The Neiman Marcus Christmas Book is an icon of luxury gift giving. This year the book includes a limited-edition BMW sedan for $160,000, turf from a Texas Stadium end zone – a mere $500,000, a three hole backyard golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus for $1 million and a stable of 12 to 15 Thoroughbreds for just $10 million.
For those of us who are actually on a budget this holiday season, I want to encourage you to think differently about your gift giving. At the heart of a gift is the idea of letting someone know how much they mean to us and how much we appreciate them. The heart of it is much bigger than credit card debt, consumer-driven marketing strategies and giving a bunch of stuff that will be discarded someday for the landfill.
I started to think about all the gifts I have been given or given to others over the years. In thirty years of my life, I can seriously remember only a handful of gifts. In contrast, I have far more treasured memories of the experience of Christmas and of giving to others.
I remember my Norwegian grandmother teaching me how to make Krum kaka and lefsa. The smells and warmth from her kitchen are still with me today. Decorating the house with my mother and sister, is still one of my favorite things because we are together. Christmas music playing in the background with the smells of cinnamon and pumpkin spices. Perhaps some of my best memories were conversations around a fireplace and feeling warm. At the heart of these memories is something far greater than money can buy.
One of my favorite books is Gary Chapmans Five Love Languages (http://www.fivelovelanguages.com). In this book Chapman uses real-life examples from over thirty years of marriage counseling to illustrate the five distinct languages people use to express love. I would like to encourage you to think about how you like to express love, care and appreciation into your gift giving this Christmas.
Giving the gift of Words of Affirmation – If you have a friend, spouse or child that thrives on words, try some creative ways to convey what they mean to you. Think about creating a treasure map with special notes that helps them discover what you love about them. You could also try sending a special card or e-card for each of the 12 days of Christmas. In this hectic paced life a hand written card can say volumes to people who feel loved and appreciated through the gift of words. Another way to do this is during the Christmas meal, have every member at the table share a special word of affirmation about the people who are sitting at your table. Young and old alike, this can be a very powerful gift to receive public affirmation and appreciation.
Giving the Gift of Quality Time – Statistics tells us that parents average less than an hour with their children per day. For Christmas, wrap up a box full of special books for your kids from the library that you plan to read to them every night for the next two weeks. Another idea is to collect your favorite holiday films and have a special movie night with blankets, pillows, special pajama’s, homemade popcorn or even homemade caramel popcorn balls and spend the time close to each other. Make your time together count and pack it with meaningful, quality moments that you can remember.
Giving the gift – For those people who love to receive gifts or a symbol of love, its all about the presentation and thoughtfulness of the gift. Maybe you want to surprise your spouse with a special DVD from your wedding, wrap it up and write a special note of how you want to remember the best decision you ever made. For children, wrap up all the ingredients to make a fun Christmas baking treat and have them learn to make it with you. Years ago when I was a poor graduate student, I wanted to give a special gift to all my girlfriends. I decided to make Russian Tea mix and packaged in really cute in bags I found in a gift store. I was able to give 40 friends a special handmade gift with a card filled with a memory of our friendship for less than $20. When I was just starting my career, everyone in my office was buying gifts for each other. Again I was budget conscious and went to a nice department store and bought two truffles for everyone in my office. The candy counter had little white boxes behind the counter that I asked for that held two truffles each. I wrapped them with extra attention to details, wrote a special note about each person and how I wanted them to know how unique and special they were – just like a chocolate truffle.
Giving the gift of Service – Depending on the person, sometimes helping them with a project is the greatest gift of all. If you know how to finish a household project that has been lingering for too long – its time to do it. Maybe it is getting your kids to clean up the house and making a special pizza for mom while she’s gone getting groceries. Perhaps you could help finish a project that has a colleague overwhelmed at work or taking a shift for them when they really need it. I think that for many parents today, the greatest gift is someone who will provide great care for their children and allow them to have a date night. So if you can give free babysitting support – create a booklet as your Christmas present that gives your friends the “okay” to ask you.
Giving the gift of Physical Touch – Touch is important. Everyone needs it, but it needs to be appropriate, loving and within the right context. My daughters love it when I do their hair “special” or I cuddle with them. When I am at home with my parents and siblings for the holidays, we all give each neck and shoulder rubs while we sit around the fireplace. One year for Christmas, I gave my husband a spa pedicure at home. He had never had one and thought it was awesome. Remember that it is okay to hug your friends and family – especially during the holidays. Years ago, when I was working with teenagers, I would have lines of young kids hug me goodbye at the end of our weekly youth meetings. Many kids told me it was the only hug they got all week. When a teenager wants a hug – give them one.
Remember that you can truly give meaningful and loving gifts without spending a cent. Attention to details, building memories, sharing laughter, meeting the needs of your family and friends, and spending time together being blessed is truly a gift worth giving.
In times of uncertainty, economic hardships, crazy schedules and stress, it is so valuable to remind yourself to focus on what is truly important and build into your life the moments that are worth remembering for a lifetime. Perhaps the best gifts, are the simple ones and by adjusting our expectations and practices of giving, we too, can be in the place just right.
"Simple Gifts" was written by Elder Joseph while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine in 1848. These are the lyrics to his one-verse song:
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.