I originally wrote a version of this essay back in ’05 BT (before Twitter). People have requested a reprint. Here you go. Enjoy… in joy.
The year our daughter Fayette turned 15 she said she didn’t want us to buy her “stuff” for Hanukkah. Huh? What was going on? Didn’t she still love us? Wasn’t she grateful for the many carefully selected gifts she’d received since… birth? Was she running away and needing to travel light?!
The truth was less sinister and more profoundly personal. As she put it, “I’ve had it with holiday commercialism.” This led to a lively family discussion about Needs vs. Desires. Form vs. Substance. Carnivores vs. Vegetarians.
NOTE1: Our son Ezra was then 9 and while he dearly loved and coveted all kinds of “stuff,” (except when it came to clearing it off the floor) he agreed his sister’s idea merited serious philosophical consideration.
NOTE2: Ezra now holds an undergraduate degree in philosophy.
Despite a holiday moratorium on buying stuff there were no restrictions on loving acts of giving. So we each faced the creative challenge of figuring out what to give. That first year we abandoned traditional gift-giving our tokens of affection and admiration became more experiential and far-reaching. There were live performances and other cultural outings, food factory tours, waterfall hikes, baked desserts, multi-media presentations, and hand-crafted treasures. But the best innovation was the advent of personalized coupons books, i.e., hand-made packets offering a variety of customized “goods, services and special privileges.” The key to coupon success is knowing your recipient.
Fayette, who frequently got busted for talking on the phone after lights out, was thrilled to get: “This coupon entitles you to use the phone between 11-11:30 on a school night. Homework and all getting ready for bed preparations must first be completed.”
Ezra, who has always loved sweets, got: “This coupon entitles you to 2 dozen of your choice of home-made cookies that you don’t have to share with anyone (unless you happen to be feeling particularly generous). Minimum 24 hour notice required.”
I remember happily receiving: “I will water all the plants in the house for you for 1 week.” And David, who spends lots of time hunched over his computer keyboard, was delighted to get: “I will give you a 10 minute shoulder massage.”
Just to be clear, I’m not proposing a “No Buy” Zone. We’re emerging from tough economic times and retailers (large and small) are hoping we’ve regained enough confidence in our future earning power to do our part for the recovery. The Don’t Buy Me Any Stuff” Gift Guide is not an all or nothing deal. Let’s face, there is very cool stuff in stores. And sometimes the special something your kid craves is just what you want to give, and if you can, go for it. Then knock yourself out on the kid’s joy when he/she receives your gift. All I’m saying is that you are not and never have been required to go into debt buying stuff that’s out of synch with your innate sense of what’s appropriate and healthy for your child.
So, if you’re looking for extra meaning this holiday season and a little less wear and tear on your family values, talk to your kids about alternatives to traditional gift-giving. It may not be coupons, but your family will likely come up with all kinds of great ideas. When we explore more creative ways to show our love for each other, we celebrate the uniqueness of each of family member. Now there’s a gift!