I read a post on Facebook the other day about a woman who paid for the customer behind her in line at a Starbucks drive-thru. She asked that the barista give the customer a card that said the drink was purchased in memory of her child that had passed away, and to pay it forward if he/she was so inclined. The customer did, and the next one, and the next one, and the next five after that.
To some, this simple act of generosity is a reminder that there is still good in the world. To others, one might ask why…just buy your own damn drink and move on with your life. I think both points are valid, but at a time during the year when everyone’s eyes water with wonder at window shop displays and Amazon wish lists burgeon with the latest gadgets and gizmos, we could also do with a reminder to practice more acts of gratitude.
So, why? Why bother?
Because no one is expecting you to be kind. It’s like when someone holds a door open for me…he/she doesn’t have to, but I always say thank you because the person didn’t have to do that.
I also like to think this world could always use more kindness. If you’re still scrambling to think of thoughtful gift ideas for friends and family, I challenge you to think out of the box and maybe look into ways to give back to others. If Starbucks isn’t your thing, maybe paying off a family’s layaway at Toys R Us or Walmart. I know some might scoff at this…because why help someone who can’t afford something on their own?
Well, you never know what someone’s financial situation is. Maybe they had an unexpected medical emergency that ate up all the free cash that would’ve been spent on presents for their kids. Maybe financial aid didn’t kick in like it did in previous semesters.
Last Christmas, my dad broke his back and we spent Christmas Day with him in the hospital. It was a different kind of Christmas and presents were the last thing we thought about. The year before that, my boyfriend’s college scholarship unexpectedly wasn’t renewed and his parents told him “good luck figuring that out.” Needless to say, shit happens and you have to be able to bounce back from it. Luckily, my family was flexible about Christmas and my boyfriend and I were able to figure out alternative ways to pay for his classes.
SO– if you’re don’t want to give presents this year (and by presents I mean an endless deluge of hapless gift cards), these are some “alternative” gift ideas I thought of/was suggested/will be trying out next year.
- Pay off a family’s layaway (you can ask stores to narrow down accounts that have specific items like children’s toys, clothing, books, etc.).
- Purchase flowers and donate them to a nursing home or hospital (nursing stations will have a good idea of which patients won’t/don’t get many visitors)
- Contact a local school with a lunch program and ask to sponsor a child/children
- Reach out to local animal shelters and purchase items off their wish lists/sponsor animals that need life-saving medical procedures/long-term care
- Make a donation to a a charity of your choice (personally, I like to donate to local ones that have specific causes, like youth programs for at-risk teens or animal sanctuaries that give homes to abandoned exotic animals)
I’m sure there are tons of other ways you could give back and pay it forward without buying an actual present. Volunteer at a local food bank or hand out water at a local 5k. If nothing sounds good and you just don’t want to give gifts (because if you’re like my boyfriend’s family, it’s an endless gift card exchange that’s so impersonal, it feels like a series of business transactions)…don’t give anything.
Spend time with one another.
Like, the most basic of all gifts is the gift of time. No phones. No computers. No selfies. No bullshit. Just 100% quality time.
Maybe I sound like a grinch, but I honestly think the time for thoughtful gifts is someone’s birthday, because what better way to celebrate the day he/she came into this world? I’m not saying kids shouldn’t get gifts (hell, no), but if you’ve got a mostly adult-aged family, aka everyone’s in school/working, why bother with the gifts?
I only say this because when gift giving is reduced to equal increments of gift card purchases, it really chips away at the “reason for the season.” I’m not wildly religious or anything, but I firmly believe the holidays (Christian, Jewish, or whatever you may or may not identify with or celebrate), they’re a time to pause, reflect, appreciate, and love.
So that’s what I’m going to do next year. It’s a little late in the game this year, but next year I’m going to 100% hold myself back from purchasing gaggles of gifts and just be present with the ones I love.
If you have any other ways, please comment them below! This is a new concept for me as well (hence the 365+ day notice to do so). This’ll probably one of my last posts until after Christmas, (ya know, I’m going to take the whole unplugging thing seriously), so until then, wishing you and yours lots of eggnog, carols, and warm conversations with those we hold closest.