Call me a nonconformist, but I don't buy gifts during the holidays. Instead, I realized years ago that I much prefer giving someone a gift when I know they need something or I see something they would use and enjoy—even if that happens to be on a Wednesday in August.
Yet I certainly feel the expectation that in order to show my love for those I care about, I need to give them a tangible item in December. Preferably wrapped up in a gorgeous box with a pretty bow. This is no accident. Consumerism was designed into our culture and intentionally interwoven into our rituals and spiritual satisfaction. On purpose.
The Story of Stuff, a short educational video that originally came out in 2007, explains how the US government and corporations intentionally built consumption into our culture in order to boost the economy. Retailing analyst Victor Lebow said in 1955, "Our enormously productive economy . . . demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption."
Why did they tie it into our rituals and demand that we consume in order to achieve spiritual satisfaction? Because they knew how powerful those innate human needs are. When we create rituals or traditions to fulfill our spiritual needs, they become ingrained in our life and we repeat them year after year. But when we tie our basic needs of human connection and spirituality to the wrong thing, it's not fulfilling. This is why giving holiday gifts has been a mismatch for me.
Because gifts are not my love language, I don't remember most of the presents I've received in my life, with the exception of a few very thoughtful ones. But every year, I recall the uneasiness in my stomach when I see the presents pile up and consider the environmental and social impact of the vast consumerism around me.
So I've been thinking about the purpose of gifts. And how we can create an intentional, sustainable season of giving that reflects our values. I love Robin Wall Kimmerer's perspective about gift economies and how they provide abundance and deep human connection.
I'm a big fan of generosity and authentic connection, and I know there's a better way to connect deeply and love one another than by uniformly purchasing new, mass-produced items that deplete our world and will likely either sit on a shelf unnoticed or end up in a landfill. So I've been considering how to revamp my gift-giving practices in a way that aligns more accurately with my values.
Maybe you love the gift-giving aspect of the holidays. Or maybe you dread the entire experience of shopping and are looking for a way out of the consumerism-dominated culture around you. Whatever the case, here are a few ideas designed to build connection, celebrate abundance, and maintain an environmental ethic.
First of all, remember that not everyone receives love in the same way. If the purpose of gift-giving is to build connection and spread love, it's best to start by knowing what makes someone feel loved. Learning about the 5 love languages is a great place to start. While we most often give love in the language we prefer to receive it, it's most powerful to offer love in the other person's language.
Words of Affirmation
We all want to hear that we are loved, that we are worthy, that we are enough. For people fluent in this love language, a thoughtful card written with care and detail will be cherished so much more than any item you can put in a physical box.
Write down 50 reasons why you love this person. This can be done on little slips of paper that you stick in a jar or on Post-it notes that you plaster around their house, car, or office space.
Get crafty and create a handmade card telling them what you appreciate about them.
Acts of Service
For people who adore this love language, doing something to help them makes them feel appreciated and lets them know they're not alone. To turn this into a gift, first figure out what the people around you need.
If someone is dreading making a phone call or sending an email, offer to do it for them.
Put your skills to use. If you're a writer or editor, help a loved one review their resume, business proposal, or college application. Not only is this gift custom-tailored to their exact situation, but working closely together will deepen your connection.
What people who speak this love language are looking for is a little memento to remind them of your relationship and history together. Build those bonds with handcrafted items that let them know you're thinking of them.
Frame a hand-decorated collage with photos and ticket stubs from a concert or event you attended together.
Gorgeous packaging and presentation mean a lot to people with this love language, so take time to wrap your present in beautiful, recyclable materials.
This is one of my main love languages. It's hard for me to think of a better way to show someone you love them than by spending time with them. This is most effective when you are fully present mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Get together with your loved one to play games, watch a movie, go on a walk, or do really any activity that you both enjoy.
If you can't get together in person, simply calling to talk will fill your loved one up more than receiving an item in the mail.
My other main love language is physical touch, whether romantic, platonic, or familial. When I was little, the most comfortable place in the world was squished in the middle of my family's snuggle pile. It made me feel so safe and loved.
Create a homemade spa day for your loved one, paint their nails, and brush and/or braid their hair.
If you can't or don't want to do the touching yourself, book a session and hang out with them while they get pampered by a facial, reiki session, or massage with essential oils.
What's great about this is that we are all creative people. There are infinite ways to love and create meaningful, sustainable rituals. The gifts we choose to share can be as unique as each one of us.
By being intentional about giving holiday gifts or not, we are more likely to create deep bonds that linger—and less likely to hook our spiritual satisfaction onto products that leave us with a nasty hangover. And in the process, we open ourselves up to the possibility of authentic connection and honor our true desire for spiritual satisfaction.
What do you want your lasting legacy from this holiday season to be?