” ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free…“
– Traditional Shaker Tune
Christmas is the season of gift-giving. If you are anything like me, I loathe having to buy Christmas presents. It’s not the act of giving the present itself that I loathe, it’s the whole rigmarole that goes on before this final act: choosing who to give presents to; thinking long and hard (certainly for some people) about what they would like; then having to traipse round the shops with hundreds or thousands of other people doing the exact same thing; the stress of back-up ideas if the shop just doesn’t cater for your first choice present; the queuing; the spending of lots of money. That’s why I generally don’t give presents at this time of year. If I do, it’s just for immediate family and it usually comes in the form of chocolate. “If you can’t eat or drink it,” chirps my Mother, “then don’t bother.”
I accept that I’m pretty rubbish and/or lazy at giving gifts, well duty-given gifts (i.e Christmas presents) anyway. I guess everyone is different, but I prefer the gift of someone spending time with me and filling me in on their news and adventures than a tangible gift. This is not to say that I am not grateful for presents; I am, and I am touched by the thought and consideration that the person has put into choosing this gift. But since I am much better at giving my time, I prefer the gift of someone doing the same.
There have been occasions when I would give out of obligation or with the expectation of something in return. I remember once when I had showered a friend with gifts in the hope that he would sponsor me for a cause. He didn’t and I did hold some resentment towards him. Only much later did I realise that my actions in the first place lacked moral worth, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant would have sternly told me so. I was using the gift as a mere means, not as an end in itself. Now when I give, I give without any expectation (and I think this also includes the expectation of gratitude) and I feel much lighter and better for it.
I go on about myself a lot on this blog. I do harp on about my achievements and I trumpet my milestones. But I would not have been able to do any of it without the gifts of my friends and family: the gifts of their time, sympathetic ear and unconditional love; the gifts of precious gems such as books, clothing and trinkets; the gifts of furniture (including my comfy Swedish couch) and woman-power from friends when I was moving into this flat. These are gifts which I hold dear and which it is not easy to return the compliment.
Gift-giving is not about expecting something in return. And receiving is not about giving in return. Gift-giving should be done freely and without strings attached. Likewise, if I want to give something in return, I do it because I freely choose to do so.
This will be the last post of the year. I want to thank you for the gift of your time in reading my blog, and that of your support and loyalty in encouraging me to keep going. My present to you is one of endearing gratitude.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I will see you in January 2014.