Honor the Spirit of Giving

The holiday gift-giving season is in full swing and got us thinking about ways to honor the true meaning of “giving.” (Hint: It has little to do with buying stuff that most people don’t really need.) Chances are you can remember a favorite gift or two from over the years, but what you most likely remember is the feeling it gave you and the thought behind it.

We tend to recall less about what we got and more about the experiences we had. Traditions that were either passed down from previous generations or newly created and revisited each year figure prominently in our holiday memories. The excitement over presents, Griswold-ian light displays, and lavish parties wanes, but what stays with us are the warm feelings of spending time with people we care about and the once-a-year activities that make this time unique and special.

Share Meaningful Traditions

Holiday traditions do not have to be extravagant. In fact, the simplest ones are often the best. Eating pizza while decorating the tree. Inviting friends over to bake cookies. Watching a favorite classic (not necessarily holiday) movie. Taking a walk in the woods and collecting twigs or pinecones to make decorations. Admiring the decorated store windows or neighborhood lights while sipping to-go cups of cocoa.

“My husband’s favorite day of the year is the Winter Solstice because that means the days are getting longer again,” says Jill. “Our tree topper is a sun that my daughter and I made out of paper bowls and a paper towel roll. Each year on the Solstice, we put it on the tree, marking our official start to the holiday.”

Karen’s family celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas. “Presents for both holidays quickly got to be a bit much. We stopped giving the kids Hanukkah presents and focused instead on the traditions of the holiday: lighting candles, making (and eating) potato latkes, playing dreidel,” she says. “The kids get plenty of gifts for Christmas, so they never missed them. This way, Hanukkah is more meaningful on its own, rather than making it compete with Christmas.”

Zoe’s mom made Egg Nog Monte Cristo sandwiches one Christmas Eve. She loved them so much she requests them every year. “It’s one of the things I most look forward to at Christmas time,” she says.

Volunteering in a soup kitchen or other local non-profit is a great way to add meaning to your holidays. Doing it with your kids teaches them about gratitude, compassion, and selflessness. Deciding as a family where to make monetary donations, and having your kids contribute their own money, is also a way to embody those ideals.

Simplify Gift-Giving

Most likely, you can’t (and don’t want to) avoid buying gifts entirely, but it can be done thoughtfully, starting with paring down your list. Buying gifts for everyone from your immediate family to your daughter’s ballet teacher is stressful. The time, effort and money spent can quickly zap your joy. Consider buying gifts for only the people who are closest to you and plan ahead. First, determine your budget. Next, make a list with an appropriate spending amount for each person. Add it up; if you are over budget, make adjustments. Shop with the list in hand and don’t go over the amount for each person. For others, perhaps make a batch of cookies or other treat and divide them into small cellophane bags tied with festive ribbon. Extended family and casual acquaintances are probably not expecting anything. If you do feel you want to acknowledge them, consider a kind, personal note in a holiday card.

When it comes to large groups of people, such as extended family, consider limiting the gifting to the young children or drawing names for a gift exchange. If you are all going to be together, a White Elephant gift exchange is fun. A different take might be choosing a gift category such as ornaments or socks. Set a price limit and have fun with it.

Another way to approach giving is to make your gift an activity or simply time spent with someone you care about but don’t often get to do something with. That may be your children, your spouse, or a friend you don’t see regularly.

Peace on Earth

When January 2nd rolls around will you collapse in a heap from the stress of the previous month? Or, will your happy memories of the season carry you into the new year? This is a choice you get to make that starts with letting go of unrealistic expectations (yours or other people’s) and the idea that you can or have to please everyone. Focus instead on the inner things that matter. Whether or not you have time and money to burn, you can make the giving spirit a part of your daily life.

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. suggests doing simple random acts of kindness. “Let someone else have that parking space near the store. Compliment the harried store clerk. Let the mom who is shopping with kids go ahead of you in line. Be generous with street musicians,” she writes. “Doing good will make you feel good — or at least better.” (Hartwell, 2014)

If the holidays are stressful because you are too busy, find things you can cross off your to-do list. If, however, the holidays are stressful because you feel alone, find ways to connect with others. Check out the suggestions for creating “family” for the holidays in our last blog. Either way, being mindful of your thoughts and actions and infusing both with the spirit of the season, will go a long way toward making your holidays both meaningful and memorable.

Need Help?

If you would like to speak to a therapist about this subject or about any other issue you may be experiencing, contact the Maria Droste Access Center at 303-867-4600.

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Hartwell-Walker, M. (2014). How to Stay Mentally Healthy During the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2015, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/how-to-stay-mentally-healthy-during-the-holidays/