Thursday, December 13, 2012

On Gifting

Why give gifts we can't afford to people we don't like?

Another view of Holiday Gifting

“Have you done your shopping yet?,” an acquaintance asked.  I gasped, feeling the despair that descends upon me when I witness the scurry run-around that so many folks engage in during the Christmas season.  Giving is good, yes. Receiving  is good too.  
 Like the ancient native potlatch where tribal members tried to outdo each other in their givingness.  But have we moved too far from meaningful  giving?  Have we accepted the propaganda that the “Christmas shopping splurge” should somehow “save” the retail industry?  Have we lost our resistance?  Have we given in the fiction that it is socially necessary to buy lots of stuff (that we’d not buy otherwise) for people who we don’t particularly like, when we really can’t afford to do so?

The way to end the insanity is simply to end it.  End the pointless buying.

What are we celebrating, after all?  Santa Claus-who-brings-us-toys day?  The Winter Solstice?  The birth of the Sun?  The birth of the Son, Jesus?

Most American Christians say it is the latter.  So then why the gift splurge?  Some say this is because the three Magi brought gifts to the promised One.  The Magi gave symbolic gifts, nothing that was in any way useful to an infant.  They did not exchange gifts among themselves. 

Nor was this Jesus born on December 25.  Recall, if you will, that animals and shepherds were in the fields, and it was the time of a census that required much travelling.  It was definitely not in the dead of winter, as all historians agree.

Let’s get out our encyclopedias and learn  that the “birth of the Sun” celebrations were pre-Christian.  These so-called “pagan” traditions were part of the holy days of Mithraism and other pre-Christian religions.  Exchanging gifts was part of that tradition.

In the early days of the new cult of Christianity that arose from Judaism, there was the desire to “hide” the new Christian commemoration of the birth of Jesus when others were also celebrating the birth of the Sun.  Some credit the Roman Emperor Aurelian with this clever idea.  Eventually, when Christianity was the official religion of the empire in the 4th century, no such hiding was necessary as nearly all the pagan holidays became Christianized.

Still, our pointless profligate buying and giving is a relatively modern invention of the advertising industry.  Gone are the days of making something to give to another – a cake, cookies, a wooden bowl, a pipe, a toy, a hand-written card.  Gone are the days of personally handing a thoughtfully-made or acquired object to a person, as both parties exchange the gift of their time, and Selves, to one another, as they examine the physical object.  Or is such a day gone?

It is only by our choice to be a lemming that we continue the mindless buy and gift command from our marketing masters.

I’m not particularly concerned that most of the modern Christmas symbols can be traced back to the pre-Christian days – the wreath, the tree, the yule log, December 25, the birth of a saviour at the time of least light, the cards, and yes, gifting.  What matters most is the level of thinking and thoughtfulness that we inject into our observation of what should be a High Holy Day.  “Buying stuff” is anathema to this day.  We don’t have to choose to be a part of the cattle drive at the local mall.  Rather, choose something else.

Plan to be with close friends.  Plan thoughtful songs to sing.  Plan special movies to watch – I never get tired of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  Plan thoughtful readings about the meaning of the day.  And if you choose to give gifts, avoid the animalistic urge to wildly rip through the packagings of gift after gift.  Make each one special.  Tell the person why they were given the gift. Let them open it and examine it. Discuss how the gift will enhance their life.

I remember a scene in the book “Less Than Zero.”  It’s Christmas time and the author is at home when his father visits. The father is divorced from his mother, so he visits on holidays.  As he sits there on Christmas, he pulls out his checkbook and writes a check to his son.  The author – the son – lamented that his father didn’t take the time to at least write the check ahead of time, put it in an envelope, and include a note.  It was just done rather casual.  It was a classic “less than zero” moment.

In this time of least light, when the sun is about to start on the path to more light and longer days, when so many of us are scrambling at the malls for “good buys,” we can choose to eschew “less than zero,” and choose instead the Light.

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