The Gift of Giving

Americans have been characterized as openly generous, blindly optimistic, and insatiably materialistic. These characteristics collide in an unusual fusion in December, resulting in what has become massive materialistic hysterical hype over the holidays. Even those who do not identify themselves as religious or particularly spiritual indulge in shopping frenzy. Those for whom the holidays have religious significance often find it diluted and their meaning dissipated by the mad rush to retail.

It is easy to make an argument that the sort of consumerism and consumption we see at this time of year is not in keeping with the meanings of the holidays soon approaching. Yet expectations run high and we are driven by slick marketing and deeply rooted expectations and desires. Consider, therefore another approach to giving in celebration of the holidays.

Winter holidays all feature light as a dominant image. As the days growing shorter and colder, image of light brightens our spirits and inspires us. The image of light is inextricably bound up these days with concerns about energy use, natural resources, and the environment. This holidays season, consider what we owe the environment and how our holiday greetings and gift giving can be environmentally friendly. Send e-cards instead of paper cards and let your recipients know that you’re doing this out of a commitment to the environment. Rather than buying something a person may not need, which wastes earth’s resources, make someone home-baked goodies. Consider personal coupons or gift certificates for a home-cooked meal, help cleaning, a week of dog walking, an evening of babysitting, or something else you can do yourself to demonstrate your caring. Give an environmentally friendly kit: reusable cloth bags for grocery shopping, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and a subscription to an environmental magazine. A tree or plant is a gift of life, itself.

Spread the giving. Rather than purchasing items people don’t truly need or that likely replicates what they already have, donate money to a charity that has meaning for you or for your recipients, and have the organization let your loved ones know that you made a donation in their honor. There are many worthy organizations locally, nationally, and internationally whose work contributes to the welfare of humanity, the animal world, and the environment. Promoting their work enhances our celebration of our holidays. If you have children living at home, consider giving them money to distribute to charities of their choice. Guide them through the process of choosing a charity and sending a donation. Your gift to them this year could be the gift of giving. One is never too young to learn generosity of spirit and action.

Our holidays celebrate renewal and dedication, light and insight, commitment and perseverance. All the electronic toys, widgets, clothes, and jewelry in the world do not enhance those values as much as actions that promote them. Our giving, itself, can be a religious act when we direct our resources to benefit and preserve this beautiful world God gave us and help those less fortunate, as God has commanded us.

Rabbi Scheinerman wrote this article for the Carroll County Times.