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Do you remember when you were a child and the Sears catalog would arrive right before the holidays and you, or at least I would, go through and circle everything you wanted for Christmas? It had all the presents you could want in one place. I can hear my father right now saying, “Did you leave anything for anyone else?” I would always have a split second of guilt, but it quickly passed.

Sears Catalog 1962

The holidays can be like a juggling act, like trying to narrow down your choices from the Sears catalog when it comes to gift giving. We all know the drill. You make a list with everyone’s name on it and what you think they want. You ask the ones near and dear to you to be more specific and then you add that to the list you have already started; all the while acting like you are putting everyone else’s wants ahead of your own.

Over the years, a very typical comment we would hear during this time of year from our three kids went something like this, “I really need this for Christmas.” Then my husband or I would respond, “You might want it, but you certainly don’t need it.” There is a difference in the two. So many of us honestly don’t truly need anything for Christmas. It is very tricky during the holidays just not to go out and splurge on getting everyone whatever it is you think that they just can’t live without and that will fulfill all their dreams.

Yeah right….

Why is it exactly that we even give gifts during the holidays?  For me, the idea of giving someone a gift is an act of kindness to express to them that they are special, that I appreciate them. It is a token of love and gratitude. It usually seems to me that one correlates one’s value by the amount of money spent on a gift. The more we spend on the gift, the more that person on the receiving end is valued. I am here to tell you that is absolutely not accurate! Not all gift giving has to be wrapped in beautiful paper or actually cost money.

Also, here’s a little sidebar: just because you receive a gift doesn’t mean you have to give one. Don’t steal everyone’s thunder! I recently checked into a hotel and actually was involved in an incident in the lobby. The hotel manager sent an obnoxious gift to my room expressing his gratitude for my involvement in helping solve the crisis. There was no need for me to steal his thunder. He was expressing his gratitude and that was his moment. It did not require me to compete with his gift nor try to one up him.

Many times we give gifts that embarrass others. Prior to my father’s passing away, my brother and I pooled our funds and purchased him a new TV. He just kept saying you should not have done this. He went on and on and at one point I really felt a little uncomfortable that we had given him a gift he felt he had to compete with. Often times I think we give gifts out of habit? My neighbor and I had exchanged gifts for years. I had received candles of every fragrance you can imagine and a picture frame of every size. Finally one year we said, “Let’s pool our money and buy a gift for our mailman.” We now have taken great joy in changing the recipient of our gift each year and now look forward to this new tradition we have created.

A volunteer boxes food for the hungry.

There are many gifts that we can give that don’t require money. We can give gifts of service; we can keep our gifts local; we can give gifts of love. No one ever said a gift has to fit neatly into a shirt box. Let’s think outside that shirt box for our gift giving this year.

This past year our economy has been brutal we have had floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, and so many people are downtrodden and in despair. It is the gesture of giving that is important. I would love to create a revolution of giving as we have never seen before. Let’s explore some non traditional giving options.

Gifts of service require nothing but your time. In my humble opinion gifts of service show genuine concern for your fellow man. Volunteer to babysit for a young couple to allow them to have a date night or volunteer to clean at the homeless shelter. Wouldn’t it be a grand idea to involve your children and teach them about gifts that keep on giving as opposed to just another toy or more “stuff” that within days will bore them and cause them to move on to the next new thing. See if your children even remember what they received last year for Christmas; odds are they don’t. Volunteer with them. Serve a meal with them at the local soup kitchen in honor of someone, volunteer to walk the dogs at the animal shelter, pick an item off their list, purchase it and deliver it to The Boys and Girls Club and give to a child their age. Gather a group of their friends and in lieu of exchanging gifts among each other, sponsor a family in need. Then pause and reflect on what you have done and end the activity by counting the ways your family and friends are truly blessed.

Don’t forget those who provide you with services during the year. Make sure you show your genuine gratitude with a token of appreciation to people such as the trash collectors, baby sitters, local waitress, your child’s teacher etc…. What about giving gifts to fulfill genuine needs? Let’s call this category gifts with benefits. Your options are endless and yet each one is beneficial to those receiving the gift. These gifts will be actually used and most likely  not re-gifted. Some that immediately come to my mind are: oil changes, hair cuts, dry cleaning, lawn service, gym membership, cleaning lady for a day…you get the idea.

The act of giving to me is so much more important than the actual gift. Let’s think about skipping the big screen TVs and the trip to Hawaii; let’s try and give gifts that impact and change lives. Let’s give ones that will touch the lives of others or provide meaningful aid to those in need in some shape, form or fashion.

So grab your girlfriends and turn the task of purchasing a gift into an afternoon of showing kindness to your community. Team up with family members or your child’s school and make the holidays merrier for someone less fortunate than you. Use these ideas and more to know what it means to give to make a difference. And I leave you with this…why stop in December? If it feels so good to make a difference, try it another month of the year as well! Open your heart and hands more often and trust me you will be the better person for it.

I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and the most fulfilling new year.

Photo 1 credit by: Telstar Logistics

Photo 2 credit by: Create the Good

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