Next year, start your 'shopping' early by investing time into loved ones
Most valuable gift for the holidays is the one 'knitted' in with experiences
Did you get the holiday gift you wanted? Did you give just the right thing?
We were driving home from a Hanukkah party when we saw flashing lights. Police had blocked off Corydon Avenue, and I saw what looked like a coat in the street.
Immediately, I worried that a pedestrian had been hit in the foggy, icy darkness. It gave me no pleasure to be right.
We’re in the middle of that season of light and darkness when everyone seems obsessed with things.
There are sale advertisements from October until January. One slick flyer after another tries to convince us that we need just one more something for our loved ones or ourselves. It’s nearly impossible to resist.
Yet studies seem to show that what matters most to us is not material things, but our personal experiences.
While researchers have found that we place monetary value on things, in the end we come to enjoy our experiences most.
We may decide to purchase a widescreen TV but balk at spending money on a vacation to Paris. After buying the TV, however, we may find the Paris trip and its memories were meaningful in the long term.
The concept of the value of good experiences over material goods seemed powerful while watching red and blue lights reflect off the pavement that night.
The party we were at had been a bit too chaotic, loud and crowded for the adults in our family. Yet, our preschoolers were thrilled. They’d danced on the stage, sang with the music, eaten greasy food and seen friends. For them, it was a perfect experience.
Handmade gifts most memorable
When I asked my husband about what he remembered from childhood holidays, he could only remember the quirky presents that didn’t seem right at the time.
Every year, his immigrant grandmother gave him socks that she carefully wrapped in wallpaper remnants. Perhaps they didn't meet his expectations, but it was the most useful gift he got.
He thought of her as he trekked long miles to and from school every day. By the next year, if he admitted it, he would be needing new socks.
Another gift my husband and I cherish today are the hand-sewn pillows she made us for our wedding.
Inherent in these gifts are the relationships linked to them: my husband's grandmother knew he was a long distance walker and hard on his clothes, and he needed socks.
We also knew that she thought of us as she chose fabric and worked at her sewing machine. She celebrated our future marriage and family in an intimate way with those bedroom pillows.
The handmade meaning of the gifts made them special.
By the same token, my boys cherish all the handmade wooden toys their Bop gives them. They love going to visit their grandfather’s workshop to make more.
When a stranger compliments their hand-knit sweaters, my twins announce that their Didi (grandmother) made them.
The boys have also never lost one of their hand-knit mittens. They choose the colours, the patterns and sit next to me on the couch as I make them.
They remember and value the experience we share in creating them.
The relationship bound up in the stitches is precious; obviously more valuable than the multicoloured mittens, even if I spin the yarn, design and knit them.
Often when we think of purchasing a gift, we measure value in terms of cost.
How expensive was the gift? Could we afford it? Is the monetary value equivalent to the relationship we’re trying to build?
Yet, sometimes the most “value” is in a handmade object or a lesson, because the recipient knows how much time and talent went into the gift.
If I could change one assumption about the giving and receiving of presents, it would be a notion built by advertising: A bigger, better, more expensive “thing” is most desirable.
Sure, we all want something that is beyond our means. I’m not immune to this. However, I’d want to see how that fantasy acquisition could build a meaningful encounter.
How would it strengthen a bond I have with the giver? What could we do with it together?
Maybe next year instead of focusing on getting or receiving exactly the right gift, we could ask ourselves the following questions:
What will happen with this gift? How will I use it?
Will this gift strengthen my knowledge or relationship with the giver/recipient?
What kind of memories or experiences will it yield?
How can I show my love and connection? Is it better served through a joint activity than in an actual thing?
Your shopping list might become smaller and cost less, and not every gift needs to be that Paris trip.
Your shopping days might be filled instead with volunteering with a friend or sitting at the arena as your kid learns to skate. What you give might be your time and love — much more valuable commodities than anything monetary.
Our lives are so fragile. Let’s fill them with every kind of good memory and light.
Joanne Seiff is the author of two books, a freelance writer and designer, and the mom of twin preschoolers.