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Spirituality and Money: How to Make Holiday Gifts Meaningful

This article was written by in Spirituality. 5 comments.


This article is written by Consumerism Commentary’s columnist, Ellen Cooper-Davis. Ellen’s column looks at the role of spirituality within the context of personal finance. For an introduction to this column, see Ellen’s first article, The Pastor and the Purse. Your feedback is welcome.

We know by reports of the annual feeding frenzy that the gift-giving season is fully upon us. Around the country, shopping carts are being filled with giant televisions, blinking toys and neatly packaged gift sets of scented lotion, all so that… well… so that what?

There is nothing inherently wrong with purchasing gifts for those we love. The impulse to give is an old one, a way of symbolizing affection, desire, love, friendship, gratitude and celebration. But it might be worthwhile, as we ponder our lists of people to buy gifts for, to ask some deeper questions.

Gift PresentWho is on your list? If we want our giving to take on deeper meaning, then we might do better focusing our limited resources on celebrating the deepest connections in our lives. When the impulse behind the gift is not mere social ritual, but is instead an expression of deep gratitude for who that person is in your life, then the choosing and giving is no longer a chore, but is instead deeply satisfying.

Consider a homemade gift. If we focus our giving on those who touch our lives most deeply, then we have an opportunity to consider how best to touch them in return. Some of the most meaningful gifts are gifts that are homemade. Making something for someone requires intention, thought, time and a sense of who that person is and what they enjoy. There is sacrifice bound up in them. Care. Homemade gifts can include edibles, crafts, or gifts of your own time, skills or service, or even donations made in the recipient’s name to causes important to them.

Choose gifts thoughtfully. The best gifts are the ones given with thought — the ones that say to the recipient, “I see you, I know who you are, and I value that.” Meaningful gifts are not arbitrary, and they don’t come in vast piles. Volume isn’t the goal, here. Instead, the goal is to reflect your particular connection with that person that you’re selecting a gift for. Those sorts of gifts might not come from big-box stores, but they do come with a lot more heart attached to them. Those are the gifts that will be remembered over a lifetime and treasured.

There are a lot of questions about spirituality and money wrapped up in the holiday season.

  • Why are we giving gifts?
  • Am I giving according to my values? Theirs?
  • What is the deeper meaning of this holiday season?

But there is a deeper question that underscores all of our conversation about holiday spending. In the midst of a difficult economy, squeezed budgets, fights over $2 waffle irons and the continuing rise of competitive spending, that question is simple: What is enough?

Photo: jayneandd

Updated December 2, 2011 and originally published December 1, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Reverend Ellen Cooper-Davis is the minister of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands, Texas, and the author of Keep the Faith, a blog on progressive religion for The Houston Chronicle. Find her on Twitter and Google+. View all articles by .

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Ceecee ♦796 (Dime)

It is very hard to find a balance on this. I tend to like small gifts, but some raised in other families are used to grandiose gesture gifts. If I know someone might buy me a large gift, I feel pressured to respond in kind. It makes gift buying harder than it should be.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

I am making homemade gifts this year. Cookies and treats for everyone. I will purchase a small ornament for $1.00 to put on the wrapping and away they go. Only my closest family and 3 or 4 friends will get a “real” gift. I have limited money this year. But it is hard to resist the impulse to go on a buying frenzy.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦905 (Dime)

I’ll buy some nice gifts for my wife based on what she likes but I’m not going spend crazy this holiday season. I think the best holiday gift that we can give is a donation to a local rescue mission or a food bank such as feeding america. I get more happiness knowing that the money I give will help those who are struggling in all aspects of life and will hopefully get back on their feet and be a productive member of society.

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avatar Briana @ Prairie EcoThrifter

I’m really looking to do a homemade gift or something simple. I may make soup for my family or heartfelt cards. It’s so much more than “get me something I want”. It should be “I’m thinking of you and love you and want to get you this”

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

The past few years, I’ve tended to buy one or two quality items for my kids and spouse that they really want, rather than half a dozen cheaper items. I save the cheaper items (socks, candy, etc) for the stockings. I also give to several charities throughout the year, so I don’t feel as pressured to make donations during the holidays, but I can’t resist the Salvation Army Red Kettles. I will stop whatever I’m doing and dig through my purse for as much loose change as I can find to put in the kettles. When my kids were young I’d split the change among them so they could each put some in, and now they do it on their own when I’m not around (so they tell me :-) I think that may be my favorite holiday tradition to pass on to them.

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