On (Seasonal) Generosity

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Whatever ones position on the existence of Jesus C and his supposed birthday, the holiday season brings with it an inevitable attention on generosity. Some might be inclined to wave this off as mere consumerism, and given the panic and bedlam that can be inspired by a single popular toy, they may not be far off.

Much ink is spent on the creation of suggested gift lists, and many spend hours pondering what might be the perfect present, feeling something like euphoria if an idea is hit upon, and despair if one ends up settling for a sweater; not to mention the embarrassment if one receives a gift without having one to give, or one of vastly different value.

But there is something behind the mania for tchotchkes, electronic doodads, and various fine comestibles – the idea that at bottom, the holiday is about showing appreciation for those we care for (or, possibly, to whom we feel obligated), which has evolved into a spree of orgiastic spending as a result of capitalism, consumerism, and marketing.

In a culture where identity is so closely tied with our belongings, the value and brand identity (or lack thereof) of our gifts can translate into a declaration of an understanding of our gift recipient’s personality (real or aspirational).

However, in light of the recent economic downturn, many, if not all, have been either crushed or encroached upon. With limited resources and ongoing financial anxiety, the enjoyment of finding and delivering gifts can becomes less complete, polluted by resentment (if one feels one must provide something and has not the means to do so), or regret and shame (if one gives something of lesser value than one deems appropriate).

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=cookies&iid=101836″ src=”0098/d195ebfe-4a84-4710-8970-f852ee092b05.jpg?adImageId=8029961&imageId=101836″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]It is all well and good to suggest, at this point, that a box of homemade cookies, with love in every bite, would be just as appreciated as a new video game or first edition, but, as much as I love cookies, sometimes it’s just not enough. For friends from work? Absolutely. For Mom and Dad, who would rather have a box of cereal than cause you financial anxiety? Clearly.

But, if one is aware that someone between those two ends of the list will or has already dropped a large sum on something carefully considered, how can they refuse to do the same if it is at all possible? How can they allow themselves to be so miserly? And yet, if they do make whatever financial sacrifice is necessary, how to avoid those aforementioned sullen feelings?

The less one has, the more mercenary one can become. Some can maintain the emotional and intellectual equilibrium and fortitude to remember that money is just money – something to be spent on necessities and enjoyment, that if they were to die tomorrow, having a small sum for a rainy day would be worse than useless, and that making the smallest amount of happiness in the world is (scientifically proven) contagious.

The less equable will be tormented by the bills expected in January, wanting to be kind and thoughtful, but unable to turn off that evolutionary advantage of thinking ahead to avoid danger and difficulty.

Perhaps the best than can be hoped for these sorts, of which I fear I may be one, is that the anticipation of shame and unkindness will create more anxiety than a temporary (one hopes…) reduction in funds.

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