Giving gifts at Christmas time and birthdays is so ingrained in Western culture that most people can’t imagine opting out of it, no matter how much they may want to.
A gift that is given out of obligation does not carry with it the same wonderful heartness that comes with one that is given freely. There is no comparison between the two. And when you also give a gift in such a way that you release all ownership and control of the item, leaving the recipient completely free to use it or dispose of it in any way they choose, then that is a gift in the truest sense of the word.
A different approach
Richard and I long ago stopped giving Christmas or birthday presents to each other or anyone else, and we have an agreement with our families and friends not to give them to us either. This eliminates a whole lot of gift clutter from our lives, and a whole lot of pressure around Christmas and birthdays too.
We still give presents when we want to. We just don’t give them because calendar dates dictate we have to. And we always tell the person that if the gift we have chosen for them is not what they want, they are totally free to give it straight back or dispose of it as soon as they want in any way they like. That way we can be sure we’re not unintentionally creating unwanted clutter in the lives of the people we care about.
This philosophy is one reason why you will never see Christmas promotions on our online store and why there are no birthday messages on any of the message boards we host. I know some people find this odd, but it really is only cultural conditioning. In Bali, for example, where I lived for 20 years, there is no tradition of celebrating birthdays at all, and because 95% of the island’s population is Hindu, they don’t do Christmas either. The concept of giving gifts at these times is purely cultural. It has no spiritual basis whatsoever.
How to opt out
So what can you do if you truly wish to uphold the spirit of Christmas and birthdays without immersing yourself in the accompanying commercialism or stress? Well, you can do what I did many years ago. You can talk to your family and friends to explain how you feel. Broach the topic gradually, giving everyone around you time to consider and adapt.
Explore the different ways that all the time and money you used to spend going shopping can be put instead into spending quality time together, preferably in person. Or if you are separated by distance, via an online call. What better gift can there be?
And what can you do if your family and friends just don’t get it? Well, that’s a tricky one, but if you’re a regular reader of my blog or newsletters then you’re probably quite free-spirited and may decide to make your own rules anyway. For when all is said and done, a life lived from obligation is really no life at all.
Copyright © Karen Kingston 2014, updated 2019
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