We’re a few days post Thanksgiving. The words “hurry now” and “save 50%” have left our fingers twitching towards our wallets. In most cases we don’t even know what we want to buy – we just want to SAVE.
Friends, we’re in the liminal zone – wandering in a post-Thanksgiving haze, headed towards the New Year, just a few short weeks away. The time can easily be spent in a craze of shopping that we hope will somehow transform us into happier, more fulfilled versions of ourselves, but that only ends up dumping us on the other side of the New Year with more stuff. We wobble through the first days of the New Year, staggered by the weight of our new belongings, grappling for a resolution that will make the future somehow more meaningful.
Can we just… stop?
Instead of following the signs – “hurry now” and “save 50%” – let’s slow down and spend 100% on each other.
A family tradition
After my daughter’s first Christmas, when she got a million and one gifts, I realized I’d have to make a serious effort to help her understand that the holidays have nothing to do with how much loot she has under the tree. Now that she’s in school, this is even more critical (yes, even first-graders compare gifts).
I want her to know the holidays are about…
- Believing in something bigger than ourselves.
- Taking time to enjoy each other’s company.
- Loving each other.
Instead of giving her PJ’s or a book on Christmas Eve, I realized I could use this quiet night to celebrate the things that money cannot buy. That way, come Christmas Day, she would enjoy her tangible gifts with a little perspective – namely, that it’s not all about the object in the box, but the love and thought that goes into it.
And so our tradition was born. We call it Gifts from the Heart.
Gifts from the Heart
Giving each other “nothing” is really about celebrating the gifts that cannot be wrapped – time, love, and intention. It works like this: During Christmas Eve dinner, we take turns passing around the empty box, offering each other something intangible. We usually do it at the dinner table, after we’ve eaten. We take our time and turn the moment into a sweet celebration.
Examples from our family:
Last year, I knew that Ava wanted to have a lemonade stand. I also knew (from reading stories with her at bedtime) that she was smitten by Amelia Bedelia’s lemon meringue pie. When it was my turn I said:
Ava, I give you the gift of helping you organize a lemonade stand and making a lemon meringue pie together.
I then presented her with the box. In turn, she made a production of opening the drawstring and hugging the box to her heart.
After I gave Ava her gift, then she gave hers – time for me and Keith to play in her cardboard castle together (as well as “wings” to fly together – so cute!).
I gave Keith “7 boxes of donations” to help simplify our belongings. Keith turned around and gave me 7 boxes of donations and topped it off with a promise to take me out on a fancy date night. He gave Ava a fancy Father-Daughter night out, too, along with a night to bake cookies.
In the past we’ve given each other promises to be digital-free at certain times, to close the office door after 5 p.m. (we both work from home), and to eat breakfast together whenever possible.
And so it goes.
We wrote down our Gifts from the Heart in a notebook so that we could remember them from year to year. Plus, things like lemonade stands can’t be done in cold weather, so it helps my fuzzy brain to have a written record of exactly what I gifted my family for accountability purposes.
About the box
Passing an empty box for your Gifts from the Heart is symbolic and fun, though not entirely necessary. If you choose to use one, don’t fuss about finding something fancy.
Ours had a rather humble beginning. I found it nearly a decade ago on a shelf at the local thrift store, on top of a clothing rack near the candles. In fact, I think it used to hold candles. I was drawn to the box because it was so unusual – a lightweight metal frame wrapped in sheer cloth. The cloth pulls together on top with a drawstring, making it as much a bag as a box. I purchased it to transport our rings when Keith and I got married (instead of using a traditional pillow). I tied an “X” across the top frame with some ribbon and dangled the rings from the center. The rings remained visible as the terrified ring bearer walked them down the aisle.
After the wedding, I tucked the box in the back of a closet and forgot about it until we started our Gifts from the Heart tradition.
Why “nothing” is so great
By giving each other “nothing,” we’re actually setting intentions for the New Year – how we plan to spend time together, what’s important to us. It serves as a mini-vision board for family time.
Gifts from the Heart is about slowing down and spending 100%… on what matters.
That way, when the tide of gifts rises at dawn (as it inevitably does), there’s a small life raft of meaning for our children to grab onto. While I’ll always get Ava gifts on Christmas Day, I hope that, when she’s an adult, she’ll remember those intangible Gifts from the Heart most fondly.
Another hope is to teach our children to appreciate what they’re given, no matter how small or large, real or intangible. Last year, I knew we were getting somewhere when Ava wrote us these spontaneous thank you notes. She did it late one night, after bedtime stories.
No one asked her to do it.
She was 5-years old.
What a gift.
Here’s what she wrote:
I lov the presets tha yoou gav me. I lov you.
I lov the presets that you gav me. I lov you.
I mean… c’mon.
If you like the idea of giving your family “nothing” this year, remember you don’t need a fancy box. Two cupped hands will do for sharing gifts from the heart. I think doing it around the dinner table is a nice touch, though what night you choose will certainly depend on your family traditions. Again: this is not about replacing traditional gift giving, but about underscoring the fact that the most important things in life can’t be wrapped.
Finally, remember the GTA community is here to support each other. I invite you to share your photos and stories on Instagram with #GlobalTableAdventure and #Giftfromtheheart. Let’s cheer each other on!