I grew up in a gift adverse family. And because I don’t have much of a memory I can’t tell you a whole lot about it. I have really cute photos of Christmas time with my sister and we were always sporting matching new homemade dresses and matching baby dolls. I know that we had visits from Santa and all the normal American Christmas surprises, but by the time I was about 12 (I was the oldest) my parents started giving us a budget and taking us to the big city (Atlanta) for annual Christmas Shopping. I actually adored this tradition. Being an (almost) bona-fide teenager there was nothing more important than the opportunity to pick out my own clothes! And because we wore homemade clothes for most of our childhood (back then it seemed very “poor” and uncool) I could think of no better way to guarantee acceptance and popularity than and Esprit tee shirt or Calvin Klein jeans, which was pretty much the only 2 things I could afford with my budget. I learned to appreciate what money could buy (or not) and I learned to take really good care of the Esprit tee shirt because it cost me so much. Over-all I can say that my parents did me a favor.
Are we gift-averse because of how we grew up?
I wonder what my younger brothers and sisters felt about it? The 3 oldest children are so close in age that I suspect we pretty much were always lumped together for every big conversation, like the existence of Santa- or lack of, like where babies come from, stuff like that. I can’t be sure about my brother – I know he wasn’t around for the baby talk, but I can be certain that my sister and I were pretty much raised as twins so I probably had the benefit of Santa and magical Christmas much longer than the rest of the kids. Maybe this is another one of those practical facts about raising large families. I digress. The point was that I was about 12 but they were about 11, 9, and 7ish and 3 (he was probably still getting Santa gifts?). I wonder if this is part of why we are so gift averse? We were given a budget, picked out what we wanted- there were no surprises. There was no concern about finding the perfect gift or the sweet feelings of excitement that come when you open exactly what you have been wishing for. We also did not learn to give gifts- which is really a talent. There was not much emphasis on gifts at all – because by the time Christmas rolled around it was entirely possible that we might have been allowed to wear the “new dress” or the “new coat” to some kind of special holiday occasion that preceded Christmas. I kind of remember Christmas time as a time to get together with cousins, to eat at Grandmas, to enjoy some homemade treasures (my favorite part) and to re-enact the nativity scene whilst narrated from the bible by the family patriarch. Then again- I don’t have much of a memory- maybe I saw this on TV and thought I remembered it. Mostly the complete De-empahsis on gifts was a positive experience.
It’s so funny how these childhood experiences shape your life. Still today I truly believe that -in general- Christmas is over commercialized. I stand firm on my opinion that the debt and stress of gifting is a negative aspect of the Holiday Season. I struggle to minimize what my kids get from us and from Santa. I use stockings as and excuse to replace practical necessities like toothbrushes and socks and underwear and hair barrettes. Looking back however I have a lot of thoughts and questions about gift giving.
Is there a flip side I am missing out on because I am gift averse? How do I show the gift-lovers in my life that I care?
- I am generally uncomfortable with receiving gifts.
- I have a hard time buying gifts for others.
- I prefer homemade gifts because it equals time, thoughtfulness, and a representation of ones talent. And because I don’t want someone spending a lot of money on me (this part applies to everyone but Spartacus)
Fast forward to today, I got together with some English speaking ladies who started meeting for a coffee many years ago. When I lived here before -12 years ago- the same tradition existed, the people are mostly all different, except for one or 2, which pretty much makes me one of the senior members of the group. But because we just moved back a few months ago I am still considered a newbie. The ladies are mostly British, there is a Swiss, a few Polish Canadians, and a Polish Ecuadorian, there is me- an American, and another American friend who splits time (winters) in Thailand, a Brazilian, A Chinese-Indonesian-Swiss, I hope I am not forgetting anyone. The point is we are a international group who really just meets to chew-the-cud and help each – to be each others family and community. It is a place to get answers, and to relax for a bit. I don’t often make it to the weekly coffee but I usually try to make the monthly (or bi-monthly) Birthday lunch. This event is organized by a few of our senior cruise directors and hosting duties are rotated around to each ladies home. Every one brings dishes of food and sits at a beautifully set table. The Prosecco is poured and we all enjoy a slow lunch to catch up on each others lives. I am one of the few with children still in-the-nest. At first I thought that I would never fit (back) in with these ladies who had the time to “lunch” and who dressed for the occasion. I thought that I would not have things in common or that my wild children would prevent me from attending get-togethers. Slowly over many months I have been so grateful as they have remembered the children’s birthdays, as they have always welcomed me with smiles and genuine questions of concern. They were the ones who donated silverware, and temporary bedding and some of the basic necessities we needed when we got off the plane. Davina was one of my first friends, she brought her son to befriend mine and play with him when we first arrived. I can’t even tell you how grateful I was that after weeks of talking to no kids, little British William was the kindest friendliest playmate to both of them. Davina even drove Spartacus over an hour away to pick up our car when it was finally cleared for purchase (another story). These ladies were here to catch me when I dove head first into this experience. I didn’t even know I needed to be caught I thought I could land all by myself.
Many of these ladies (mostly Brits) are career contractors wives. They (husband and wife team) have been around the globe, taking jobs and loosing jobs and relocating every few years or more as they follow the ups and downs of the aviation industry (warning – stay out of this industry if you can). They have raised children in foreign countries and know the warmest place within 800 miles to spend spring break. They are world travelers and have been a source or reassuring advise especially about how the kids are adjusting (or not). Today they gathered to celebrate my birthday. I arrived a few minutes late because I had to run Coco to speil gruppe. Gabriel (and the ipad) tagged along with me and were greeted with an equal amount of hospitality (this is always such a relief). The ladies seem to understand that it’s important that you meet even if you have to bring the kids along. Today they made sure to buy some “special” non alcoholic spumante- JUST FOR ME!?!? You can not imagine how much this gesture touched me. I didn’t even know that anyone noticed I don’t drink. They poured it into a beautiful champagne glass toasted the birthday girls and ate a lovely homemade lunch followed by 2 birthday cakes! Just before we all got ready to leave they started pouring the gifts into my lap, and this is when I really started to feel… nervous, embarrassed, unworthy. I didn’t know what to do with all these gifts. I hardly even know these ladies, why are they buying me all these gifts, I haven’t reciprocated. I don’t even know what to do with them. I thanked every one, gave out cheek kisses and carried my lute home. Coco and Axel could hardly contain their excitement as they got to take turns opening gift after gift: chocolates, a new uniform (apron), a handbag, little candles, a new timer (perfect for use on slow children) and lots of other sweet little trinkets.
I was overwhelmed at the love that these gifts represent. I realized how delightful all the wrappings and ribbons were. I really wonder if they all know something I don’t? I wonder if everyone else knows what it’s like to be far from friends who normally make birthdays special? I wondered if all husbands forget about gifts and birthday cakes and anything else regarding my existance (opps, was that out-loud)? I wonder why they are so thoughtful to me? I wonder if it’s not too late for me to learn the art of gifting? Am I wrong about my gifting opinions? I have to admit all those trinkets and all that sparkly paper did a little something for me. How about you, are you gift averse? Why?