Since when did a time that’s supposed to be full of joy become one of dread and obligation? You know what I’m referring to—the fact that every year everyone wonders whom they must find a gift for, and whether they’ll get one in return.
I’m firmly in the camp where I do not believe that I have the right to tell someone that they should or should not get something for me—that I should give out of how I have been blessed and to be a blessing rather than what I will receive—but how does that balance with the fact that many people will take the fact that I gave them a gift as an obligation to give something back.
Martin Lewis thinks it’s time to ban Christmas presents, or at least that’s how he starts. I mean, first it’s no presents, then it’s only for kids or spouse, and then it’s creative ways for giving gifts to the very people that he stated are the problem in the first place—the ever increasing extended family.
He’s got the part about gift giving becoming a zero-sum game right, though:
Christmas presents are a ”zero-sum” game, as people usually swap gifts of similar value. Look at it as a simple equation:
David gives Nick a £40 blue tie for Christmas; Nick gives David a pair of £40 designer orange socks.
The net result … Nick has spent £40 and got a blue tie; David has spent £40 and got orange socks.
Effectively, you pay to receive someone else’s choice of object. Fine if people have wealth, but consider Janet and John. Financially, everything’s bonzer for her, so she decides, generously, to buy gifts for all and sundry. In her cousin John’s case, it’s a pair of £25 funky cufflinks. Yet he’s skint, in debt, and has three kids – but pride obliges him to buy her something of equal value.
Without the gift-giving obligation, would John have really chosen to prioritise spending £25 to receive cufflinks? Instead, perhaps he’d have replaced his children’s shoes or repaid some debt. Worse still, maybe he borrowed more to buy Janet her gift.
In other words, giftswapping skewed John’s priorities. He would’ve been better off if Janet hadn’t bought him a present.
Pardon the British, but the point is still the same—if I’m hard up for money, why would I want to spend $25 on something that you pick out when I could find a better use for the money.
Last year I believe that we bought for everyone that was going to be at the Christmas gathering—no more getting things for people that were not going to be there. That’s one way to handle it.
Perhaps a more inventive way to maintain the spirit of giving and not requiring a gift in return is to give to someone that won’t feel obligated:
- The regular server at your favorite restaurant.
- The coworker or friend you haven’t given anything to in a while.
- A local rescue mission or church.
- Those shoeboxes.
- A missionary you support.
Perhaps you’d gain a new appreciation for the season when you give with no expectation of return!