Monday, December 5, 2011

The Zen of Giving

Around this time of year the discussion inevitably turns to the crass commercialism of the holiday season; the need for everyone to get a grip on the amount of money spent; the debt incurred; the environmental impact of wrapping paper; the need to focus on the less fortunate.

And it's all absolutely true.

Which is why what should be a time of delight is, for me, also often a time of guilt. Now my kids would say that I have two middle names: worry and guilt. So it's no surprise that I worry that I send the wrong message about the holiday and that I'm guilty of all the transgressions mentioned above.

As I understand, giving presents as part of the Christmas tradition follows the example of the gifts brought by the three wise men to the baby Jesus. For Chanukah, the traditional gift was gelt (Yiddish for money). The rationale was twofold. First, Chanukah celebrates the Jewish defeat of the Greeks who had defiled the Holy Temple. Chanukah comes from the same word as Chinuch which means education. The Rabbis believed that the Jewish people, adults and children, needed to be reeducated about the Torah after years of Hellenic domination. Gelt was given to children as an incentive to learn the Torah, with the idea that as youngsters grew older they would understand the beauty of learning the Bible without the incentive. Giving gelt was also used to model charitable behavior and to teach children the concept of giving charity with their own money.

None of which explains me and the Barbie doll purchased for my granddaughter, wrapped in Chanukah paper festooned with colorful dreidls.
The truth is I like finding just the right gift for each person on my list. I adore wrapping paper and making crisp corners and neat folds around cardboard boxes. I have way too much tissue paper for a normal person, but when I find it, on sale, in colors or designs never before seen by these eyes, I can't resist. Is there a 12-step program for wrapping paper addicts?

But most of all, I love the joy that the perfect gift elicits – especially when the recipient hadn't even asked for that item. Being able to indulge someone's wish is a blessing for both the giver and the receiver. It doesn't have to be expensive or even new. It can be homemade. But it has to be thoughtful.
One mother I know wrapped up a box of sugared cereal, usually a no-no in the house, and gave it to her son as one of his gifts. Bingo! I still smile, lo these many years later, at the look of sheer delight when my oldest son opened a Star Wars action figure. It cost $3. I had searched all over town because they were in such short supply, but my child looked like he had won the lottery, heck even the Powerball, when he opened it. I was so happy for his happiness.

I do try to give generously at holiday time. Surely the concept of charity, especially in this difficult economy, is more important than ever. When my kids were little, I would take them to select gifts to donate to Toys for Tots and the local children's hospital.

And so I am making an early New Year's resolution to give reasonably and thoughfully – and to enjoy, without guilt, the experience. However, you choose to celebrate, I wish you a time of peace and joy.
Happy Holidays!


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  1. It's so easy to stress out during the holidays. Nice post reminding us that it's the small (and thoughtful) things that count!

  2. What's so interesting and pleasing is that you really listened to your children and grandchildren, and they didn't need to get the super big million dollar presents. I also love the idea of reminding all of the good feelings of giving to those in need.

  3. Thanks Maria and Lil. All best wishes for a joyful holiday!!