In Defense of Presents

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Winter Solstice or anything in between, it’s one of the few times a year when you don’t have to be rational.

Dec 10, 2014 at 3:56 pm


“Something they want, something they need 

Something they wear, something they read.”

So goes the gift-giving mantra made popular by parenting blogs to keep folks in check while filling their carts with presents for kids. It’s a very practical approach to holiday gifting and shopping in general. But since when are the holidays practical?

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Winter Solstice or anything in between, it’s one of the few times a year when you don’t have to be rational. But it doesn’t have to be an expensive month of Advent calendars leading to an even more over-the-top expensive day, either.

Holidays can be really stressful and tumultuous the older you get, but when I think about my favorite childhood memories, I think about Christmas. Sure, the wrapped boxes beneath a lit tree definitely played a part, but I don’t really remember specific presents. I remember that early morning sneak peek at the loot, the astonishment that — because I had been good that year — the bearded man indeed returned and fit all those gifts through the chimney. And, after a certain age, that feeling shifted into the amazement that my mom and dad were not only able to provide my sister and I with ample gifts, but that they knew who we were, what we liked and they listened.

It wasn’t the gifts themselves, but the anticipation, excitement and surprise — it was always a surprise. It’s not something I ever felt entitled to, though I recognize how lucky I am to have never gone without.

In the decade or so since I’ve grown up and had Christmases of my own, I get that same whimsical feeling by selecting and making gifts for my own loved ones. When I hear adult couples say they “aren’t doing gifts this year,” I get it — we’re all broke, commercialism is evil, etc. — but I feel bad for them. Gift giving doesn’t have to mean maxing out your credit card once a year on shiny, mass-produced bullshit (though kids and adults alike really do love shiny, mass-produced bullshit). It’s picking up an item that reminds you of a friend and saving it for the next time you see them, or hand-making something for your grandma even if it isn’t perfect. Gifts don’t even have to be a tangible object — concert tickets to a show that’s months away or museum memberships are awesome “experience” gifts.

Here’s another mantra: Everything in moderation, including moderation. One — or even a couple — splurges throughout the year could be the excitement a kid (or grownup) needs to look forward to, a reason to work hard and a welcome departure from everyday life. It takes more than one day of excess to spoil a person.

Of course, not everyone chooses to go small during the holidays. Many aren’t fortunate enough to be able to afford dinner every day, let alone a Christmas ham or a pile of gifts beneath a tree. Consider expanding your holiday shopping list not on more expensive gifts, but on helping a neighbor in need. Find a child or family to “adopt” this season and enjoy the thrill of finding the perfect gift for someone who could especially use a smile.

The Angel Toy Program:

St. Vincent de Paul is accepting gifts for children ages 7 to 10, both boys and girls, until Dec. 12. For details, call 513-562-8841, ext. 776.

Freestore Foodbank:

Every dollar donated to Cincinnati’s food bank provides three meals for hungry folks in the city. Make a donation online or at the checkout in Kroger stores — these funds will go toward year-round meals and special boxes of food for families on Christmas. More info:

The Gift of Giving:

Making a charitable donation in the name of a loved one is an excellent gift. Adopt an endangered species at or invest in an inspiring entrepreneur at

Giving Trees:

Found at several area grocery stores and places of worship, these trees are filled with holiday wishes from local kids and families. Consider grabbing a few of these “ornaments” the next time you’re in (and don’t forget to return with the gifts by the designated date).

Salvation Army:

Coats, gloves, warm clothing — many items people take for granted are desperately needed by others. Get your purge on from the closet to the kitchen and donate any unwanted clothes and household items. Sometimes it’s easy to forget thrift stores are more than a vintage T-shirt depot. More info: