Earlier this year I realised: I don’t want to receive birthday gifts or Christmas gifts any more. Below: the words of an old friend as inspiration and explanation. I add a couple of personal comments to the end.
I am satisfied
In every way that matters, I am satisfied. I live in a warm house. I have plentiful food, and coffee from Costa when I want it. I have good friends. I am tasked with interesting and challenging activities. I have a wife who loves me and who I love just as much. My children are happy and prosperous. I am complete.
And I have the disposable income to buy everything I need and almost everything I want.
But come the appointed times of gift giving: “What do you want?”
Very little. Nothing that money can buy. Which is unfair to my much beloved friends and family. The ritual obliges them. So I’m putting a stop to it: I don’t want any more birthday presents, and I don’t want any more Christmas gifts either.
The ritual is unfair to my friends and family, searching for a novelty whose value is less than their time lost and money spent. Doubly so, as the memorial weight of their gift is reduced by the simultaneous receipt of others’.
The ritual is unfair to our one and only environment, to impose on it yet more needless and ritualized consumption. It’s hard not to give death.
The ritual is unfair to others, who actually are in need.
The ritual is unfair to me, who must bear the remaining total cost of ownership or quietly dispose of the gift.
An ultimate question: What is the best use of all that time and money invested in the ritual?
If you want to give me a gift, do so by giving a gift to those who truly need it. There is no shortage of people, places, plants and animals which suffer in ways that I, with my warm house and Costa coffee, do not.
But don’t tell me how much time or money you gave. I don’t want to know, and it shouldn’t be a competition or an obligation in disguise. You don’t even have to tell me. It is enough that you gave because you wanted to.
And giving is important, in more ways than one. Of all the transient dyadic activities in which Western society engages, giving gifts has the deepest, widest and greatest impact. It is critical to our democratic health, our moral health and plays no small part in our psychological and physical health.
But is all of this fair? Is it right for me to tell people not to give me gifts? How is that really different from telling them to give me specific gifts, or gifts in general?
An interesting question, but moot because a gift must be given and received without obligation or expectation. All one, I, can do is suggest and explain.
So I have explained my satisfaction, I have explained what I think about Birthday and Christmas gifts, and I have, I hope, explained why. But I can’t choose for you. In effect, the gift I ask for is that you take what I want into account and give instead to those who need it most.
In advance, I thank you.
To echo and summarise DFL: Please don’t give me any more Birthday or Christmas presents. Like him, I’m satisfied. Donations to charity are a lovely idea. There are more than 1.5 million world wide. I’ll pull together a short list of suggestions when time allows, but they would be suggestions only, not limitations. It’s your gift – you choose. And I would never say no to a letter or card. But no gift is perfectly OK as well. A gift given out of obligation isn’t a gift any more than one given with an obligation.
An important note: My birthday this year has been every bit as wonderful as my previous ones! And this also has nothing to do with how I feel about the many wonderful presents I’ve received in the past. I genuinely and greatly appreciate all of them and the time invested in selecting them too. We’re all too busy, and that just makes them even more special. What’s changed is me.
And, to repeat, this is only about me. I’m making no general claims about gift giving or other people, and whilst I freely but sadly admit I’m not very good at giving gifts – they’re too rare, and almost always late – I’m determined to get better.
In advance, I also thank you.