Monday, May 11, 2015

Compulsory Gift Giving

     The Christmas season. The most wonderful and magical time of the year. Unless you are contemplating not doing Santa, or shooting for a minimalist Christmas gift-wise, or not actually doing presents on the 25th at all. Then you are vilified, because children need magic and imagination and special things in their lives, you horrible old Scrooge.
     Valentine's Day. The day where if you don't go out of your way to do something uber-duber romantic, you are thought of as an unfeeling, cold, and insensitive person.
     Easter. A time where we welcome the long awaited spring, with bunnies, chicks, flowers, and chocolate. Unless you don't want the children to inadvertently focus on Easter baskets and their contents instead of Jesus rising from the dead. Then you're a horrible magic killer, too.
     Ah, Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day. If you don't give your parents a call, send a card, order flowers, then you are an ungrateful, insensitive child. Don't you know what they went through, all they gave up in order to make sure you made it to adulthood alive?
     Finally, birthdays. The idea of not having a large party, let alone not actually celebrating much at all, is faint-worthy to most people. Looking for a good way to ruin your child's life? This might be it. 

     As the tone of the previous paragraphs might imply, I am not a big fan of what I call compulsory gift giving. Each of the cases above are examples of times where society expects, if not demands, the giving of things to and doing of things for people, regardless of whether or not such actions correspond to your personal beliefs and circumstances. Even if you are inclined to not follow the crowd, more likely than not you will do so out of fear of being publicly shamed for all eternity. Well, not me, not anymore. 
     I've been thinking on it for a while now, and I've decided, at least where I giving/doing/acknowledging me is concerned, I would rather you didn't. Receiving presents on Christmas or my birthday or Mothers' Day means very little to me, because they are perceived as obligatory. I would much rather gifts and acknowledgement be given whenever, out of genuine desire to show love and appreciation, just because. Why should "special" things be reserved only to certain socially mandated occasions? If  you see something you think someone would like, don't save it for a "special occasion" like birthday or Christmas - let them know you love and were thinking about them as soon as possible. I'm willing to bet they'd appreciate more. 
     Perhaps this is just me. Of the five love languages, gift giving is my weakest. I don't do it well. Add to that the expectation of giving and receiving gifts around certain times of the year, and it's all over. To be honest, it didn't really bother me too much, until I read a blog last Advent season, which said things which really bothered me. I can't find it now, and yes I've tried googling it, so I'll do my best to summarize what I remember. It was in response to the "We aren't 'celebrating' Christmas" viewpoint, and the writer was of the opinion that it is a horrible thing to not celebrate Christmas with the whole shebang, because children need it, etc., and there was a family at her church that had recently lost the mother, and what she wouldn't give to be able to give those little kids a bit of the magic of Christmas that they were used to, so how dare you deprive your kids of it willingly. Right, so that isn't verbatim, but it is pretty much the gist. What irked me was the tone and underlying idea that Christmas is the only time that could be considered magical, without any consideration to what a family might do the rest of the year. The thinking that if families choose not to celebrate whatever holiday according to society's standards, that those families don't celebrate anything nor do anything special at all, ever. 
     It struck deep, most likely because I don't like to celebrate big or in a manner which everyone else would consider celebrating at all. I wasn't going to have a party for Jose last year at all, maybe not even cake. I don't want to do presents on Christmas, and would prefer to focus on Jesus being born as much as possible.  Sunday was Mothers' Day, my third, and I really didn't want to be acknowledged at all; none of this "It's your day" junk. But my not celebrating those days in no way implies that I don't ever do special things for the people I love. Far from it! I do random special things all year round, and more often than not I get the question "Why? Today isn't special."
     And it bothers me. The idea that doing special things for people should only be reserved to special occasions has been so ingrained in us bothers me. Because you know what? You are special; you are special to me, all of the time. Every day is a special day because you are special to me. And you shouldn't have to wait until a socially acceptable time to be shown that, nor should such seasons be the sole measure of the affection our loved ones have for us, or any measure of that at all for that matter. We deserve better than compulsory affection. 


  1. I disagree with the majority of this post. Giving is not reserved for special holidays and occasions. No one ever said it had to be. I give gifts and do special things for my wife year round, and she constantly does the same for me. Love, appreciation, and affection are commonplace on a daily basis in our household. But we also make holidays and other special occasions as spectacular as we can. There is just something special about the magic of opening presents on Christmas Day, or that unique gift that you get for your birthday that might not be in the budget for some other random day of the year.

    1. I really wish I could find that blog post about Christmas and the motherless boy. Most of this post is the result of mulling that over in my head for months now, and linking it would give a little more sense to my post.

      It is true that no one said gift giving *has* to be reserved to special holidays and occasions, but it is the general impression I get from the hyper-commercialization of all of the holidays. "Want to show her how special she is to you this Memorial Day? Buy her this expensive twinkly thing which happens to be on sale now!" Rarely does it seem that things are advertised as "Want to randomly show that special someone how much you appreciate them just because? Try this thingamabob!"

      I'm glad you are living your marriage vows so well on a daily basis. I in no way meant to condemn those who also choose to make special days feel extra special, and might have to tweak my post, if I remember. It's great if that's what people choose to do! However, those who prefer low-key or no celebrating ought to be able to without being stigmatized for it. Especially considering the choice to celebrate or not has no moral ramifications.

  2. In a land of plenty, gift-giving can be problematic.