It is seldom that we truly change, though it sometimes happens. Here’s my story of more than a change, a transformation really, that happened to me. It involves gifts and it was a gift.
Growing up, I loved gifts, both giving and receiving. Giving was actually better, because I got to plan and choose the gift, with surprise being an important feature. To surprise someone, whether friend or relative, with a gift they would truly value, that was one of the delights of Christmas season for me. Of course, I liked receiving gifts, too, but not as much as really surprising someone with the perfect gift.
My mother was one of the best recipients, partly because I knew her so well. I was good at choosing clothing for her that was just a little bit funkier than she would have chosen for herself and that fit her perfectly. And she knew my taste exactly, so her gifts for me always surprised and delighted me. On the other hand, I didn’t understand my grandmother’s constant response of, “Oh, you shouldn’t have got me anything,” until decades later. Loving someone meant giving them gifts at Christmas.
Over the years, of course, I sometimes received a gift that was disappointing, a dud. It’s funny that I can’t remember anything in particular right now. I do remember that, regardless of my actual feelings, I feigned joy as I thanked the giver. How could I not?
I’m skipping a few decades until I was in my mid-forties, newly married to my second husband, who was not a gift-giver and did not like to receive gifts. Even on his birthday, when greeting cards arrived for him or if someone handed him one, he would wait a few days until opening them. It was not a pleasure for him. We were a great match in many respects, but not in gift-giving.
So, as we approached our first Christmas together, I had long conversations with myself, telling myself not to expect anything on Christmas morning and not to be disappointed. He was a generous person and would give me anything I wanted, but my longtime ritual of surprising someone with the perfect gift was just not his thing. I stressed, wondering how I was going to feel and how I would deal with it.
So, Christmas morning arrives and he hands me an envelope. “What’s this?” “It’s your gift, he said.” I opened it, with a giant excitement. It was a gift certificate for a one-hour massage, once a month, for the next year, with a woman on whom I occasionally splurged.
That was probably the last time he surprised me with a gift and it was 30 years ago. He’s still my husband and he still delights me, but not with gifts. The transformation has been that, though I don’t understand how or when it happened, my desire or need to be surprised with gifts is gone.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t give gifts, however, I no longer feel a compulsion to buy gifts for particular people or to give a gift when someone gives one to me. My mother died about 12 years ago and, until then, I always had a gift for her and received pleasure from it. Even my son and I no longer exchange gifts at Christmas, though I continue to give him books on his birthday. Last fall, the woman he was engaged to 25 years ago and is with again, after his 15-year marriage to someone else, surprised me with a perfect birthday gift, a silk scarf with the Constitution! So, I’m not beyond receiving pleasure from a great gift. It’s just no longer a necessity or a disappointment if it’s missing.
And, there’s more, one final piece that makes me very grateful for this transformation. The climate justice work in which I have been heavily involved has started to spread the message that consumerism’s cost to our climate is high. The tech and fashion industries are among the largest polluters in the world. Most of the profit from non-essential holiday gifts goes to the 1%.
I want to rethink gifts, to benefit the recipient, not the giant retailers. In the meantime, I’m happy to receive a scone from the local bakery, which my husband just delivered!
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