December 13, 2011
When I think about giving and receiving, I instantly think about material things. I receive presents for my birthday. We give gifts at Christmas, Chanukah, and other special occasions. But does it have to be materialistic?
Giving and receiving. It’s the ebb and flow of who we are. We give love to our spouse, our parents and children. We receive love back. It is a natural connection between all of us — friends, family, and even strangers. We all give and receive. We give someone a smile, we receive one back. We give a “thank you,” we receive a “you’re welcome.”
Gift-giving is symbolic of how we feel about our loved ones. In our modern society, we at times get caught up with the hustle and bustle of shopping. We want to show the people with whom we are connected how we love, respect, and value them, by buying things.
The tradition of giving gifts goes a long way back. In times gone by, special occasions were, as today, celebrated with friends and family. All around the world, special occasions were celebrated with gift-giving. Gifts were made. A mother would knit a sweater for her son, a sister would embroider a handkerchief for her brother, a father would whittle a whistle for his son or a doll for his daughter.
This year, I really wanted to do something special for my friends and family, so I asked a few of my friends what they were doing. One friend said they were making things for each other; another told me they had put a limited dollar amount on gift-giving. And another told me that they had decided to have a big family dinner at a nice restaurant so mom didn’t have to cook and clean. My friends were putting some thought into gift giving this year.
I liked their approach and decided that I would do something similar. I wanted to show how much I loved my friends and family without spending loads of money, so I went shopping to find meaningful gifts within my budget.
After a few hours, I arrived at the food court, full of hungry and tired shoppers like me. As there were no tables vacant, I gingerly approached an older woman sipping on a coffee. “Could I sit here?” I asked. She looked up and nodded. With a pat on the chair she invited me to sit down.
We sat in silence for a few minutes and then she asked if I had finished my shopping. I shook my head. “Always more to buy,” I mumbled.
She began telling me about how she had been a single mother raising two boys. Things were tight and every year when Christmas came around she stressed about what to give her sons. She could not afford the expensive designer clothes or the electronics that all the other kids would get. Besides, she wanted to do something different for her kids. “I wanted to teach them the value of giving,” she told me, “and I took them to help less fortunate people.”
I thought back to the conversations with my friends. The efforts put into gift-giving with meaning. Not just buying expensive gifts without meaning.
My friends had given me insight into giving, and even a sweet and gentle stranger in the food court had given me a precious gift. They all helped me see that it isn’t the spending of money that matters; it truly is the thought that counts.