This essay is part of our Patheos Holiday Monitor question of the week: "Can we - or should we - resist holiday consumerism?" For more, visit the Patheos Holiday Monitor page.
You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. ~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
In our culture, the word "Christmas" has become nearly synonymous with the word "shopping." Just last week, the New York Times ran a front page article about how online retailers lured customers to their websites on Thanksgiving in order to get a jumpstart on Christmas deals. That's right, people left the company of their friends and family in order to sit in front of a computer, credit card in hand, to buy gifts for these same people. And we call this love.
I call it madness. We live in a culture that is dying for community, connection, and attention. Untold numbers of people are addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex, food, and work because they need to numb the feelings of isolation they feel. Walk into a café tomorrow and count the number of people who are checking their email or smart phones during a conversation with someone they love. We're growing further apart from each other and from what really matters to us. And we're falling more into debt from overspending on things that don't really feed us. Something has got to shift.
This holiday season let's get out of the "money talks" mentality of gift giving and get back to "It's the thought that counts." People really need to be seen, known, and loved. People need someone to listen to them. They need our undivided attention. And we need the joy of giving that connection to people we love.
Here's what we can do. Instead of making a long list of things to buy people in your life, can you imagine giving gifts of your time and attention? What if you gave handmade gifts certificates for shared home-cooked meals, art projects with their children, computer assistance, or cultural outings together? What if you accompanied them to a benefit for their favorite charity, made time to volunteer together, or created a family recipe book?
What if you committed to making my all-time favorite gift, "The Love List," which is simply a list of all the things you love about someone: their quirky laugh, the way they greet you at the door, their amazing apple pie, the memory of that day in the rain in Chicago. All you need to create the Love List is an hour of uninterrupted time to sit down and brainstorm what that person means to you and memories you've shared. Then present the Love List any way that suits you: on a sheet of paper, printed out with art from the computer, on a poster board, or on slips of paper in a "Joy Jar." I guarantee you that this gift, which doesn't cost a dime, will be life changing -- not just for the person who receives it, but for you, too.
This holiday season I want us all to ask ourselves, "What is it that I really have to give?" And most importantly, "What do the people around me really need to receive?" Gizmos and gadgets? No way. Love and connection? You can count on it.