In this age of hyper-consumerism, I feel a lot of pressure around the holiday season. The most vexing challenge involves buying presents. I struggle with selecting the right gift, and with spending the appropriate amount.
The good news is that I’ve given up on giving presents to extended family. The stress to find something creative and carefully considered makes me bristle with resentment. I went along with this charade for a few years after I got married, until the year that I received a pair of ugly elk-themed socks. I was appalled. I don’t want anybody to feel imposed upon to waste both good money and precious brain cells on buying me anything. Equally, I too want to be free from this chore. Now that I have extricated myself from this obligation, we are mercifully no longer torturing each other in this way.
Buying gifts for children is different. The urge to find the “it” present is intense, because children are so happy when they clutch that new and most prized possession. Their joy and giddiness fill the room, uplifting everyone. In search of finding the one perfect present, parents are tempted to shower their children with an abundance of gifts. You never know which one will be the one that your child will cherish the most. Opening multiple smaller presents in addition to the one big box is also really fun for the little ones. Hence striking the right tone between being too generous and being too cheap continues to be difficult.
I aspire to be a terrific gift giver like my mother. She really puts herself in her recipients’ shoes and channels their hearts’ desires. I have rarely been disappointed, and still remember the green metallic bike I received in 1981. I looked like a regal lady when I was riding it, making my heart swell with pride. Epic gifts such as this one are extraordinary. Most years are boring affairs, consisting of random cheap plastic toys and overpriced kitchen appliances destined to gather dust.
The saying that it is better to be present than to give presents is a cliché. The truth is that special moments endure in our memories, whereas cheap gifts do not. Last year, we were invited to a bat mitzvah celebration in Israel around Christmas time. There were no festivities on December 25th, no ornamented trees, and no piped Christmas music anywhere. We were free to think out of the box on that crisp, sunny day—so we decided to have an adventure. We visited the ancient Roman town of Caesaria. The ruins were the remaining witness of the immense power and wealth of the fallen empire. The energy of this once vibrant metropolis was still palpable among the dust. We imagined that we were Romans. The children skipped along the old streets and surviving mosaics and pretended to participate in a chariot race on the old racecourse. The fact that we did not exchange presents never even crossed our minds.
Life’s sweetest memories are those that can make us feel the emotions of a moment all over again. The holidays provide ample opportunities for this. I don’t know where that green bike may be now, but I will never forget the elation—the over-the-moon feeling of a dream fulfilled. Similarly, I will happily reminisce about our day trip to Caesaria and the feelings of freedom and adventure. Presents are not necessary to create these types of remembrances. But our presence is.