Sunday, December 29, 2013

It's Better To Give And Receive

I know the saying goes "It's better to give than to receive" but after the Christmas holiday I experienced this week, I'm not entirely convinced it's true. Now I'm not coming from a selfish place here, I'm just saying I can't see how one can be better than the other because they're so tightly entwined, especially at Christmas time.

I enjoy giving presents. I truly do. I love it when I come across something, maybe at a yard sale or thrift store, that I know would be appreciated by someone I know. To give an unexpected gift, no matter how small, is always fun. Birthdays are my favorite holiday because it's a chance for each person to be acknowledged for how awesome they are separate from anything else. As the Christmas season approached this year, my biggest stressor was the fact that our household income was not near what it was the past few years so we simply couldn't afford the type of Christmas we've had previously. I had myself convinced that Christmas was going to be horrible because I couldn't afford fancy gifts and I might not be able to reciprocate to everyone who gave me something.

I'm not exactly sure when things changed for me, but gradually my mindset shifted. I'm sure it has a lot to do with having an incredibly patient and supportive partner who reminds me on a regular basis that everything is going to be okay! In our families, tradition is you make a list of what you want and people buy your gifts from it. You might get something small that wasn't on the list and you probably won't get everything that was on it but for the most part, you get what you ask for. When it came time to make a list this year, I found that the things I wanted were much different than previous years. Last year I had an iPad on my list and the year before that a Kindle. This year I asked for the specific mechanical pencils and notebooks I write with, for lavender lotion and bath salts, for a thesaurus, a book light, a travel mug. When I was working full time, these are things that I would go out and buy whenever I needed them but they aren't necessities. When I unwrapped these items I was thrilled, even though I suspected I'd be getting them. I'd been using the same brand of lavender lotion on my face every night at bedtime for over two years but I ran out a few months ago and didn't buy more because it's over $10 a bottle and I don't really need it. When I received not one but two bottles of it, it was even better than I had imagined! "Yahoo! This is going to last forever!", I exclaimed. My boyfriend's brother, who has his own soap making business, gave me homemade lavender and peppermint soaps in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. After I'd piled it all into a box, I looked at it and happily thought "I'm not going to have to buy soap for years". To take away a burden of having to buy something or to know I'm not going to run out of items I like to have, those things are truly gifts. I know that a year ago I would have appreciated receiving these items, but not in the same way that I have now.

The same thing went for giving. I like to think I'm a thoughtful gift giver no matter what, but I had to put extra thought into purchasing this year. Would this person rather have one pricey gift or two smaller ones? Instead of going online and ordering everything at once, I'd buy one or two things then wait til I got another temp job and buy a couple more. For two of my family members, I enlarged and framed a special photo. The cost was minimal but the recipients were surprised and touched by the gesture. I spent an entire day baking with a friend and gave out plates and bags of homemade treats to friends I'd normally want to treat with a bottle of wine or a gift card to a favorite shop. Several of the friends had seen my FaceBook photos from the baking day and were thrilled that they were getting some of the goodies.

Some of the people I gave stuff to reciprocated but not all of them. Likewise a couple friends gave me a gift and I didn't have something in return. Although there was an initial pang of "Oh crap, I don't have anything for her!", I was able to silence it quickly. A gal in my online book club sent me a gift certificate to Amazon. She expressed her gratitude for being included in the club and having people to share and discuss books with. I sat back and received that thanks. I used it to buy a book on my Kindle that we've chosen as our January selection. I probably wouldn't have wanted to spend the money on it otherwise because I have so many books in my house that I still need to read! One of my closest friends took one of my photos from FaceBook and made a beautiful ornament that honors my dog who passed away this year. I have another friend who works for one of my favorite home town sports teams. He sent me some high quality warm weather gear emblazoned with the team logo because he knew I was in need of a new jacket. I know it took a lot of effort on his part to prepare and send a package right before Christmas. A couple of my family members even bought presents for my dogs. Honestly, my mind was blown by the thoughtfulness of my loved ones on more than one occasion this season. Looking back though I shouldn't have been surprised. I have worked hard to surround myself with kind, loving humans. They all know I've had a rough year and that I'm short on funds and they don't care.

So what was better, giving gifts to these amazing people or receiving gifts from them? I honestly can't say. I know it sounds cheesy, but just knowing these people, being around them and being loved by them, is a huge gift in itself. I care about plenty of people who I didn't exchange gifts with or even mail a greeting card to. That doesn't mean they're less significant to me. People complain about the commercialization of our holidays and I agree to a certain extent. I think there is definitely a general assumed link between the size or cost of the gift you give and the feelings you have for the recipient. I don't buy into that philosophy. My boyfriend didn't buy me expensive jewelry for Christmas. He bought me a thesaurus because he knows how important my writing is to me and a new skate tool because he knows how much I love roller derby and want to take care of my gear. Anybody can buy an expensive gift without putting much thought into it. It's a true friend who will buy an adult themed coloring book because she knows you'll think it's hilarious and color all the pages!

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