Monday, November 29, 2010

The gift of gift-giving

For many, the holiday season can be summed up as festive. For others, however, it can be painfully depressing and stressful. These emotional extremes often involve family and gift-giving. Generosity and inadequacy swirl around the Christmas tree while compassion and gratitude sometimes play a secondary role.

There is perhaps no more important time of year for us to be grateful while being generous.

In thinking of others compassionately, let's include ourselves. Try to bolster what you may experience as inadequacy and believe that you too are appreciated and part of a larger holiday picture.

It is a widely held view that the first Christmas gifts were the gold, frankincense and myrrh given to Jesus. These are considered hidden treasures, holding significant spiritual meaning. Both their spiritual and intrinsic values are the true symbolism behind the gifts we exchange today.

O. Henry in The Gift of the Magi summarizes (and I paraphrase) in his final paragraph the meaning of giving at this season:

The magi, as you know, were wise men - wonderfully wise men - who brought gifts to the babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones. Oh, all who give and receive gifts such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Throughout history, special and significant gifts have been given from one person to another as a way of commemorating this tradition, but also to show our love for family and friends. Many extend this gesture into our communities to ensure so as many people as possible can share in this tradition.

Many have their tightened belts when deciding how much money we can afford to spend this holiday season. There are many gifts that we give year-round to people that cost nothing.

Sharing a simple experience with someone, even a game of checkers or a walk in the park, can qualify as a priceless gift. Visiting with people who are suffering from an illness or old age is a gift of enormous importance. Have you ever stopped to think how much you treasure some of the personal notes and letters received over the years? We can all create such messages with little effort and time.

For those who prefer giving tangible gifts, there has been a shift away from discretionary and luxury items to those that are useful.

Food is always a favourite in my family, especially something the whole family can enjoy making or giving together. I actually look forward to a jar of green tomato pickle with as much anticipation as anything else. I think I would be quite sad if it didn't arrive.

Warm clothes, kitchen gadgetry and some favourite chocolates can often carry with them the meaning that someone thought about what we personally need and enjoy.

How a gift is received can be as important as the gift itself. If we feel genuine gratitude upon receipt of a gift, we give that gift double strength. Likewise, if our gift is small in stature, the sincerity with which it is given has an untold power to make someone happy.

Remember to be grateful for your family and friends this holiday season even though you may have intermittent disagreements. Have compassion for those who have their own, often deeply private, struggles. Give extra hugs and smile often. Share with children - your own and others - the real meaning of the holidays.

The phrase "it is better to give than to receive" has much more meaning when we learn to give with the same passion and energy with which we receive. The surprising thing about this simple act is that it takes very little practice before we become real pros. Get out and practise. Put your heart into it, and feel your spirits soar.