I bet like me, when you think of gift giving, the thoughts of neatly wrapped parcels, big bunches of flowers, high street stores and the stress of 'I don't know what to buy' spring to mind. And again, if you are like me, the added stress of gift giving in an already busy life is something that can be quite unwelcome at times.
I have always been a lover of Christmas (sorry I know it's only April but I'll be brief!) For me, Christmas was all about the things we didn't do over the rest of the year. Chocolate for breakfast, big family gatherings and all their associated traditions, the food Mum & Dad would save up their supermarket stamps all year to buy (that eventually lasted us until April), the 'you can't eat that, its for Christmas' wails as you got a little too close to all the goodies that were in the dining room awaiting Christmas day, and then the green light to tuck in! Even the memory of getting a little too over excited one Christmas and scoffing a whole box of coffee creams, then promptly having deep regret at my decision midway through a game of Golden Axe II on my brand new Sega Megadrive. I still can't bear the thought of coffee creams - to be fair I didn't like them then either……but they always remind me of Christmas! Along with fig rolls, orange and lemon slices, Matchmakers and After Eight mints. In fact, when I come to think of it, there aren't many actual gifts I can recall over the years, but the memories come flooding back with the experiences that we shared as a family. Even down to the year Mum forgot to defrost the turkey the night before, the notes I received from Father Christmas, and the endless times Mum would find a gift a few weeks down the line that she'd hidden away long before Christmas. It's a standing joke in our family now that it isn't Christmas until someone has received a misplaced gift in January, or sometimes, a gift intended for someone else!
Now that I'm the one responsible for hosting the family meal and the 'experience' of Christmas with two small children of my own, it's down to me to create these memories, as for me when I sit down and think about it, this is the real 'gift' of Christmas (yes, the burnt roast potatoes are included as an experience).
I began thinking about this only very recently and it kind of hit me out of the blue. It was Easter Sunday and after an egg hunt in our back garden we headed over to Nanny & Grandad's as we'd had news that the Easter Bunny had visited their house too. After another frenzied run around the garden and lots of excited shouting and squealing, my 6 year old and almost 2 year old had rinsed the garden of any hidden treats. One of Nanny's neighbours had popped out for a chat after hearing all the excitement, upon which my eldest showed him the great haul of chocolate treats and toy cars they had found. After a brief chat my eldest discovered that the Easter Bunny hadn't been next door, and this greatly bothered him. He turned to me and quietly asked if he could gift one of his eggs and promptly presented Nanny's neighbour with an egg of his own, along with instructions to enjoy it after his Sunday lunch!
I'll be honest, I was very shocked as there is no one who loves chocolate more than my son (even me!) So for him to gift one, and for it to be his idea to do so was really something else. So on our way home, I asked him about it. He told me that it upset him to think that Nanny's neighbour didn't have any chocolate on Easter Sunday and as he had lots, he thought it would be kind to share. I won't lie, I was very proud to hear him say that, and I praised him not only for his kindness, but also for his ability to think like that, after all he is only 6. I can't begin to tell you the difference that decision made to him that day. He beamed all day thinking of the good deed he had done, and sought other ways he could people smile with his actions.
So that's where it began. I wondered to myself if the gift really was less about that physical gift itself, but more about the giving, and the experience surrounding the gift - something I think that has begun to get lost in recent times where there is pressure to provide a gift seen as adequate, and the question of 'what do you get someone who has everything?' is asked more and more.
What if I told you that random acts of kindness to strangers, or random times of 'I saw this and I thought of you' would mean more to both you and the recipient than any gift that you feel you have to buy to fulfil a purpose - such as Aunty Jean's birthday next week when she has already told you she doesn't want a gift, but you feel you need to buy one anyway?!
Thinking back to another time where this became apparent, it has quite recently been a 'big' birthday for my mum. Like so many others over the past 12-18 months, the pre-pandemic ideas and norms of a milestone were completely out of the window, and the way we may have celebrated her birthday previously were null and void.
Now my Mum isn't necessarily one for a fuss, and would much more appreciate your time and company than an over extravagant gift but still, she deserves a fuss and the attention because she's quite frankly a cracking woman! Having thrown her a surprise party for her last milestone birthday, we had set the standards quite high, obviously being unaware we would be in the midst of a pandemic 10 years later when we had to raise the bar again. My sister and I desperately tried to think of ways to make it special, nice flowers delivered, balloons, fancy cake, special jewellery etc, but it just somehow didn't seem enough. We also gifted the 'promise' of an afternoon tea out as a family once we were able to celebrate in such a way in the hopefully not too distant future. But there was still something missing. Then it finally came to me. Do you know what the one last minute 'gift' that really filled the pandemic sized hole in her celebrations was? Birthday wishes from people she was unable to see on her big day. It cost us absolutely nothing other than a few hours of my time, and a few minutes of everyone else's but she absolutely loved it. We had gathered video messages and pictures from her friends and family, to create a video montage set to her favourite music. We gathered so many that the video ended up being 23 minutes long! But do you know what? It showed her just how many people were thinking of her, and it felt good to 'gift' her with a memory. Not only that but as it was uploaded to YouTube, her friends were able to enjoy it too and create the feeling of a birthday shared and enjoyed together as much as we possibly could.
So maybe it's time to step back from the mindset that a gift has to be expensive to be appreciated, sometimes the small things really are the best, and above all for me, the gift is really in the giving. But in the style of the Mastercard adverts of the 90's…..for everything else….there's always a gift list….!