To be honest…with Madison Carroll

To be honest, I hate feeling obligated to give people gifts. The feeling that I must give someone a gift over the holiday season to express my appreciation for them invokes resentment.  

There are two things to clarify before continuing. First, I love Christmas and the holiday season in general. Second, if you genuinely enjoy giving gifts, I support you. My problem is not with people who express their love through gift giving but with a culture where one is expected to give gifts to show love.

There is historical precedent for the dislike of the obligation to give gifts. In 1912, the Society for Prevention of Useless Giving began rallying people against the growing trend to give gifts. This organization gained traction to the point that former president Theodore Roosevelt became its leader. Department stores retaliated, though, and continued to promote a gift centered holiday culture.  

A reason I dislike the obligation to give gifts is because I often do not know what others would like to receive. If I give them a gift they dislike, then they will return it and my act of giving the gift would be rendered pointless. To give someone a gift they will enjoy, one often runs into the problem of not being able to afford the gift.  

I have found that the problem of not being able to afford gifts does not just apply to broke college students but to society at large. The 2017 Consumer Holiday Shopping Report analyzed the holiday spending trends of over 2,000 Americans aged 18 and older. The survey found that 63 percent of baby boomers, 58 percent of Generation-Xers and 40 percent of millennials took on debt to finance their holiday shopping. Almost worse, 24 percent of millennials still have not paid off their debt from spending on holiday gifts last year and have already started to spend on gifts this year.

There is a problem when society feels so obligated to give gifts that people are willing to go into debt in order to fulfill the obligation. Society will incur large amounts of debt in order to give gifts because it has become a “necessary” part of the holiday season even when it doesn’t have to be.  

A survey conducted by the Harris Poll found that 69 percent of Americans would skip exchanging gifts if their family and friends agreed to it. This is evidence of the obligation that most people feel. Most people would not give gifts but only if others agreed to do the same.  

The same survey also found that 60 percent of people would spend more time with family and friends if they did not have to worry about giving or making gifts. The obligation to give gifts distracts people from what they would like the holiday to be about. Many people said that they would even spend money doing activities with family and friends if they did not have to worry about giving them gifts.   

As I sit by my Christmas tree, which was decorated long before Thanksgiving, I think about the true meaning of the holiday season. To me, this season is about a feeling. I think of the family traditions I enjoy and the special time spent with loved ones. I think about my love for this season and about the significance it holds in my life. This is what Christmas means to me.  

Christmas and the holiday season have different meanings to different people. Some place significance on the religious meaning, some on spending time with family and friends and some on giving gifts. The goal should be to fulfill whatever the holidays mean to you. If that’s giving gifts, then that’s what you should do. However, if the holiday does not mean giving gifts to you, then you should not feel obligated to give gifts.    

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” – Dr. Seuss, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

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