It seems to me there are two forces that come together during the holiday season to influence our behavior around gift-giving (or better said: over gift-giving).
Those two powerful forces are 1) social pressure and 2) love.
The holiday season has become entirely over commercialized and you don’t need me to tell you that.
Now, there is nothing wrong or unusual about showing love by giving gifts.
But when 40% of us express an increase in stress during the holidays, 45% of us feel pressured to spend more money than we have, and almost 60% of us receive gifts we don’t want, the season has become over commercialized. Even worse, we are missing out on both the spirit and the joy of our year-end celebrations because of it.
On one hand, we feel social pressure from marketing campaigns and stores to purchase things for ourselves and others during this season. Every store proudly displays items for sale pressuring you to buy more and more at every turn. That is to be expected.
But there is another social pressure that pervades during this season—one that may not be displayed so boldly on billboards or store windows.
The subconscious pressure is this: Everybody is giving gifts AND everybody is talking about gifts! We talk about what we are giving, what we want, what we wish we could afford, and eventually, what we got.
Even during a doctor’s appointment last January, a doctor I had never met prior to the procedure, made small talk by asking “So what did you get for Christmas?”
The conversation comes up frequently for us as adults. But even more for our kids. I can remember every year, back in school after the Christmas break, the conversation among us kids was always centered on what we got for Christmas. But not just among the kids, even the teachers would ask.
And it doesn’t happen just at school. Take note every time this holiday season you hear someone (or yourself) ask a child about what gifts they want, or what they think they’re going to get, or “what did you get for Christmas” type conversations.
The social pressure—both loudly and quietly—to conform and make this holiday season primarily about giving gifts is a strong one.
To compound this social pressure, we love our kids and naturally want to make the holiday season magical and memorable for them. Most of us have fond memories that we cherish—and desperately desire for our kids to have the same.
Again, this is good. There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting our kids to love Christmas or whichever holiday you choose to celebrate this season.
The problems arise when we allow these two conversations to converge and overlap.
When society (both consciously and subconsciously) begins measuring Christmas joy in the number of gifts under a tree, and we desperately want our kids to have fond memories of the holiday season, we conflate the two and end up buying more than we need.
We think the physical possessions are going to bring the joy and the memories. And if more gifts makes Christmas morning more fun and brings about better memories, then why would we stop? We don’t. There’s always just one more to add…
So how do we begin to overcome these pressures?
With an important reminder: Your neighbor is going to give more gifts this Christmas.
When we fall into the thinking that more is better (especially in reference to gift-giving), we fall into a cycle with no escape.
Because if we believe the lie that more stuff makes the holiday better for our kids, we will always buy more and more. We want our children to be able to list off all the things they got for Christmas to their friends at school and the adults that will inevitably ask them what they got for Christmas.
But if we’re measuring our child’s happiness in the of gifts they receive, we’ll never succeed in our metric. There is always going to be somebody who got more.
Oh sure, there is one child in your town who will get the most toys, but that child is probably not yours. So how we measure joy and success during the holiday season for our kids needs to change.
And often times, the most important step in helping our children fully enjoy the holidays is to reject the over commercialization of the season.
Rather than taking time away from your child during this season to do more shopping, be more present.
Rather than adding stress and anxiety worrying that your child won’t get enough stuff this Christmas, be more calm and joyful.
Rather than spending your family into a financial hole this Christmas, provide more margin in your finances for the rest of the year.
Rather than opening your computer to order more things, get down on the floor to play or read a book.
Rather than defining joy in the number of gifts this year, find it in the reason for the season.
And rather than searching for memories on a department store shelf, make them within your four walls.
Social pressure to buy gifts will continue to surround us. But the path to providing a joyful season for your family is not found there. If it were, you’d never find it anyway.