What is the real value of a gift? (Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)
It’s that time of year when friends and family take part in that annual holiday ritual — debating the merits of the gift exchange.
After my recent blog post about holiday shopping, I was surprised how many readers wrote of their disdain for gift giving.
“I’ve been boycotting X/Cess (my nickname for Christmas) for several years now. I do not give gifts, I politely tell people not to give me Any More Stuff, and I do not decorate.” — Posted by Lorie.
“My husband and I do not exchange gifts, and it has been hard trying to convince our families not to give us gifts either….We are thinking of trying for children soon, and do not want our children to receive all the latest gadgets from their grandparents and six aunts and uncles twice a year. We don’t like the spirit of materialism it represents.” — Posted by Ellen.
Their comments inspired me to learn more about the psychology of gift giving. In my Well column in Science Times this week, I wrote about what social psychologists and other scientists say about the intangible value of gifts. While it’s reasonable to cut back on spending during the holidays, psychologists say that banning the gift exchange entirely is not the best solution. People who stop giving gifts may be missing out on an important connection with family and friends.
My former Wall Street Journal colleague Jeff Opdyke and his wife Amy recently argued about the value of giving presents to adult friends and family. In a video segment called Love & Money, Jeff says he believes many of the gifts they give and receive during the holidays are a waste of money. Amy thinks giving represents far more than the material value of a gift. Their banter is amusing, but it underscores a serious point that affects so many families. What is the real value of a gift? To watch their argument, click here.
My friends Grace, Jen and Heidi have come up with an alternative — a fierce holiday competition to create the perfect homemade gift. Past entries have included Heidi’s homemade sweet potato pie kits, complete with frozen filling and directions. Jen created a “box of love'’ that contained personal declarations about their friendship. Grace has created a music video celebrating a problem-plagued bathroom renovation and this year is planning a homemade pop-up book featuring Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre for Jen, a die-hard Packers fan.
What do you think? How do you handle the stress of the holiday gift exchange? Have you banned gift giving altogether or have you come up with another solution to cope with the commercialism of the holidays?