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Make this holiday season about presence, not presents

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The holidays are a unique time of year, right? The vibe everywhere is festive and frantic and jubilant and high-energy because we’re on a hard deadline to make everything just right for all our people in time for the holidays. But that’s a lotta pressure. I mean, I feel like most of us spend the days and weeks leading up to the holidays in a delicate state of stressed-out euphoria. Cause at the same time that we’re infected by the joy of the season, we’re also strung out and pretty drained from doing all the things. And I just can’t help but feel like that’s totally the opposite of what we’re all really supposed to be doing this time of year.

Unless I’m wrong (and we all know I’m not), the essence of the holiday season is about being present and savoring time together and creating memories that will last long after most toys or games or physical presents are gone. Or at least it should be. Yet this compulsion that so much of the world has with nailing the perfect gift(s) and executing the textbook celebration is only taking us further away from the real point if it all.

Let’s face it, it’s no one’s fault that we’re all conditioned to

expect a gift for every night of Chanukah or a truckload of presents under the tree on Christmas Day. And elves on shelves and menches on benches. And lights and garlands and all the other stuff. Because those things have all been a huge part of the culture of the holidays since forever. But the holidays are also so much more than that. The problem is, I think, that a lot of people still have their eye on the wrong ball. And they’re still spending all their time going all out for the holidays and not leaving enough in reserve to actually experience and relish in the day itself.

That’s why, over the last decade, Dave and I have moved away from subscribing to the commercialness of the holidays and we’ve replaced it with collecting experiences. Instead of anniversary and birthday and holiday presents, we get away together or do a destination run or go hiking or escape to a tiny house in the woods. We’ve shifted completely over to presence versus presents. And it feels sooooo good. Because what we both value most at this stage of our lives is time— time together or time with our girls or time with family. Just time. And we want to be present and grounded in those moments together as often and as deeply as we can.

Now I realize that all of this talk begs the question(s): Do we still get presents for our kids? Do we bust out the menorah and the Chanukah stockings and load up on chocolate gelt? Ya, of course. Cause it’s still fun to give and receive and our daughters are just barely adults, so that tradition of gift-giving is still exciting to them; we just temper it with equal amounts of giving our time and attention. Also, the stuff we get for them now is so different than it was when they were young. The presents we get now are more purposeful, like work clothes or winter boots or a camera for going abroad—things they can use and appreciate on a different level. Us, though, we’ve got most of the stuff we really need at this point. That’s why, before every holiday, we remind our girls that we don’t want gifts; we just want time. Time with them. Time to sit and talk and get their undivided attention.

Because I know that when I look back over my life, it’s not going to be the jewelry or the gift cards or the clothes I got that will have left the deepest imprint on my memory, it’ll be the meaningful experiences I’ve had with my family and friends. Those are the gifts I’ll treasure.


Look, I know that the whole gift-giving tradition was forged out of the excitement of making someone feel special and to show how much we value someone in our lives. But there are also other, even more impactful ways to express love that have nothing to do with physical gifts. And those gifts of time and attention and presence are the things we should be giving out and receiving in equal proportion to all the other stuff we give and receive.

So this year, give some presents, but also make some memories. Have some conversations. Spend some time listening to someone special. Give out extra hugs and be mindful of telling the people closest to you what they mean to you and why. Because therein lies the real gift.

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