Give It Good

November 28, 2012 § 8 Comments

My birthday was last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. We don’t make a big deal over birthdays in our house; more specifically, we don’t make a big deal over birthday gifts in our house. I received precisely three material objects for my 41st birthday: From Fin, a paper mache snake. From Rye, a round of elm with holes drilled to hold pens on my desk. From Penny, a hand carved spoon of apple wood. In the evening, we ate leftover pumpkin pie from the previous day’s gathering, and Penny made ice cream from our own cream and eggs and our friend’s maple syrup, and I am happy to report that my new spoon did its job exceedingly well. In the morning, I helped a friend slaughter a pig and went rabbit hunting with Rye. I honestly can’t remember what I did in the afternoon, which either means it wasn’t very memorable, or that I’m getting old. Probably a little of each.

We have pretty much – though not entirely – abandoned obligatory gift-giving in our household in favor of spontaneous gifting, often in the form of things that hardly resemble our culture’s contemporized expectation of what constitutes a gift, and I am constantly reminded what a powerful thing this can be. The day before Thanksgiving, a friend stopped by on his bicycle with a card he’d drawn; inside the card was a note expressing his gratitude for our friendship, and on the back was a poem. I can promise you there is nothing anyone could have bought me at any black Friday salebration that could have made me feel half as damn good as it did to get that card, and I think this was in part because it was totally unexpected. It was an expression of appreciation completely unsullied by obligation.

I have been thinking about this an awful lot, particularly in the context of the rampant consumerism associated with the season. So many gifts, so much shopping, and so often done begrudgingly, out of sheer obligation. This does not mean the people exchanging these gifts do not genuinely care for one another; in only means they are capitulating to cultural expectations in a way that diminishes the giving. Everyone expects gifts this time of year, and everyone knows that the gifts they receive are given, at least in part, because they are expected to be given.

I tend to shy away from offering overt advice in this space, because I generally believe that advice unasked for is advice best not given. Still and all, here is a radical notion: Stop giving gifts when they are expected or, at the very least, make them materially minimal. Instead, give in ways and at times that are entirely unexpected, that carry no sense of obligation and are therefore pure in their intent. And give of what your family and true friends really want and need: You. Your time, your art, your words, your simple gratitude for having them in your life. Things that can’t be bought, that have a value that is at once unmeasurably small and boundlessly infinite.

And if this isn’t what they want? Give it to ‘em anyway.

§ 8 Responses to Give It Good

  • ncfarmchick says:

    This is just beautiful – thank you! Your writing is a gift and, although I’m sure many of your readers (including me!) would love for you to write posts more often, maybe that’s what makes them even more special. I’ll be keeping this one as reassurance that I have chosen the right approach to gift-giving and gratitude. Have a wonderful day!

  • rosie says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and advice…think we all could hear more reminders to stay calm with the idea of giving. It can be so lovely of an experience, however so often we get it mixed up with stress. The gift of giving in its pure form actually becomes receiving. Thanks again for this gift you have shared.

  • Sara says:

    I often find that when I “need” to come up with a gift for somebody, I get totally stumped. But at random times I’ll think of something perfect to give to/do for someone I love. After reading this, I’m going to think twice about obligatory gift giving in the future!

  • Jill says:

    Yes, this is so wise and important… Thank you.

  • yogi says:

    perfect words to hear right now as our immediate family is struggling with the obligatory gift giving that surrounds this season in our culture… it is easy for us to give materially-minimal gifts to each other, but it is the longer distance relationships that are harder to navigate, the siblings and parents that are attached to giving grand material items, or even just money and now we are feeling that we MUST give them something in return. if you have any advice for treading these waters it would be appreciated. my gut feeling is to just give as i feel called to, and let them do the same, even if that means many excess items from the givers and perhaps disappointment on how we (my partner, child and I) are not reciprocating with the same type of material nonsense.
    thank you for this.

  • Jessica says:

    Here here!!

  • [...] and this inspired me today. it was just what i [...]

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