one from The North Face. We settled for a non-brand name that would serve the purpose without breaking the bank when he outgrows it in a few months and needs a replacement. My daughter wanted some beautiful, dressy tops but she never wears them to school and she needed shirts for cold weather. We compromised on some classic  tops that look nice and match her conservative style.

In todays’ economic climate, it is important to be able to distinguish the difference between want and need and to work out acceptable solutions. If we want to eat out once a week, we need to cook sensible meals at home the rest of the time. If we want to replace furniture in the house, we have to evaluate how badly we want it and if it is really necessary. As much as we would love to buy presents for everyone on our list, we need to assess how practical that really is and what we could get that is worthwhile on a budget.

So while I don’t mean to put the Scrooge in gift-giving and am not suggesting handing out socks and underwear, this holiday season is going to require a lot of creative thinking on my part. I would not tell my relatives not to buy my children’s wish list items (well-except for the rabbit), but now I must try to come up with some clever ideas which they may not have thought of themselves or even recognized that they would want- something with a measure of practicality as well as pleasure. This gets more challenging by the year since they are no longer into kid toys and don’t read books. I prefer not to buy gift cards, they seem so impersonal. Maybe some family board games would get them excited…what would they wish for?

Doesn’t a wish imply something out of the ordinary? Oh no, I think that brings me back to square one.

A Winter Weather Poem

Early this morning, there arose such a clatter;

I sprang from my bed to see from where came the chatter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash, pulled up the blinds and threw up the sash.

And what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a v-shaped formation of honking Canada Geese!

They passed overhead, wings rapidly beating as if to warn me that winter is coming

I pulled in my head and turned around, knowing there soon will be snow on the ground

So today my task is to prepare, my family’s cold weather wear

thermals and snowpants, scarves, hats and mittens

jackets and snow boots and  other warm things.

The problem with kids is that they keep growing,

and you don’t want to be caught with the wrong size when it’s snowing.

And unlike the geese, we do not migrate

So I must head to the store before it’s too late.

Pennies and Postal Stamps

See a penny, pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck.”  old English superstition

I remember walking down the sidewalk as a child and being thrilled to find a penny, a nickel or especially a quarter. I would put it in my pocket and add it to my piggy bank, eventually roll it in paper stacks and deposit it in my savings account. I don’t know exactly how many found pennies added to the value, but the fun of finding them was priceless.

Along comes inflation and adulthood and picking up lost pennies, or even dimes, wasn’t worth the bother. Maybe I would bend over to pick up a quarter, but that was only because they worked in the parking meters. A few days ago, I was pumping gas and spotted something that brought this all back to me.

Better than coins, it was an uncancelled forever US postal stamp!

With the holiday season upon us, who wouldn’t want an extra stamp if they found one? I picked it up and brought it home. On my drive, I began to think of the ironies. A forever stamp that was issued by a government-run organization which is facing bankruptcy. Is this stamp going to really be usable forever? I’ll be happy to have it in January when the rates for a first class letter go up again.

Everyone seems to prefer emailing to handwriting letters, but no one wants to give up their free access to junk mail, which makes up the bulk of our daily deliveries. It is sad that such a credible and reliable service, whose motto proudly states their dedication, is in such trouble. At one time, the USPS was considered a real authority for the US government. Do you remember the scene from Miracle on 34th Street? Where the Judge declares Kris Kringle to be Santa Claus, based on the evidence of the mail addressed to him and delivered by the postal workers?

Hopefully the US postal stamp will not go the way of the penny. I guess this all means we should never take anything for granted.

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