Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Importance of Giving Presents

A few weeks ago, at the end of my post Christmas Shopping…Already, I said that I’d be back at some point to talk about why I think that kids need to give “real” presents to people, and not “just” something like a flock of ducks in their name from The Heifer Project.

This is that point.

First of all, let me say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with donating money to organizations like The Heifer Project, The Salvation Army, ELCA Good Gifts, or a number of other non-profit organizations that either strive to make life better for those who are less fortunate than us or help the planet. And there’s definitely nothing wrong with donating money to an organization that you know your friend or family member is an ardent supporter of.

And you can’t beat the fact that you get a nice tax deduction for buying someone a Christmas present.

I’ll also say that as a former teacher who got way too many “Best Teacher” mugs and ornaments, and all manner of other tchotchkes that very quickly got underfoot, I was thrilled beyond belief when one of my students made a donation to a charitable organization in my name instead (although the iTunes and Amazon gift cards I got from some other kids were good too). But people like teachers, who aren’t a part of your circle of close friends and family members, are a different story.

In an age when many people are starting to push back against the commercialism of the Christmas season that’s been going on for at least 100 years by suggesting giving to a charitable organization in the name of a friend or family member, I want to suggest that while this may be a wonderful idea for adults to do, it’s not such a great idea for kids.

Why not? Because it allows them to be lazy, and not take the time to actually think about the other people in their lives. Really…why take the time to actually think about what Grandma Thompson likes when you can just donate another flock of ducks, or mosquito netting for an African village, in her name? Giving an actual tangible present isn’t necessarily about feeding into the consumerist frenzy that happens at this time of year…it’s also about showing that you’re taking the time to think about the people in your life, what they like, what they enjoy doing, and what they might enjoy having.

This doesn’t even have to require any great feats of mind-reading (which almost always turn out disastrous). It does, however, involve paying attention throughout the course of the year, and noticing what other people like…or asking around to find out and get some ideas. It also doesn’t have to involve spending great sums of money and feeding “the Christmas Machine”; there are many inexpensive homemade gifts that can be given. The trick here is to make sure that it doesn’t become just another tchotchke that gets underfoot, and can’t ever be thrown away for sentimental reasons.

And while it may seem lazy, a specialized gift card…like to a favorite store, online vendor, or restaurant does show that someone did their research. So that Barnes & Noble card for the avid reader is actually a wonderful idea.

Now having said all this, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with giving to the cause for its own sake…as a present to the cause. In fact, in our family, donating to a cause is on everyone’s Christmas list…along with the presents to everyone else. But unless a particular family member or friend has specifically said that they don’t need or want anything, and would prefer that you make a donation to a specific charitable organization, I still think that children need to learn how to give actual gifts…

As an exercise in learning to think outside of themselves.

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