I recently received an email from a family member that said, "We have decided that in lieu of gifts this year, we would like you to donate to the following charity." They cited COVID as the reason because we will not be gathering like usual. Exchanging physical gifts doesn't really quite make sense.
While I agreed with the logic of their request, my initial response surprised me because donating to charity is of course, a meaningful, wonderful thing to do. My initial response was, "But I want to buy something for you!" Though I don't really like going shopping normally, I have traditionally set aside a day during the month of December where I go to the mall and shop for everyone on my list. I LOVE this day. I enjoy the "hustle and bustle" and picking things out at various stores while Christmas music is playing. I feel like I'm in the holiday spirit. But is this really what the holidays are all about?
Linus in "A Charlie Brown Christmas" famously says that Christmas has become "too commercial" (and too dangerous). Christmas is about so much more than "the stuff" and yet I somehow feel the pull to go and buy...stuff. My family has done over the years what many families do. We have a free-for-all when we start opening gifts Christmas morning, as wrapping paper litters the floor. Someone plays "Santa" passing presents out as rapidly as possible. Christmas probably won't look like that this year because I likely won't be with my extended family, packed shoulder to shoulder on couches. It will be much quieter and more low-key.
Honestly, I don't know what Christmas looks like this year. COVID has changed many people's traditions. No Santa pictures. No Christmas parties. I realize that it's left me asking myself, "What's left?" And what I thought might be left would be gift-buying and wrapping presents (another thing that I love to set aside a whole day to do), but even that is changing. And maybe this is a good thing, after all. Because maybe we don't NEED all that as much as we thought we did.
Even more than looking forward to the shopping and the wrapping that comes with Christmas, I look forward to helping a homeless shelter near my church. This shelter houses 11 families and every year we buy them personalized gifts and throw them a holiday party where the kids get Santa pictures and do arts and crafts. All of that got cancelled this year. This has been an integral part of my holiday season since I was a child and as an adult, I've been in charge of it all for almost 10 years now. None of that is happening this year. We can make monetary donations to the shelter, but we can't buy and deliver gifts like we do every year. While I plan to make my monetary donation, it feels impersonal. And maybe for me, buying stuff and picking it out feels more personal than making a couple clicks to donate online to a charity.
However, as I've reflected on why I don't feel excited about donating to a charity vs. buying someone a gift, it becomes more and more clear to me that this is me wanting to cling to the holidays as I have known them. COVID brought on a huge amount of change for everyone this year. Not all of these changes are bad and some may stick with us for years to come. What would it be like if we didn't have a mountain of gifts to open Christmas morning in the future, but instead we sat around and spoke about our charities and why we picked them? What if I spent those two days of shopping and wrapping doing something else (i.e. going for walks in nature, making different holidays memories)? What if the holidays became my LEAST busy time of year instead of my MOST busy time of year? What would that be like?
And I realize, it maybe won't be so bad. Maybe it could actually be better.