Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gift Giving: Awareness and Responsibility continued

Christmas is a time for giving. Although most of us would agree I also feel that to create mutual joy in giving it must be done with awareness and responsibility. Here’s an example: a few years ago I went to an annual gathering of friends and family that was traditionally gift free. However, that year, one of the party goers gave everyone a gift: a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates. I accepted it graciously, as we all did, but it did not give me joy. When I reflect back on it, I see that my enjoyment of the gift was diminished because there was a certain lack of awareness and responsibility on the gift givers part. Although I think she wanted to do the “right” or “nice” thing there was a lack of awareness and responsibility towards self: she could ill afford the cumulative price tag; towards others: several of the group did not drink alcohol; and towards community: the chocolate was not fair trade. What was behind this person’s gift giving? Was she giving to give joy to others or was she giving so she could somehow feel good about herself?

Perhaps I have just become jaded over the years from excessive commercialization of the holidays—guilt producing advertising that beseeches us to spend more to avoid disappointing others. Regardless, I do not appreciate gifts that one, create too large of an environmental footprint; two, are created by slave-wage labour; and three, create a financial burden on the giver. It does not give me joy.

Awareness and appropriate responsibility would take care of these issues but I have come to the conclusion that for some people, awareness and responsibility is next to impossible around Christmas because our codependent parts tend to move front and centre. Gift giving has the potential to be not so much about love or sharing but an exercise in negating one’s values/beliefs and feelings in favour of how we appear to the outside world.

And how can gift giving be codependent? To quote the poet, let me count the ways:

1. I give because it’s the “right” thing to do. I give lip service to what I actually want or am financially able to do. I do what society/family/community expects of me regardless of the consequences.

2. I give because the other person will be giving to me. This is about negating my needs and right to choose as I relinquish, to another, my responsibility to self. The giving becomes not so much about love than it does about appearances, guilt, and unrealistic expectations.

3. I give because I will look bad if I don’t. Once again, this puts too much control onto others. Only I know what I can give, how I can give, and to whom I want to give. Society/family/community truly has no say in this matter.

4. I give because I am generous. Beautiful, a lovely thing to be but generosity comes from the heart. I need to dig down deep and make sure this is a heartfelt giving and not a codependent longing.

5. I give so that the other will see me as generous/loving/gracious etc. Here I am basing my value on the opinions of others. As above, generosity is not so much about gift gifting, it is about sharing of the heart. If I am truly generous, my generosity will be apparent regardless of whether I give a gift or not.

6. I give so that the other will see/love/acknowledge me. If this is the case, I am on a losing battle. The only way to be seen/loved/acknowledged by others is to first see/love/acknowledge myself. A cliché statement but as true as it was when it was first coined.

7. I give because I will get something back. This thought, if true, is usually buried deep in the subconscious. There is hope that if I give enough of me, the other will see my need and give back to me. This is often the case of love, but can be seen in gift giving.

Christmas giving does not have to be about negating self, unrealistic expectations, controlling others or false appearances. When giving comes from the heart with awareness and responsibility it brings joy to all. So go out and give: give loved ones your time—go for a walk and tell them how much you appreciate them; make someone laugh; give to the food bank, volunteer for world peace or canvass for your favorite environmental charity. If you want to give something material, bake some cookies, create a beautiful card or cook a loved one dinner. And, if you absolutely must give something you bought at a store, research it first. Ask yourself if this gift will be appreciated and find out the environmental or humanitarian footprint used in it’s creation. This way, all can share in the joy of giving.


  1. Well said! Have a great holiday season.

  2. You too, Bonnie, and thanks for the comment, J

  3. "I give so that the other will see/love/acknowledge me. If this is the case, I am on a losing battle. The only way to be seen/loved/acknowledged by others is to first see/love/acknowledge myself. A cliché statement but as true as it was when it was first coined."

    Amen to that! I spent a great deal of my time doing healing work with that unconscious wish. At least I was always too broke to extend it to material presents, too. :) This is a great post. Keep 'em coming!

  4. Well, let it never be said that poverty doesnt have its benefits!

    Thanks for that, Kristen, and all your beautiful words on The Good Typist.

  5. Kristen, I have baked cookies for years and sent them in baskets with other goodies. Perhaps you remember those large Avon boxes I used to send those baskets to your home at Christmastime. Baking is a relaxing outlet for me, and I enjoy creating a variety of baskets for different people. Your Mom always appreciates my efforts and says so! I find that my time in the kitchen rolling dough and using cookie cutters is a "healing" time. Jim always comments on the wonderful aroma emanating from the kitchen!

  6. In my family home, lack of money made each gift that more precious. Yes, my parents did sacrifice to give us a present from Santa, but the lack created a foundation of appreciation for me and all my siblings. It was tough sometimes going to school after the holidays and finding out that the kids around me got way more than me. In later years my sister and I often went to work making homemade gifts so the tree seemed more full. Christmas day we filled the time with interactive games and laughter. What I see the greatest gift of all from those times is that, even now, our family gatherings at Christmas are a time of being together and the appreciation of that...few gifts are exchanged.