“It is not what we give, but what we share, for the gift without the giver is bare”

~James Russell Lowell

One could easily argue that the holiday season has lost significance amidst the chaotic marketing push of the ritual of gift giving and subsequent hopes for a holiday economic boom. Waves of greed, materialism, and selfish desires seem to radiate from every sale rack. The mere thought of Black Friday harkens images of hoards of consumers waiting in freezing temperatures and masses being corralled into the front doors of discount stores to ensure loved ones have the latest and greatest in everything from games to cleaning supplies. Surely, this must signify the demise of the true spirit behind the holidays!

While the mad rush to the check-out line may indeed reflect some of the less virtuous aspects of American consumerism, I think it also affords an opportunity to consider the meaning of giving and receiving. Food for thought: What does it mean to give? Why do we do it? How good are we at fully receiving and accepting what is given to us? Do our actions reflect our intentions, and do our intentions reflect our values?

gift wrapped in red wrapping paper with gold bow

Perhaps consider your personal style of giving. Look at the how, why, and what of your giving process. Do you give too much? Very little? Do you spend a great deal of time and energy in finding the perfect gift and resent others for not putting forth as much perceived effort? Do you wait until the last minute and purchase gifts without much forethought simply because you feel you have to show up with something? Do you ever give to yourself? There may be some wonderful revelations waiting for you in considering how, why, and what you give. This year, perhaps try something new. Establish a pattern that you feel honors both the relationship and yourself, without being plagued by the “shoulds” of holiday season.

Another key question to ponder is “How comfortable am I receiving?” Children often seem endlessly pleased with receiving gifts, affection, and praise. Adults? Not so much. Somewhere along the way confident little people grow into big people who have convinced themselves that it is not okay to desire too much or be the object of attention and showered with praise. For many, receiving is a bit uncomfortable; so much so that we often deny ourselves the opportunity to bask in a compliment or honor ourselves with an act of self-appreciation or self-affirmation for fear of being perceived as self-centered. In the act of bartering and financial exchanges, humans very concretely understand that what is given needs to be replaced in order to care for oneself and one’s family; but how well do we understand this in terms of our emotional investments? How well to we allow others to value us? What are our expectations of reciprocity in relationships?

It is a good time to consider how we might begin to open ourselves to giving and receiving the intangibles which really fill us up throughout the year: love, affection, encouragement, support, laughter, joy, contentment, and compassion. The act of giving and receiving, you see, has very little to do with a tangible item, and everything to do with a message. What is yours???