It’s nearly holiday time and the ritual of gift giving rises to the occasion like a freshly baked bread. The clichés about giving abound: It’s better to give than to receive. You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving. So when we’re celebrating any milestone or holiday, it might be prudent to fall back on the messages embedded in these truisms to be more benevolent and creative in our gift giving.
Fortunately, we have picked up some good lessons in giving from the younger folks in our lives. Example: Here’s a thanks to Barbara’s son-in-law who’s shown her through his actions about the importance of giving an “experience” rather than a gift at times. For an anniversary present, he surprised his wife, her younger daughter, with two nights away with their young son at a family resort rather than another piece of jewelry or furnishing for their new home. Margaret learned about giving rather than getting from her children when they were young. Each year at holiday time her youngest son, a jazz musician who played during high school at a certain nursing home, wanted to donate his earnings. His brother and sister picked up on this, and it became an annual tradition on the last night of Hanukkah where each donated a sum to a charity of their choice.
We have 10 ideas about creative, selfless gift giving to suggest as we think ahead about the sometimes frantic holiday season—Hanukkah begins the night of December 6th and Christmas, of course, Dec. 25. Use these as inspiration or even as a guide to make the holidays more meaningful and bright for you and your loved ones, as well as for those much less fortunate. And you do not have to limit yourself at holiday time to give a gift. You can gift your time and talent: if you play an instrument, offer to do so at a school or assisted living facility. If you are an artist, volunteer to teach kids at a local school or seniors in an extended care facility. There are so many ways to focus outside yourself and help others and yourself in the process; giving of your time in this way will help boost your endorphins.
- Stressed about another family gathering, it’s OK to take a pass and get away, as long as you let other family members know well in advance since they may count on you to host or help organize the festivities. Even one-night away at a special destination with a favorite restaurant, museum, or cross country ski trail will be welcome. Tuck along a bottle of wine, your warmest mittens, and you’re set.
- Give a membership to a museum to someone for visits throughout the year. Make it extra special by gifting a lunch or dinner if the museum has a cafe or restaurant; many now do.
- Buy a friend or loved one a book you loved so you have your own private book club to discuss it.
- Give a gift to your community and work in a soup kitchen during the holidays. An extra pair of hands will be welcome.
Go work in a soup kitchen with a spouse, partner, friend, or child for a day to help out. You may find it so rewarding you do it again and again, and not just Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, though those are times when your extra hands may be most needed.
- Bake for those who’ve been kind to you or your family during the year rather than just give a card or buy something from a store. How about your favorite cookie recipe for the postal and library staffs, your Pilates teacher, physician’s helpers who often get ignored, even the restaurants where you most frequent since they may have too little time themselves to do so. One person we know makes his own stolen every season, taking over the kitchen from his wife. We’d love to get on that list.
- Ask someone who may not have an invitation for a holiday meal to join you. Maybe, it’s a senior without a partner or child, or a college student who can’t afford to go home for the holidays halfway around the globe. Call area colleges and find out. Or donate a sum to the Salvation Army or a similar organization for one or more families to have a holiday dinner in their own home.
- Love your community? Call up the village hall and ask how you can help? Maybe, assist with decorating lamp posts, setting out menorahs or nativity scenes if permitted, planting poinsettias in containers for store windows, starting a caroling group to serenade and then making it an annual tradition, or who knows what? Everybody’s so busy this time of year they may be delighted with your offer.
- Teach what you know. Not everyone has been to a Hanukkah celebration if you’re Jewish. Invite in some from other religions to share your holiday of lights and freshly grated and fried potato pancakes.
- Bag the gifts. Most adults have too much stuff and are trying when over 50 to shed. Consider not giving this year to those you celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas with and instead do a grab-bag trade or a white elephant gift exchange that can be fun and funny. Limit the price or value to no more than $10, don’t allow anything that’s been recycled unless it’s a white elephant exchange, and make the rule that when you’re giving you’re allowed to trade or take someone else’s gift.
- Take gifts that you really don’t need and donate them to a children’s residential center or Goodwill Center. Make sure they are wrapped and in pristine condition. Also, don’t forget children who are in the foster care system and often are left alone at holiday time. Donate new toys or money to purchase that coveted scooter, skateboard, headphones, or tablet. You can take them to the center, maybe bring some cookies or cupcakes to share, and spend time with the kids to make their holiday time a little happier and brighter. You can also give to organizations that help kids have a week away next summer in the country.
Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist, recently in an op-ed “Gifts With Meaning” suggests “holiday presents that would make the world better” at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/opinion/sunday/gifts-with-meaning.html
Other ideas you’ve tried or are considering? Please share; we’d love to hear.