My husband and I attended a Christmas party over the weekend. A group of partygoers sat in the living room talking about Christmas celebrations and traditions from our childhoods. One of the guests asked the group what the best gift we ever received for Christmas was.
The first thing that came to my mind was the disappointment of not getting the Swatch watch that I asked for from my parents when I was in fourth grade. Instead, I received the inexpensive knockoff. Of course I got over it, but I must’ve felt I had to fill some sort of Swatch watch void because I purchased (with my babysitting and movie theatre concession stand earnings) three Swatch watches between junior high and college.
When I asked my husband if he could think of the best Christmas gift he got, he said, “It only reminds me of being disappointed. Every year I’d get my hopes up but I’d always get the generic version of the gift I really wanted.”
But one year a neighbor on his paper route left him a name brand transformer toy. He felt so special—this customer didn’t even know him. Even as he was telling me that story, my husband spoke excitedly about this childhood memory. He said, “Really, it was the one that every kid in my class wanted!”
As adults, we know there is more to celebrating Christ’s birth than buying name brand, highly sought-after material things. Maybe it’s our over-consumptive lifestyle with its abundance of marketing that encourages children to interpret a material gift as a tangible expression of love.
As a parent, it can be destructive to cater to your child’s whims, and it is important teach the value of work and money. But can we expect our children to understand something that only adults really do? How do we balance all this?
This year my husband and I adopted a Christmas gift recipient from the local Starbucks. An organization called Face to Face matches retailers and their customers with students from around Chicago that may not be receiving any gifts this holiday. I selected a letter written by Le’Sugar, a 13-year-old girl. She wrote about needing a Jansport backpack (preferably in purple) for all of the books she has to carry now that she is in the 8th grade. And if that wasn’t possible, she would prefer a gift card from Target to give her mom, who is the most important person in her life.
Like Le’Sugar, my husband and I wanted our objects of desire because it made us feel like we belonged and fit in with our peers.
Maybe that’s what it is all about, belonging. As we mature, we realize that we can feel a sense of belonging in other ways, and we build a community around us that helps us feel good about ourselves and one another. Young adults begin to understand that material gifts are not as important as time and relationships. But until that time, maybe a Swatch watch or Jansport backpack will have to do.
How will you make your holiday gift-giving special for someone?