With November comes the beginning of the holiday shopping season. For students, it is often a time of wondering how the hell they are going to be able to pay for their gifts. We’re all probably accustomed to the pressure associated with the idea that unless you pile gifts on your relatives, you don’t love them. But before you rush out and spend what is left of your student loans on trivial things, consider that there are other ways to show appreciation for the people you love.
It has actually been a relatively short time that buying things has been de rigeur for the holiday season. Many cultures around the world have a celebration around the time of the winter solstice. Something about this time of the year has inspired people to spend time with their loved ones, to toast the bounty of the prior year and the health of the coming year, and to exchange small gifts as tokens of their love. Over the last few decades, companies have increasingly taken advantage of our need to express our appreciation for those around us, and there are now “events” like Black Friday to drive revenues up. In the face of these external pressures, we need to remember what is really important during the holiday season.
This year, instead of shopping for the latest electronics that slightly improve on the last model, why not spend time with those you love? Buy a gift card for an experience that you can share, or make dinner and spend some time with your friends and family.
My fondest memories of the holiday season are not of the toys and presents I’ve been given, but of sitting on the dugout and ice fishing with my stepbrother and stepfather, or going camping in the winter with my dad. It is not about what Santa left in my stocking, but about the dinners with loved ones, playing board games, then drinking coffee late into the morning and staying in pyjamas all day. That is the most important part of the season for me, not what was given. Hell, I can barely even remember most of the gifts that I’ve received.
If you do feel the need to give your family a token of your appreciation for them, making a useful and high-quality gift with your own hands is much more meaningful than buying an expensive gadget. If you need ideas, here are a couple of suggestions: try baking cookies for someone, or refinish an old tool or watch that has fallen into disrepair. This way, the amount of new things on the market decreases, wasteful production and packaging is all but eliminated, and you get to practice a useful skill that will generally result in a better product than something you would have bought.
Finally, if you don’t have the skills to create something or the time to spend with a relative, buying a small, sustainable and useful gift is a good way to go. When I buy my gifts, I make sure that the source of the gift is sustainable (and local, ideally), environmentally friendly, and supports the original maker of the product. Places like farmers’ markets are wonderful for this task. Often, you get to meet the maker of the product and put a face to the gift, and you get a story to tell about the gift that your family will appreciate and love for years to come.
Coming up on the holiday shopping season, it is easy to get caught up in the gift-buying frenzy and spend all of your money on trivial things that your family might appreciate but will likely forget. Instead of leaving the house just to clog up roads and parking lots with your car, try going for a walk with someone and experience the beauty of winter (it is really beautiful when you get over the shovelling part). Buy your friend a drink and have a laugh, make dinner for the people you love, or just spend time with each other.
There is no law saying you have to buy gifts. Finding alternatives will often make your relationships better and make you feel happier. This season is about loved ones; why not spend time with them instead of in the shopping mall?
Photo by Suvodeb Banerjee, Flickr Creative Commons.