December 6, 2021


Winter holiday season is upon us. No matter what your religion, this is a great time to reflect on the year gone by and hopes for the future. It’s a time for warmth in a cold world, strengthening our souls by focusing on other people, and bringing families together.

Unfortunately, like so much of our culture, the holidays have changed in recent years. Modern American culture has elevated gift-giving as the centerpiece of the season. That can be great, but we should all  beware of the materialism hiding beneath all this generosity.

First, there’s something unhealthy about shopping culture. Bargain hunting, subtly tempts us into shopping for ourselves, rather than thinking about the people we love. Shopping also focuses our attention on material things, rather than the spirit of giving.

When I think back to my childhood, I can hardly remember the material gifts that made me frantic with excitement. Instead, the gifts I remember are shared experiences like a football game with family and a funded outing to an arcade with my friends.

Material things quickly lose their magic. No matter how awesome they seem at first, a fancy TV, hot new toy, fine piece of jewelry, etc. will soon become just normal. It’s human nature. Experiences, however, help us grow and stay with us for life. Playing at the arcade brought me closer to my friends, and it was a gift to them too. Every time I remember going to games with my family, I can tap into the joy I felt as a child. That’s what I want to give my kids — a gift that keeps on giving.

Another common trap is using gifting as a tool to display status. Givers advertise their wealth by buying ostentatiously expensive gifts. Recipients of expensive or rare gifts too often crow about their good fortune on social media. Conspicuous spending and showing off tarnish acts of generosity, reducing them to one more chance to show everybody else how great we are. This competitive gifting turns the spiritual value of the holidays on its head.

Nothing is more important to happiness than appreciating what, and who we already have in our lives. Few material gifts are likely to make a long term impact on our happiness. But gifts do make an impact. How? It really is the thought that counts.

I’m not saying that all gifts are created equal, so long as you remember to give something. Not at all. My point is that being thoughtful about a gift is more important than spending a lot of money or snagging something trendy. The thought you put into a gift can elevate a perfunctory gift to a real signal of love and appreciation. Nothing beats the gift that says I see who you are and I chose this just for you. I’m paying attention, and I care.

A good gift brings the giver and receiver closer together in love and gratitude. By giving well chosen gifts, we can tell the people we love that we truly appreciate who they are. Giving experiences rather than material things can help steer our culture and our kids away from mindless materialism and toward richer, more fulfilling lives.

Always remember what’s truly important: health, family, and community. The winter holidays can be wonderful, but it’s up to us to honor the spirit of the season.

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