Should Christmas gifts be banned? What is the meaning of a gift?

21 Nov


Martin Lewis writes in the Telegraph article, It’s time to ban Christmas presents:

Is it time to ban Christmas presents? Across the country people are growling at the enforced obligation to waste money on tat they can’t afford, for people who won’t use it. Festive gift-giving has lost its point, risks doing more harm than good, mis-teaches our children about values and kills the joy of anticipation of what should be a joyous time.

Before you think this is just curmudgeonly bah-humbug, this rant isn’t about presents under the spruce from parents or grandparents to children or spouses. It’s about the ever-growing creep of gifts to extended family, colleagues, children’s teachers and more.

I first braved this subject on my website back in 2009, expecting a snowstorm of protest. Instead, many people joined my call to arms, relieved they were not alone in their distaste for the gifting ritual.

The next year, I polled 10,000 people on whether we should ban presents. Seven per cent said ditch all of them, 30 per cent said to all but children, and a further 46 per cent said limit it to the immediate family. Fewer than one in five supported giving beyond that.

Yet even with years of economic stagnation, each successive Christmas, Eid or Hanukkah, too few brave the peer pressure and shut up the giving shop. With Christmas just five weeks away, there’s still time to pull back and agree on NO PRESENTS THIS YEAR.

Here is the definition of a gift:


1. somethinggiven  voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present.

Here is the definition of generosity:

1. readiness or liberality in giving.

2. freedom from meanness or smallness of mind or character.

The question is whether Lewis is focusing on the right issue. Banning gifts of any kind is not the answer. Looking at a culture that has given us the worldwide financial meltdown triggered by the unbridled avarice of the financial manipulators who know neither the definition of gift or generosity.  That is the question. Modern culture often fosters a belief that those who are generous are weak.

Judy Keen wrote in the 2010 USA Today article, Unraveling the mystery of why we give, or don’t:

There are some well-established theories about generosity. More than two decades ago, economist James Andreoni theorized that people who give experience internal satisfaction that he calls the “warm glow.” Other researchers call it “helper’s high” — a physical sensation that increases feelings of self-worth and makes people want to give again.

Smith says some facts about generosity are known:

There are different kinds of giving. People give for strategic, altruistic, sentimental, impulsive, habitual or ideological reasons.

People who are religious tend to give more.

People who have more money don’t necessarily donate more. The opposite is often true.

Generosity is good for you: Senior citizens who volunteer live longer.

Holiday giving often is strategic and motivated more by year-end tax deductions than the sentiments of the season.

People who plan donations give more than those who don’t.

Guilt isn’t a great motivator.

Those conclusions, based on studies that ask people why they do or don’t give, are the easy part. Understanding what’s going on in people’s brains or their environment that prompts them to act the way they do is more complex….

People who are generous are “happier, healthier and doing better in life. There’s something about learning how to get beyond one’s self and helping other people that is good for the giver,” Smith says. “And there is so much need in the world.”

Altruistic people are often happier.

According to PBS’ This Emotional Life and the discussion of altruism:

Acts of kindness

Altruism—including kindness, generosity, and compassion—are keys to the social connections that are so important to our happiness. Research finds that acts of kindness—especially spontaneous, out-of-the ordinary ones—can boost happiness in the person doing the good deed.

Reasons why acts of kindness make people happier:

  • Being generous leads us to perceive others more compassionately; we typically find good qualities in people to whom we are kind
  • Being kind promotes a sense of connection and community with others, which is one of the strongest factors in increasing happiness
  • Being generous helps us appreciate and feel grateful for our own good fortune
  • Being generous boosts our self-image; it helps us feel useful and gives us a way to use our strengths and talents in a meaningful way
  • Being kind can start a chain reaction of positivity; being kind to others may lead them to be grateful and generous to others, who in turn are grateful and kind to others

Volunteers see greater benefits than those they are serving

One study followed women with multiple sclerosis (MS) who volunteered as peer supporters to other patients. They received training in compassionate listening techniques and called the patients to talk and listen for 15 minutes at a time. The study followed the volunteers for three years and found that they had increased self-esteem, self-acceptance, satisfaction, self-efficacy, social activity, and feelings of mastery. The positive outcomes for the volunteers were even greater than for the patients they were helping. 

Compassion fosters happiness, but being sacrificial reduces well-being

Being kind and compassionate is linked to greater happiness, greater levels of physical activity well into old age, and longevity. One important caveat: if people get overextended and overwhelmed by helping tasks, as can happen with people who are caregivers to family members, their health and quality of life can rapidly decline. It seems being generous from an abundance of time, money, and energy can promote well-being; but being sacrificial quickly lowers well-being. This seems to be a good argument for communities sharing the burden for everyone’s benefit.

Lewis is right about one thing, the heart behind the gift act is important. A gift should be an act of altruism, otherwise it is a form of extortion. We need to get back to the true meaning of Christmas.


Christmas should be like Vegas beginning on December 1

It’s Merry Christmas, Dammit!          

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