Holiday gift giving doesn’t have to be a chore!

‘The holidays are so stressful! Shopping is such a chore. Christmas starts up so early these days. It ruins all the fun!’

Many people, especially those with large families, feel pressure at this time of year. Does it have to be that way?

Well, there is an alternative, but get ready’it may be shocking. Although the holiday season is already in full swing, there’s still time to consider a different attitude than the ones expressed above. I sum up this new attitude in a single word: choice.

We all have a choice. At the most basic level, none of us has to engage in gift giving. (See? I told you it would be shocking!) Giving and receiving gifts during the holidays is not like breathing or eating. We can’t survive without breathing or eating. We are, however, free to tell our significant others and family members that we want to control or curtail gifts this year.

There’s no denying the fact that giving and receiving gifts can be lots of fun. But, if the process ends up bringing you more anxiety than happiness, there are alternatives. One choice is to decide how you give and receive gifts. You don’t have to default to the way it has always been done.

If everyone in your family gives gifts to everyone else, that’s fine. Nothing is more festive than lots of wrapped goodies under the tree. But you can propose other options, too. For example, you can suggest that each person draw a name, and the name they draw will be the person for whom they buy. Some larger families have done this for years. Offices do it all the time. Such an approach allows each participant the time and energy to concentrate (and maybe even spend more money) on the person he or she has selected. Other families or couples might take a cruise or travel someplace special for the holidays. Their gift to one another is a memorable experience.

I’m not advocating any one particular way to exchange holiday gifts. What I am saying is that we all have a choice. The biggest problem with the holidays, psychologically speaking, is that too many people approach it as a duty, or as drudgery. They feel they must buy gifts, not just for a chosen few, but for everyone. They don’t feel content to buy just one gift or a few gifts—it’s all or nothing.

Does quality give way to quantity on Christmas Day? Then maybe this is what you resent, not the gifts themselves. Are you motivated to buy lots of expensive gifts for your kids because they will really appreciate and enjoy every one of them all year long? Or, if you’re really honest with yourself about it, are you trying to impress their friends’ parents, and ‘look good’ in their eyes? If it’s the latter, then maybe this is what you’re stressed about, more than the lines at the mall or the last minute rush.

‘Materialism,’ business and advertisements get the blame for much of this. But advertising does not force us to do anything. Advertising might intensify one’s desire to buy a certain number of gifts, but we still possess the power to change our attitudes, beliefs and actions. Well-run businesses respond to what the majority appears to want, and rightly so. The problem that I see is that the majority don’t seem to question what they want; they just do it, and they do it with a lot of resentment.

When you find yourself thinking, ‘I’m sick of Christmas’ or ‘I don’t want to do it this year,’ ask yourself, ‘How do I really want to handle gifts? What can I really afford? And what do I think is worth it?’ Think about last year’s holiday season. If you liked the way it was, and want to continue in that tradition, then remind yourself that all the hassle is well worth it. Challenge the words ‘hassle’ or ‘stress.’ Maybe you’re rushing to label something a ‘hassle’ that is, in truth, something you treasure and enjoy.

Several years ago, during a particularly busy pre-holiday time, I agonized over the decision to suggest to family and friends that we suspend gift giving, in favor of ‘experiences’ together: A fun dinner together at a nice restaurant; or a day-trip to the beach or a nearby city. After I finally worked up the nerve to suggest the unthinkable (No gifts!? Horror of horrors, it’s Scrooge!), I was totally astounded at everyone’s reaction. They loved it! Apparently the stress and pressure of battling the traffic and trying to pick out a gift that wouldn’t end up in a dust-covered corner (or furtively returned) was wearing on everybody. It just happened that I had the nerve to bring it up. Though we still buy gifts for one another during the year—retailers here at the beach always seem to have unique and unusual items—the holidays are more fun and less frantic.

My point is this: Don’t approach the holidays as a duty. A duty is something you are forced to do, or something over which you have no choice. If the holiday season sincerely feels that way to you, then something is wrong somewhere. It might be in your thinking, your actions, or both. If any of these aren’t working—then work on changing them.

And so it has begun. Plan for the holidays—and enjoy it!