The true gift lies in what’s behind the “stuff”

By Bridget Baker

Across much of the world, we view the holiday season as “the most wonderful time of the year,” and a time full of “comfort and joy.” This focus on being “jolly” and “merry and bright” can go from a positive emotion to a feeling of pressure to give more, to celebrate more, and can hit on pains you never knew you had. How could a holiday time that’s supposed to be so “happy” start bringing up feelings of stress, lacking, and frustration?

In the true spirit of giving, what if you knew that sharing your presence —  not your presents — was enough? What if the people around you would prefer to laugh and connect with you over having some physical item that may just end up cluttering their already-full closet or kitchen? Do they really want the latest kitchen gadget, or are you just looking for some way to show people how much you care for them in the form of a physical item?

Our culture has placed so much importance on the “stuff” of the season and has gone way beyond the true meaning of what most cultures are celebrating. Years ago, I used to scour malls and sales, looking for the perfect gift for someone that would accurately express the way I felt about them, how important they were to me, and to convey how well I knew them and was there for them. I was buying gifts for people I thought I “should,” rather than what felt authentic for me.

Now, gifts are not bad in and of themselves; but I would shop right up until the mall doors closed on Christmas Eve, checking everyone off of my list and making sure I had enough little goodies to fill their stockings or to perfect the wreath of presents surrounding the tree. It started to feel like I was looking for things that they didn’t need, and I wasn’t even sure they wanted.

It wasn’t only about what the gift was; it was also about how much it cost. I mean, what if that person got me something with a higher price tag than what I got them? What if they already had what I was buying them? What if, what if, what if?!

This gift-giving began to feel like a competition, and especially if I was having a lean year financially, I had to put gifts on credit just to show people how well I was doing, or how much I cared about them. I thought what money could buy defined love.

In the past fifteen years or so, as I began to look for a way out from this emphasis on consumption, I found myself looking for new ways to celebrate the season and to express my gratitude or love for the people around me. It is human nature to want to give to people we care about; yet, it’s difficult for most of us to allow ourselves to accept any contribution. I started learning about minimalism, and the focus on gifting experiences over gifting things, and I found what was authentic — for me — about the holiday spirit again. Even though I don’t celebrate a denominational holiday myself, I like to take this time of year to express my gratitude for the people in my life.

Here are some ways you can create a meaningful holiday without buying anything — or at least not a physical item — this year:

  1. Stop sending out paper holiday cards. It is better for the environment, for your wallet, and you can find a fun online version where you can even share video. My favorite source is JibJab. Or just send out a simple picture of your family by email.
  2. Keep the decorations simple. It’s amazing what a simple strand of well-placed LED lights will do. Go outside and collect some pine cones or greenery for a truly eco-friendly decor option.
  3. Have friends over to decorate or make holiday cookies and warm holiday beverages of your choice. Use the season to catch up and truly connect with people you care about or want to know better.
  4. Don’t overcommit yourself. I was at a holiday party one year where someone said they had four gatherings to go to that day, and instead of being excited about it, it was a source of stress. If it’s too much, politely decline. You can say no, you know.
  5. Gift an experience. The best present is your presence. Call an old friend. Take someone out for a cup of coffee. Go ice-skating. Try Groupon for a great place to look for experience-based gifts.
  6. Spend time or invite someone to join you who is alone for the holidays. Death, divorce,  or life changes can leave people orphans for the holidays. Take the time to include them in your gatherings or go visit them.

In addition to these, I am a fan of giving gifts when it feels authentic — for no reason at all! You don’t need a Hallmark holiday to take the time to tell someone you love them. If you know that someone in your life needs something, and you can give it to them, gift it “just because.”

Whether you celebrate one holiday, all the holidays, or none at all, have a cozy rest of your December with your friends and family.

bridget baker | branding consultant and website designer | online creative for the brick magazine | productivity hacker | digital nomad | freelance blogger |minimalist adventurer | speaker |

my mission: be clear. be simple. be you! 

**Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash