Ho ho ho. Here it is again, my favourite time of the year, the holiday season with its wonderful tradition of gift giving.
I just love gift giving. In fact, I even made it my job! I co-founded a company that supports start-ups in developing countries and local social initiatives by selling their fair-trade products in holiday season gift boxes that Dutch companies give to their employees.
Every year I enjoy the process of thinking up wonderful, surprising, and valuable gifts that will make the receiver – and thus the company giving them – happy. Providing economic development where it is most needed is highly motivating. Thinking of original, crowd-pleasers that are widely appreciated, while balancing the environmental impact is not an easy job, but oh so satisfactory when it works out.
I also love gift giving in my private life. I am known (and ridiculed in a loving way) in my family for collecting perfect holiday gifts as early as in May. Sometimes I even forget about them and find them in a drawer in January… this is the reason why I started to keep secret notes in my phone!
And I am clearly not alone in my love of gifting: the Christmas shopping frenzy sets new records for retail in December each year, especially favouring the big online stores like Amazon and Bol, resulting in millions of packages being sent, along with tons of plastic and cardboard.
A survey by American Express revealed that 86% of millennials spent more than they planned on buying expensive gifts for their partner, children and family members. And not all gifts are appreciated: studies from retail federations and Oracle show that more than half of purchases (mainly clothes and electronic gadgets) are returned, causing a tsunami of refunds, logistics, time and transportation.
Why do we give loved ones gifts anyway?
Apparently gifts giving is as old as mankind but the holiday gift tradition was supposedly started by the Roman emperor Caligula, who publicly declared that he would be receiving gifts on the first day of the new year.
Numerous studies reveal that there is a lot of psychology in gift-giving and it can cause us stress. Feeling guilty, competition within the family or trying to live up to expectations can cause us to overspend. We may feel pressured to buy expensive gifts because we were given one last year. We feel compelled to spend the same amount on everyone, or to buy something because all the other parents are buying their kids ‘this thing’.
And what about awful gifts?! What if our partner/mother/bestie comes up with a horrendous gift, does that mean they don’t love us?
So, let’s sit down, and take a deep breath. Let’s do it differently this year. Gift giving is supposed to be about showing our love and appreciation, deepening relationships, and making the receiver feel loved and seen. And that has very little to do with how much money you spend on a gift, and all-the-more with the attention and time you put into it.
It really is ‘the thought that counts’
Which doesn’t mean that any old gift will do. It is about the actual thought behind it. The conscious consideration to think about what would make your loved one really happy. Making the effort to buy or make it yourself. To wrap it beautifully. To write a personal heartfelt message to accompany it. And giving it a good karma, by making it as sustainable as possible.
Stuck for ideas? How about getting a family heirloom or favourite piece of jewellery restored? Capturing a wonderful memory in a frame? Starting a family cookbook, by writing your favourite recipe on page 3 and passing it round the family?
Don’t know what gift would really touch your loved one? That might mean that you have to spend some real quality time with them to get to know them better. And ho ho ho, isn’t that what the holiday season is about?