We were commiserating with friends about the exigencies of Christmas gift buying, and one, the most logical thinker in the bunch, got right to the crux of the problem: “What is our motivation for buying gifts?”
Some of us are trapped in a gift-giving cycle with relatives or friends, and if we would stop now it would be tantamount to a slap in the face. In some cases, certain relatives have an entitlement mentality; they have no spouses or children to buy for them, and so tentative proposals for ending the gift exchanges are met with complaints about how bare the spaces under their trees will be.
The irony, I observed, is that often the people with whom we are close enough to know what to get them are the people we aren’t buying for. The relatives we are obligated to buy for, meanwhile, don’t have much at all in common with us, and hence are much harder to intuit how to please. Too often, I lamented, we buy out of obligation—a complaint probably shared by more than a few people buying gifts for us.
And yet the suggestion of a truce is often met with reluctance, irritation, even anger. So we spend too much of our Christmas worrying over what to get whom, and fretting over our card list, and forking over cash, and slowly developing the feeling that life will be more peaceful once Christmas has passed.
I’d like to move to a custom under which we buy a few gifts for our children and spouses, as well as close friends, and nothing beyond that, except—most importantly—a generous increase in charity. How do we get there? I suspect the only feasible route is to simply do it unilaterally, regardless of the ill feelings it generates. But maybe if enough of us make the leap all at once, it will be a cultural shift, and not just another example—and trust me, there are plenty—of me insulting family members and acquaintances.
So who’s with me?