Tuesday, June 20, 2006

american gifts

Does it bother any of you that the way our culture celebrates is by spending money? I've been thinking about this lately, because a) we don't have much money right now, and b) there are tons of birthdays/holidays/weddings/graduations during the summer that the expected gift is a gift of money or something you buy.

For example, I truly love and appreciate my dad, my father-in-law, my 2 grandpas and my grandpa-in-law, but if I just bought cards for all of them for Fathers Day that would be around $15, paid to a company that is in existence because people feel obligated to give cards on special occasions. I want to show my father figures how much I appreciate them, but is a card (or a new tie or a barbecue implement or a golf game) the best way to do that?

Solutions: Fathers Day is easier than some because dads aren't known for caring much about cards. My dad doesn't even like ties, has all the barbecue stuff he needs (a little grill), and doesn't golf. So I can spend time with him. He's an artist so sometimes I make him a card. Yesterday was great because although I didn't plan ahead very well, I called him up after meeting and asked if I could come over, and it just so happened that he needed help that afternoon getting some of his pieces to an art show he was in, and it turned out that without me being there it would have been very difficult. So it was great to be able to give him that gift of time and helping out, and we got to hang out afterwards and talk and watch a DVD and walk around the backyard. I think it was a pretty perfect Fathers Day, if I may say so myself, but it didn't require me spending money to have a great day.

But how do we deal with weddings and graduations and all that? There's just something that gets me about the fact that we celebrate through spending money on people. First of all it's not inclusive--those without enough money feel like they can't come to a party or a wedding if they can't afford a gift. Also it seems like a bit of an easy way out: I'll buy a card and sign my name, write a check, and call it celebrating. What kind of celebrating is that???

When I got married I truly did need a lot of things to set up a normal American household. I appreciated the money we received and the gifts, and it was humbling to be showered with so many things from those who had been part of our lives. I enjoy being able to give things to people who are getting married so they can begin to make their new space a home together.

But at the same time, when people give me the gift of their time, or something they've made, or a card that they've written in to say what they appreciate or what they're celebrating with me, it's more meaningful than getting a gift that I may or may not use. And I'd rather hang out with people at a party than them not be there because they couldn't afford a gift. It seems like there are better ways to "love our neighbors" than giving them money, and perhaps giving them money is pretty low on the list--like Peter said in Acts, "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk." (Acts 3:6) Now that would be a pretty good Fathers Day gift!

So I'm wondering, how do you all address this problem? How do you say "thank you" or "congratulations" besides spending money?


Lovin' Life Liz said...

A girl I used to tutor helped me out a ton by helping me move. Cash wouldn't have been appropriate in this case, so upon talking to her mom I suggested that she can use me to help her when working on a paper/project for school! This is something the daughter needs (due to learning disabilities) and would appreciate help on. It's a gift of time.

I also like IOU type of things--maybe for a newlywed a coupon books of things like 'Free Housecleaning' 'Free Ear to Listen' or even a 'Free Plant Waterer while you are on your honeymoon'

For graduations if they live nearby you could do something like 'Free Afternoon at my house--Laundry, Computer, and Food!' or 'Free Quizzer' (to help with finals) 'Free Job Reference' or make them a memory book. And you know what I had high school graduation and college graduation receptions and I don't remember what I got but I remember who came and remember seeing them there and that is what matters. If my parents want me to have a reception for my masters I think I probably want to do something like set up an account through a charity and have people donate money there instead.

And sometimes hugs and flowers do just fine..

GMC said...

Spending money on gifts is the eazy, cheap way way to get out of gifting
obligations. Time and / or thoughtfully spent money will mean so much
more in the long run. Also if a person dosn't have much money, I feel
very gulity if it is spent on something for me that I most likely don't need.

We are only asked to do the best we can, there are very few perfect ansewers.


Paul said...

Please show your lack of appreciation for me in denominations of $10, $50, and $100.

I can be so shallow sometime.


Dad / Steve said...

Hey Cherice--

Yes, your gift of hanging out with dear ol' Dad did make my Fathers Day perfect!

I'm actually relieved when you and / or Erin do NOT spend money on me for special occasions...although I don't think this is true in reverse yet, right?!? ;-)

The best gift I remember EVER receiving was the little hand-written memory book that you, Erin and Joel gave me a couple of Winter Solstices ago that had 365 memories for me to savor one at a time each day for the next year. If I could take just one possession with me when evacuating because Mt. Hood was erupting, that would be it.

I also like the tradition we've started at Solstices of gifting each other with donations to a worthy cause that's important to the giftee.

Remember those placemats you made as a grade-schooler? Those would still make great gifts. Or write a funny poem...maybe even put it to music and make a CD or DVD with Joel. You have a good camera, photos can be very meaningful gifts.

Keep gifts in perspective. I can't actually remember very many of the gifts I've given or received in past years, nor can I remember if someone did or did not give me a graduation gift etc. Think about the purpose of the gift. If it is to help newlyweds launch a household, sometimes money IS appropriate, especially from "parent-aged" invitees. But if the purpose is to let them know you love them, a $5 broom with custom painted and signed handle might do the trick better than money.

Your best gift is the integrity you bring to proactively engaging with the world as a young adult--sincerely trying to do what you think is best for the world. I know that doesn't solve the wedding gift dilemma, but it's more important. (The wedding gift problem is largely solved by aging...although it's kind of backwards because about the time you can finally afford to buy wedding gifts, all your friends have married. The birthday gift problem, however, accelerates with age, as they seem to get closer and closer together.)

You're already really good at coming up with creative gifts. I'd suggest starting an idea list on your computer so every time you run across a new idea for non-monetary gifts you can write it down. I keep a simple database called "brainiac" for just such miscellaneous tidbits I want to capture.

Love, Dad

Steve P. said...

Okay, two things: Thich Nnat Hahn says your presence, not your presents, is the most precious gift you can give. So you got it right on with putting in some quality father-daughter time and thanks for the reminder of what's important. Second, and based on your dad's note, sounds like he's someone whose own presence is certainly a great gift. I loved his comments about what he valued the most from you- the 365 memories (great idea by the way) and, best of all, your engagement with the world. Go Dad!

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