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Give experiences, not gifts this holiday season


I’ve been absolutely bombarded in my email inbox with sales, specials, and countdown clocks begging me to buy, buy, buy for the holidays. That got me thinking about gifts: Why do we do this ritual, and what is gift-giving supposed to mean?

Would it surprise you to learn that the modest tradition of giving a gift to celebrate the winter solstice — then later adopted in Christianity to mirror the wise men’s gifts in the manger — was enthusiastically adopted by the retail industry by the late 1800s?

They saw it as a cash cow, and heavily marketed the idea of buying lots of gifts in December for everyone from family members to your babysitter. More modern spins on the tradition include a gratitude practice, giving back to the less fortunate, or waiting to capture deep sales on items that you already wanted for yourself.

For me, the idea of gift giving has evolved over the years. I grew up anxiously counting the number of gifts under the tree with my name on them. Then, monitoring my sister’s and brother’s gift counts.

I was fastidious about checking to see if they were balanced. It was all about the quantity of gifts. It was a childhood competition of mine. Then as an adult, I went through a quality phase. When I bought a gift for those close to me, I wanted to make sure it something thoughtful and of high quality. I thought that would be a good reflection of me as a friend and a person.

Now, I’m squarely in a new phase: The gift of experience.

Nearly everyone that I consider a close friend is actively trying to de-clutter their lives. They are trying to simplify and make their footprint smaller. So, the thought of adding another tchotchke to their clutter has little appeal to me.

If I think back on 2018, most of the positive memories that come to mind are experiences: Having a drink with my big brother on the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower, or going snowboarding with Don’s son G.

I think about driving a rally car for the first time, or cheering my guts out at a great concert. There were also little moments like having a picnic by a river with a friend or walking downtown on a perfect summer’s day with no real agenda.

What doesn’t pop into my head are very many objects. Of course I purchased many things this year, and I gave a bunch away too. But for me, those are not the things that I think about very often.

So what are we talking about here? If these thoughts resonate with you, might I suggest that you look for a way to give an experience to those closest to you this year? It doesn’t have to be expensive.

Cook a meal for someone. Plan a day in the city. Take a ferry ride and have lunch on the other side. Take a class together. Give your time to those you love and take a minute to tell them how you feel about them.

You never get an email reminding you to look up and experience life.

Consider this your reminder.

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