Gifting Economy
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Gifting Economy

America, where every gift you give, withhold, make, and destroy is a status marker and symbol of love.

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Gifting Economy

Gift-giving is stressful for anyone, especially Christmas gifts. Not only is there pressure to prove your love through material (read: monetary) means, but you have to do it relative to everyone else. How much do you care about your friends? Do you care about them more than your other friends do? Who did you spend more money on? Did they spend more on you?

The weight of obligatory gifts in America, and especially among Millennials, is overwhelming. We live in a society that values money and regards it as the physical manifestation of time and energy, and amidst an age of people who, more often than not, will drag their feet when it comes to verbal expression of feelings. Most people I know prefer the actions-speak-louder-than-words mentality, which is a nice philosophy, if incomplete.

This year, I want to reevaluate the holiday of gratitude and joy and our tendency to stress over the obligatory gifts we scramble to find.

The little things count in the biggest ways.

Every year, my mom makes new gift tags. Sometimes out of construction paper and glitter. I always keep one or two, inexplicably touched by the gesture and the knowledge that my mom spread out her craft supplies over the dining room table, just so we have personalized tags on each of our gifts.

The withholding of a gift or destruction of a gift given can be a clear message that reads “look how little I care about you!”

A few years ago, I made some people poetry/photography books for Christmas. I spent over a month on them, compiling and arranging them, constructing them. A couple of months ago, one of my friends got mad at me and texted me to let me know they tore it up and threw it away. (I don’t think I got a gift from him at all that year—should’ve been my first clue.)

Sometimes the best gift is pure time.

One of the best Christmases I ever had was spent in the visitor center of a prison in Sioux Falls. Presents weren’t a big thing that year, and my entire family was kind of down, but we all realized how important it was to be together.

Gifts given right are cherished things.

In high school, I spent weeks on handmade gifts for a small group of my closest friends. I believe this was the first time I’d ever done something like that. Admittedly, I was broke, but I also thought it would be a fantastic idea…at first. I spent weeks on them until I decided it was a weird idea, and poorly executed to boot. But by that time, it was too late to go out and buy something. I gave them the gifts, but left the room when they were opened, too embarrassed to see the disdain on their faces. To my complete and utter surprise, they loved the gifts. Not only that, but one of my friends had secretly and skillfully made the same gift in return. The coincidence warmed my heart back then, and fulfills the sweetness of a bittersweet memory now.

Time and energy can be fine representations of time and energy. We shouldn’t have to spend money on people to show that we care about them. This, however, is the world we live in, where everything involving money/holidays/gifts means something, and we all have to be aware of what we're communicating.

As a side note: if you have friends you think would scoff at your handmade presents (or tear them to pieces), then—this might come as a shock—you maybe shouldn’t be giving them gifts.

And this isn’t to say you shouldn’t ever buy someone a gift, or that all gifts must be handmade with love sewn right in. If you see something and think “oh, they would love this!” then, by all means, that’s probably a great present. The artificiality of forcing yourself to find something to fit each person in your life seems more and more like a useless endeavor, though. The memorable gifts are the ones you don’t force, the ones that really mean something.

In this gifting culture we live in, each holiday and milestone says something about you. Valentines Day, anniversaries, birthdays (don’t even get me started). Whatever you’re doing, remember that you’re sending a message, especially during the hyper-commercialized Christmas season.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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