Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Spirit of Giving

The winter holidays, in most aspects, is one of the greatest times of the year. Families come together, great gifts, good food...great gifts, etc. There is also, however, a lot of pressure during this time. People are pushing their budgets trying to get their kids whatever they can so that it doesn't seem as though Santa is shorting them presents. Children are also a little weary. It is hard to understand why Santa gave you more or less presents than your friends. This makes me wonder if the common traditions and customs during this time are all that positive. If we consider the roots of Christmas we can see how it has evolved over the years to a holiday that is mostly focused on giving and receiving. In my family we draw names and there is a set budget that everyone can spend so that everyone gets just as good of a present. While I understand this system completely, and I would not want my baby cousin to feel less loved than another, it does seem weird that we have to decide who will give to who and how much they are allowed to spend. My uncle even proposed that the parents just pick out the gift and say it’s from someone else. How ridiculous? Christmas should not be seen as something that causes extra work and overexertion just to find sufficient gifts for your family, right?

It seems some of our practices are teaching kids to be greedy and to view the relationships with their family as gift-getting relationship. In light of this, I don’t believe capitalism or communism has the answer for an “ethical” Christmas. Capitalism creates Christmases that are unequal between families, which could cause jealousy and possible resentment. The argument in favor of this is that if a parent chooses to work harder and make more money their kids deserve to receive better gifts. In our capitalist nation this is the norm and makes logical sense. An alternative to this that Marx may support is creating a Christmas that every family gives and gets the same number of gifts so that there is no difference. Therefore, no one can be made to feel inferior or superior. However, this takes out the spirit of gift-giving in that people are only obligated to fulfill some quota so that they have just as much as the next person. There is no notion of working harder to give something to your loved ones, but something that is already decided. What is a better, more pure way of giving? Have we lost sight of gift-giving? What would the holidays be like without the expectation to receive gifts?


  1. Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanza are the holidays you are referring too. I don’t know too much about the customs of Kwanza or Hanukah but the gift giving ethics of Christmas come from the kind of morals that the bible preaches. The main point of giving that the bible tells is to give all that you can. As we grow up we realize that our loved ones and we cannot give Mercedes-Benz sedans and diamond encrusted watches to each other for Christmas, and we become content with receiving and giving what we can afford.

    Jesus was a big fan of those who would give all that they reasonably could. I remember reading a story in the new testament when Jesus came to a town and received offerings at a dinner. After receiving the offerings the noble richer people expected to be sat at the head of the table because they gave the greatest in quantity, however it was those who gave all that they had even if it wasn’t much who sat with Jesus at the head of the table. This story and others from the bible show that Christians should just give what they can when they give to each other and god.

    This system creates the most happiness because people get an equal percentage of what people can afford for gifts and the joy of giving is still there. We don’t get always get what we want in this system of morals or get an equal amount of gifts as everyone else in the world. However, most people are content with just receiving anything at all and the joy of giving all that one can.

  2. This is off topic, but I thought of this while reading your post. From a utilitarian standpoint, gift-giving seems hard to justify. Sure, it makes your family/friends happy, but is that money doing the greatest possible good for the greatest number of people? To truly do the greatest good, the utilitarian would have to save that money and spend his entire life investing it and attempting to grow his fortune. Then, at the end of his life he would have to will his money away to some charity. This use of his money would result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Gift-giving throughout life would detract from his donation. Therefore, it seems that gift-giving is not ethically justifiable from a utilitarian standpoint.

  3. Christmas is my mom’s least favorite holiday. She agrees that there is too much pressure involved with gift giving. We loose sight of what the holiday is really meant to be about, being with your family, and instead get lost in the stress of finding the perfect gift. What Bryan pointed out is interesting though; the idea of gift giving on Christmas comes from the Bible and giving all that you can or the best that you can is the way to do it. This does make sense in that giving the most you can should be enough but like Jade pointed out, in our society today sometimes it isn’t enough. People become greedy and expect more. And I think it is impossible for us to change now. So I guess for at least my mom, Christmas will remain stressful.


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