Today, I was skimming channels when I caught a promo for a news show that spoke of Christmas gift registries. I have to admit, I skipped it and really didn't go back. However, it started to catch up with me later: why would we need Christmas gift registries?
Sure, we have wedding and baby shower registries, but those are generally big events with a lot of people giving gifts and the registry attempts to organize them so they don't get 4 toasters and 3 blenders as things are checked off. It also let's people coordinate colors of things so things match. But... this is Christmas. There isn't some huge limiting event to give a gift for. There probably aren't 25 people giving separate gifts to coordinate. There isn't some major life change that requires whole new sets of decisions that may not be predictable. This is Christmas.
So I thought about it some more.
As I date myself, I was raised on the notion that Christmas was about the thought of giving, not the gift itself. Sure, as a kid, I always wanted the coolest thing of the time. But whether I got it or not, my grandmother and mother always told me "at least they cared enough and thought enough of you to give you a gift."
I was raised under the notion that "it is the thought that counts." From that, you could look at a gift and realize how much someone thought about you and how well they thought about you. To this day, my mother calls a book of pictures she got from her brother "the best gift she ever got." No, it wasn't family pictures or anything. When she was a child, she wanted to go to a camp in the snow for winter but got sick and couldn't go. Her brother went and brought her back a picture of everything he saw, from the snowmen to the mountains. She said "it was like being there without the cold." It was thoughtful.
In the last decade, gift cards and gift certificates have grown as the currency of choice for the holidays and even birthdays. My wife's friend and I have a birthday a few days apart. At a birthday party, we both happen to have gotten each other gift cards for the same amount at the same store. I guess the thought I was worth money was nice, but it made me realize how little thought both of us had put into the gift. It was merely part of the formality of a gift and something we thought we needed to give.
It seems like we may have lost something in terms of our sense of community. It may be more than that too. After all, we talk all the time with people. Probably more than most times in our history. Heck, we tell people all about ourselves all the time. Haven't you ever had a complete stranger tell you their whole life story while waiting in a long holiday line at the store? We post blogs, myspace pages, facebook pages, personal websites. We send emails that detail the answers to 50 questions about ourselves to each other. We text like there is no tomorrow.
It seems like we communicate all about ourselves all the time. So why can't people figure out what kind of gift to give us? Why do they just give us gift cards or money, or need a registry that is so impersonal that an executive could simply send an assistant to the store to pick off of everyone's registry for gifts and never even have to interact with a person at the holidays?
Are we so self-absorbed that we are always talking but never listening? Could it be that we care but just not enough to figure out the puzzle of what to give people? We spend hours on sudoku, crossword puzzles or the next mind game craze, yet we can't find the time to figure out what to give each other? Is it really that hard?
I guess I am being a little cynical. So in the spirit of Christmas, I am hoping that registries are merely the first step in actually telling people that we want gifts, not money; that we want to feel like someone cares about who we are and what we like instead of feeling like a beggar on the street that you grab a five to hand to; that we want people to make choices and decide what kind of gift to give us; that we want people to take that risk because it shows they care enough to put themselves and their choices out there where they can find the greatest gift or just another gift, but that we will appreciate the effort and thought either way.
It is the thought that counts, not the money. No gift cards this year. Expect actual gifts.