Better than Presents: Why I’m Starting a New Holiday Tradition

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The commercialism of the holiday season hit me particularly hard this year. Normally I just brush it off, but something about listening to the cheery holiday music while it’s simultaneously trying to get me excited about the latest deals just didn’t sit right. It’s emotional manipulation, and we all know it. When do we infuse our ritualistic gestures of appreciation with commercialism? Why do I have to buy to show that I care? I’m tired of it, and this year I’m doing something different.

According to the National Retail Federation, retail shopping in November and December amounts to over $500 billion every year. Half a trillion dollars is spent on stuff for ourselves. We must care a lot about each other, because that’s a lot of money. That money would do a lot of good in the hands of someone who really needs it.

So this year I’m opting out. I’m not participating in the normal gift-giving rituals (much to the chagrin of friends and family), but it’s not because I don’t care. In fact, I’m starting my own ritual, which I think more closely resembles the spirit of the holiday season, and it consists of two parts:

  1. I will take the same amount of money I would have spent on gifts for that person, and donate it to a charity in their name.
  2. I will write a letter about the things I appreciate most about that person, and give it to them.

I know that some people already do this kind of thing during the holidays, so I’m hoping that it becomes a bigger thing. In my house, we’re lucky to have several iPads at home plus a ton of other gadgets.

What about you, will you be un-gifting this year? I’m a wrong to donate instead of buy presents for everyone? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • maggiemargot

    I think, it’s a wonderful thought to think of the neighbors who maybe have not much of a gift to give to their kids or a good meal to cook and the community and extend that to the world. I think that if you have a family it’s important to give gift to the kids and your wife as well and thus nourish that spirit of celebration, comunity and festivity. I love “the middle path” and as a child I have truly enjoyed that festive atmosphere in my family home and would not have wanted to miss it. Sometimes we need highlights in our lives.

    • Alex Cequea

      Thanks for your comment. I understand where you’re coming from. I guess my problem is that buying products has become synonymous with appreciation and the spirit of celebration, so it’s hard to separate the commercialism from a honest desire to appreciate the ones we love.

      • maggiemargot

        I understand and see the good thoughts in it. In the case of Kids I wouldn’t enforce it on them, – because the whole thing with gifts and having a really beautiful festival has besides the material aspect also a spiritual side to it – just the whole magics around it and the wonderful day. As kids we usually got what we needed – a new sweater for the winter, warm socks etc., a new pair of shoes and MAYBE some fun thing as well. But that didn’t diminish our happiness – after all it was NEW. In the case of adults – I think it’s a good idea – unless somebody is in need of something, because there are people today who don’t have enough. I joint your initiative. I personally would like to organize big community festivals where nobody of the community needs to sit at home alone and can’t participate in any holiday happiness…. That would be an ideal for me, see everyone enjoying – not overfed with commerce, but simple things, good food, sharing happiness.

  • Jeri Walker-Bickett

    I’ve thought a lot about doing what you’ve described, but I have yet to take the plunge. My family draws names to alleviate the pressure of needing to get gifts fro every single person, but a gift made in the name of charity is meaningful in an entirely different way. The Christmas season is too commercialized, and giving gifts in the name of charity can certainly help alleviate that. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Alex Cequea

      Jeri you should definitely do it next year! It was a huge hit with my friends and family. They were very touched. It was also super fulfilling to pick out charities inspired by each person, and being able to tell them what I appreciated about them, without a commercial premise. It was a successful experiment!