Editorials, Opinion

The season of gifts

It’s Christmas Eve, and we find ourselves thinking about gifts.

After all, tonight Santa Claus will shimmy down chimneys across the globe, leaving presents wrapped in paper and bows for the good girls and boys. And tonight and tomorrow, families will gather and exchange gifts.

Hanukkah ended almost two weeks ago, and in addition to the candle-lighting and traditional foods, it’s common for celebrants to give presents on each of the eight nights, especially to children. Kwanzaa begins on Tuesday, and on the final night, after the karamu — the feast — it’s common to exchange small gifts. And Christians celebrate Christmas as the day humanity received God’s most precious gift: His son, Jesus.

So we’re thinking about what it means to give and receive gifts.

What is a gift? Where does its value lie? What does it mean to give one or to receive one?

Is a present someone made better than one that was bought? Is it a bad gift if it’s something cheap? Is it a good gift if it’s expensive? Is it better to have more packages that cost less, or fewer packages that cost more? Does everyone have to receive the same number of gifts or have the same amount of money spent on them? How much does the thought really count?

Is it better to be the gift-giver or the gift-receiver? If you struggle to pick out presents for others, does that make you a bad person? If you don’t like to receive presents, does that make you an ungrateful jerk? What if you get a gift you don’t like — what should you do?

The word “gift” calls to mind a festively wrapped box containing something that has usually been purchased at a store. But a gift can also be made, like a hand-knit scarf or an original work of art or homemade cookies. A gift can also be time and effort, like hosting the holiday gathering or being fully present for your family and friends.

Value, like beauty, often lies in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps too often, we equate cost with value. But the value of a gift should be measured primarily by the joy it brings the receiver, not its sticker price, though we should be careful not to spoil one recipient at the expense of another. And the thought does count — as long as thought was actually put into the gift.

Some people struggle with gifts — it’s just not their love language. So we who love them must remember to speak to them in their preferred love language, not ours. In lieu of objects they’ll never use, we’ll give them our time and our acts of service. And if they don’t give us the perfect present, we’ll still appreciate it if we know they tried.

With all the nuances of gifts and giving and receiving — from personal preferences to social niceties — why do we even do it?

Because at its heart, exchanging presents, in whatever form they take, is about showing love, compassion and empathy. And that is always worth doing.