Thoughts. . .

Karin Greenberg

Karin Greenberg
Long Island, New York, USA
April 12
freelance writer and full-time mom


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DECEMBER 8, 2010 2:01PM

The Lost Art of Gift Giving

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With sundown a few hours away, I can breathe a sigh of relief:  Chanukah is almost over.  

There is so much about the "festival of lights" that I love:  how the candles from our four menorahs light up the kitchen as the bitter cold wind whips against the windows in the darkness; the colorful collection of dreidels scattered over the table; the smell of latkes frying.   

It's the gift giving that has turned this holiday into something whose end I anxiously await. 

Growing up, I pretty much got what I wanted.  When I asked for the Stretch Arm Strong doll for Chanukah, I got it.  When Barbie's Dream House was all the craze, it was there among my presents.  

There was something about getting gifts, though, that left me exhausted.  I was excited to rip off the wrapping paper and see a brand new toy or game that I had requested.  But after playing with it for a few hours or sometimes a few days, I felt the seeds of disappointment bubble inside of me.

Back then, I couldn't imagine why I felt like that.  I kept my thoughts to myself and continued to act grateful for what I  had.  Now, in the midst of the holiday season, I understand perfectly.

The true art of gift giving is gone.  There is little thought put into an activity that once was based on creativity and kindness.  Many years ago you had to really think about who people were and what they would appreciate.  Now, grandparents call and ask, "What do the kids want for Chanukah?"  Children bring gift cards to birthday parties so that their friends can go buy themselves something they want.  

After years of pretending they liked the eclectic gifts I gave them, my

children started making me Chanukah lists.  This year's coveted items included North Face sweatshirts;  a UNC Tar Heels hoodie; Abercrombie sweatpants; Kinect; a balance beam; an American Girl doll outfit; and chapter books.   

There's nothing wrong with communicating what you want.  To me, though, this is not gift giving.  It's shopping from a  shopping list, no different from the way you do it at the grocery store.  It drains me. 

   Many years ago, when my first son was young, my husband came home and handed me a tiny ceramic pot with a dried rose resting in a small bunch of hay.  He had bought it for me at a craft fair in the World Trade Center concourse.  To this day, that little pot sits on the windowsill over my sink, warming me every time I look at it.

More important than the fact that my children get caught up in getting gifts is the fact that they are inwardly disappointed.  I can see it in their faces.  Sure, they are fleetingly happy.  When my son wore his bright yellow Abercrombie sweatpants he told me how comfortable they were and seemed to walk into his middle school with a strut.  It's the false hype, though, of Chanukah gifts as life-changing objects.   

In a culture that has become so commercialized, it seems like giving a gift the old fashioned way will never come back into style.   I will light the menorah tonight with joy in my heart:  for the blessings of family, love, health, and not having to buy any more gifts this season.  


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I know exactly how you feel! Just returned from Toys R Us. I think some people are just list people (like my spouse - it makes him less stressed) and some are not, like you and me. He keeps asking me for my list, and I keep putting off making it....
Blue: I vowed not to go into Toys R Us again until at least February!
I agree with you totally, and that phrase "having to buy gifts" that you end with is part of what has robbed us of the joy of giving gifts. I also remember that giving them was always more rewarding than receiving, especially when the acknowledgment was sincere and not something that needed to be prodded out of teenager who doesn't know the meaning of the word. If I sound like Scrooge, I'm really not. I just like to keep things simple, and lighting candles and counting my blessings is enough. With that~ enjoy your holiday season!
This is all so true! I feel this way exactly. It is what I've been thinking for a long time, but never articulated this well. Rated!
This post is a perfect example of why I treasure what you write so much. It's a reflection of who you are.
I really love the way you wrote this and the message it conveys. My friend was just telling me this morning that all her gifts to her daughter were met with some disappointment. I told her to have her daughter read MY Hanukkah post for some real disappointment :) and then just get her a gift card. I felt like, what else was there to do? Let her choose her own book or her own whatever... You are right, it takes all the joy out of it for the giver, but? I'm not sure what the answer is. I sure do get this post, though...~r
Well, I've been delusional. I'm not Jewish, but friends have always told me that Chanukah was a lot more low-key than Christmas is for Christians. The thrill of the whole thing has been gone for me for years and gift cards have been a huge solution. All the young people in my family seem to love them.

dirndl, Anna, cartouche and joan: Thanks for your kind words!

Lezlie: Nope, Chanukah may seem more low-key but because it's dragged out over 8 days it's more drama. And I must admit, I'm guilty of buying gift cards too--I just got one today for my son's friend for her birthday. I'm a hypocrite, but sometimes trying to find a gifts for kids who have everything seems impossible!
I too know the feeling. My compromise was to give my children one thing off their list and the rest would be things they needed or things I thought they would like. I'm known as a pretty good gift giver -- because I'm a good listener and a good rememberer! This is the season where I get to test my skills. I don't want a list holding me back!
"shopping from a shopping list"--you're so right!
You said this so well... I know what you mean. For myself, some of it is practically driven, since as a parent I also know the disappointment of my kids being underwhelmed with the toys I so thoughtfull selected.
Great piece.
I asked the parents what my little granddaughters wanted, then skyped and watched them open the wii I bought them. That's the way it goes I guess in 2010.
This is such a relief to me! This is the first stress free Christmas I have ever had...Why? Because, for the first time, I actually asked my kids what they wanted for Christmas. Very specifically...what they really want or need...and I did put limit on the gift per daughter/couple, as they are all living on their own now, with either a husband or significant others. It was a breeze. I am done. all the gifts are wrapped. They are getting exactly what they want/need and I have no worries about whether or not they will like what I got for them! Why did it take me so long to do this?!?!?!?

However, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a few little surprises (mom cannot resist the urge to surprise a little). So, I have put an extra goodie bag together, in addition to the stocking stuffers, with lots of fun little surprises, comprising such things like his and hers garden gloves, stain remover, unusual kitchen gadgets, scented soaps, sassy underwear for the girls, refrigerator magnetized shopping lists, small odor eliminators for closet or behind the kitty litter and a few other misc. trinkets for fun! So, there you have it! I love Christmas and all that comes with it...mostly the gathering of the clan, coming together and talking a little smack, traditional family food faves, over eating, over drinking, sleeping in (a little) and Remos Fizzes for breakfast!

So, if asked what I am most thankful for this holiday season? It't that I was given a list of exactly what everyone wanted, within reason...and I got it all, wrapped it all...done deal! I'm a very happy camper and it's only December 8th! No more shopping! No more Malls or online more wrapping!!!

And, to top it off...I've made an executive decision to save some trees this year. NO Christmas cards!!! A live tree...yes, for sure! Done! The tree is up! The Christmas lights on the house/entrance...done!

I am ready for the festivities, the cuddling on the couch, the looks on my grandkids faces when they open their gifts (they have no idea what they are getting! As it should be!) And, just relaxing for the rest of the month, reading, writing and having friends and family around to enjoy the holiday cheer, cozy blankets, food and wine, the fireplace roaring, candles lit, shoes off, feet up, back rubs and lots and lots of hugs and holiday goodies.

I got carried away! Tis the season!
I absolutely agree. When my parents and grandparents ask me what I want for Christmas, I usually end up saying "nothing" because I simply don't want to do the list thing. However, last year my grandpa started building Christmas decorations out of wood and metal, self-designed and everything. So now I have something new to wish for - which excites him since his partner doesn't like it when he's in the workshop all the time, so he can totally do with some support :) Maybe you could ask the kids to limit their "list wishes" to 1 (or maybe 3) per person?
I enjoyed reading this blog. I ended up giving money to my nephews. Money that they certainly don't need. THAT is perhaps the worst gift? I don't have to deal with the headache and they can get whatever they want - a seemingly win-win situation but in essence, the giving is lost.
I loved this Karin. Its sad how far away we've gotten from the meaning of any of the holidays we celebrate. One year my son, who has become part of the consumer culture, was completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of presents he received. The following year I decided to make him all his xmas gifts. This included a stuffed animal I made from my old clothes, a handmade book that I illustrated about stories from my childhood, and a website for him to show his art. It was the best feeling I've ever had giving gifts. Thanks so much for reminding me of this. great piece!