Does gift giving box you in?

I do not envy Santa's job. Imagine having to get the perfect gift for everyone in the world. What a.

I do not envy Santa’s job. Imagine having to get the perfect gift for everyone in the world. What a serious pain in the ass that would be.


It’s not that I don’t like giving presents. But I, like many, get stressed out giving (it’s funny that even us Jews give out hoards of Christmas presents), because what if the present I give someone isn’t as good as the one they give me?

The thing about our charity is that we want to convey the proper message and the right amount of caring in that one act. We want to show that we know and understand the recipient, and we want to spend the right amount of money – not more than we can afford but not so little that we look cheap. It’s a lot to ask of one little thing.

“Gift giving is deeply fraught. It has a kind of emotional weightiness. If you decide not to give a gift to somebody important to you, it can shatter the relationship. The further out a relationship is from you, a business client for example, the more you have to think about whether you should give a gift. To give a gift can be aggressive, because it forces a relationship on somebody. And to refuse a gift is aggressive, or perhaps defensive. The rules of gift giving are that you must give, you must receive and you must repay. It’s about oiling or cementing social relations.”

RICHARD HANDLER, professor of anthropology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville

“Gift-giving anxiety takes away from the actual pleasure of sharing, because it focuses attention on how you’re going to be received. So your gift becomes a representation of you, and you ask, Am I going to be liked? Am I going to be valued?’ The gift gets caught up in your self-protection – you want to buy the right gift so you don’t feel hurt. This causes people to spend more than they can afford. We’ve lost the idea of giving the gift of oneself – like giving a Tim Hortons coupon and enjoying a coffee with that person. We’ve lost that idea that we are enough, that our presence is enough. We think we have to buy the best and biggest presents, which creates anxiety because it becomes inauthentic.”

ANNE DRANITSARIS, clinical psychotherapist, Toronto

“Taking gives you the opportunity to let somebody else give. If one person is special to another, [saying, Don’t get me anything’] may be cheating them of the opportunity to feel generous. When you give a gift, you emerge from the experience feeling generous, competent, knowing the person better. Gift giving is stressful if you think there is a perfect gift and that maybe you won’t make the right decision. Or if you think there is a right answer rather than many right answers. If you go to the trouble to think about what would please this person, and convey that excitement as you present it, it is almost always well received.”

ELLEN LANGER, professor of psychology, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts

“Gift giving can be a very self-centred act. Studies show that the gift giver is happier than the gift receiver. There is a huge sort of self-indulgence in the act of gift giving. But people who decide not to give gifts don’t understand the importance of the ritual. If you’re not giving gifts because it’s just a commercial venture, then fine. Please make sure you are doing something to solidify and appreciate your relationships. Gift giving is a very, very, very old ritual, and it exists for a reason. If you feel like Christmas has become ritualized and impersonal, yeah, it might be true, but it doesn’t obliterate gift giving’s importance.”

ARIEL GARTEN, psychotherapist, Toronto

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