Allow me a moment here to air my feelings on a subject that is bothering me a lot this particular Christmas season–the art of receiving gifts.
I am a gift person. I love receiving gifts and I love giving gifts. I especially like to dole out homemade gifts and baked goods, as our financial situation makes it difficult to buy gifts for everyone on our list. I actually draw up my Christmas list in the first week of January in order to give me enough time throughout the year to complete the many hours of labor necessary to produce the handmade items I’d like to give.
Now, I know that “giving” a gift isn’t for the benefit of the giver; it’s all about the recipient. But part of the reason I like to give gifts is to witness the reaction when the recipient receives their gift. It makes me want to keep giving, especially to that person!
May I suggest that we all take a step back and re-apply ourselves to the practice of receiving gifts graciously? Any gift, no matter how simple, extravagant or *cough, cough* weird–each was brought to its recipient because the giver thought they would appreciate it and because the giver wanted to do something nice for the recipient.
It took a parting with one’s funds, or a sacrifice of one’s time and/or energy to give a gift to another person. (I don’t know about you, but I’m in short supply of all three these days!) We need to look beyond the physical gift and see what really is being given: the kind thoughts of another and the actions that say “You are worth my time, energy and/or money.” That’s a HUGE deal in this world of bottom lines, cramped schedules and tired bodies and minds.
My challenge to all this holiday season is to receive gifts graciously. We need to plaster on a mega-watt smile, elevate the pitch of our voice an octave and express a joyous “Thank You!” each time someone shows that we are important to them and shows that love with a gift (be it a trinket, a plate of cookies or an act of service). We need to express our gratitude to that person for their actions and just accept the fact that another human being, in this world of faceless electronic communications, has physically sought us out in hopes of making us feel a little bit more loved. That’s a very big thing.
But what if the gift isn’t something you want? Many of us are watching our diets and cringe at the thought of another plate of cookies (I am not one of them!); and sometimes gifts are just freakishly ugly and odd.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: You don’t have to actually use the gift. If a plate of sweets is too much a temptation, take a small nibble (so you can give an honest answer when the gifter asks if you liked them), then throw them in the trash. If you receive a home decoration object that you don’t like, then pass it on to someone who will like it. If the gifter asks where the item is the next time they’re over, give a vague answer. (And furthermore, will all the gifters STOP asking where their gifts are in someone’s house? It’s rude.) Appreciate their intentions, recognize that few people actively seek to physically give gifts to their neighbors anymore and just be thankful that you are so lucky to possess such caring neighbors, co-workers and friends. Never negate a gift to its giver or suggest ways to improve their “performance” the next year.
What if the gift is offensive? Well, I guess it depends on the situation and gift. As a practicing member of the LDS Church, I don’t drink coffee or alcohol. However, these are popular gifts, especially from people who don’t know me that well. I would never push a bag of coffee bean or a bottle of alcohol back at the giver. I would never inform them on the spot that I don’t drink those things. I would accept their gift graciously, and then figure out a way to either use it or dispose of it. (Coffee beans can be used in many cookie recipes that can then be given as gifts to my non-LDS neighbors, and alcohol can be used in cooking because the alcohol can be burned off in the right recipes. Or you can always give them to someone who knows your religious beliefs with the explanation that you received it as a gift and have chosen not to use it.)
Many fellow Mormons would heartily disagree with me on this tactic, and that’s fine. But what’s more important–being a kind and gracious person or pronouncing your religious beliefs to the detriment of another’s honestly honorable intentions? There’s always time to explain your beliefs to another person–on your doorstep after receiving a gift from them is, in my opinion, not that time.
But won’t this resign you to a lifetime of receiving gifts you don’t want? Quite possibly.
However, people who are giving you gifts because they love you will generally tend to observe you for your likes and interests and hone their gift-giving choices to suit you better. Or, in the case of neighbors, they just make a big batch of goods that they give out to everyone and it’s rude to expect them to bend their traditions to please you. Just accept the gift with genuine gratitude, do what you will with it and move on.
And may I offer just one more teeny bit of advice? It’s really probably just a pet peeve of mine, but if someone takes the time and effort to give you a physical gift…doesn’t it stand to reason that a physical gift necessitates a physical thank-you card? Agree with me or not, but when a person spends hours planning what they’re going to give you and then either creates it or stands in line to purchase it, it’s pretty lame to send a quick email “thank you.” That same two lines, written in a card and arriving in the mailbox, somehow makes all the effort so much worthwhile.
I know a grandmother with very limited means who scrapes and scrapes to be able to send presents to her four grandchildren every year and she never received a single thank-you card from them–until last year. I actually saw her walking back from the mailbox with a spring in her step and I called out my window to see why she was so happy. “My granddaughter liked my gift to her!”, was her exultant response.
Look at it as yet another way to treat yourself and buoy another’s spirits–you get to go shopping for some lovely stationery and the giver gets to experience the warm and fuzzies. I know lots of people who glue their received thank-you cards into their journals or keep them in some other way–physical thank-you cards mean a lot to many people.
Yes, we all will receive “bummer presents” throughout our lives. But seriously, we’re big boys and girls and if we want a particular item, then it’s our responsibility to procure it for ourselves–that is not a burden to be placed upon the shoulders of any other person. It’s a perk if someone does it for us, but it’s not a requirement to continue a relationship with someone, ever. We need to stop focusing on the actual gift and look solely to the sentiment behind the gift. Please. Giving a gift is always a sacrifice on behalf of the giver. We need to remember that and rejoice when someone picks us out to show their love. That gift alone is special enough.
Remember: Big smile and a high-pitched “Thank you”. And, depending on the circumstances, a tangible thank-you card. It’s not that hard. We can do it!