The True Meaning of Giving
December 19, 2019
With winter at our doorstep and the holidays upon us, the act of buying gifts is at its most concentrated of the year. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have passed, but last-minute holiday sales are still appearing in our inboxes hourly, honing our focus on deep discounts and alluring purchases. And while we all love a great deal and revel in the success of gifting that perfect present to someone we love, we here at Everviolet find ourselves reflecting on the true meaning of giving. What does it mean to offer, not just physical objects but also our hearts? And could there be some merit to pulling away from materialism and leaning into the real essence of the holiday season? Read on to learn more.
Whether we realize it or not, the ritual of giving gifts was not originally part of Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. The act of gift-giving was born during the first half the 1800’s at Christmastime, when urban centers (namely New York City) were rapidly expanding and traditional rituals of “social inversion” (where less prosperous individuals could demand food and drink from the wealthy and celebrate in the streets, temporarily abandoning regular social constructs) started to be met with fear and trepidation. Coinciding with the spread of corporate commercialism, parents started wanting to protect their children from its excesses, and thus, the focus turned away from the streets and into the home. Gifting was at first designed only for children, with the advent of St. Nick, and gradually expanded to include adults as well.1
Likewise, Hanukkah was historically (and in some countries still today) not associated with buying and receiving presents. But in the late 19th century, in large part due to the “Christmas envy” experienced by Jewish children, Hanukkah took the place of Purim as the holiday most associated with gifting – for some, a full 8-days-worth!2
Given that material gifts are a relatively new entity, we thought it would be refreshing to consider ways of giving that more authentically reflect the real intentions of the holidays celebrated during this time of year – gratitude, freedom, family/friends, light, tradition and cultural heritage. Following are five practices that speak to the spirit of the season and that are spontaneous, easy and affordable to do!
Acts of Service
Generosity and acts of service provide meaningful opportunities to spend quality time with the people in our lives. Whether they be known loved ones or strangers, offering assistance, time or a listening ear can establish a deep connection between a giver and receiver. These acts don’t need to be grand or complicated – something as simple as holding open a door, checking in on a friend, or offering to pick up groceries can go a long way toward helping others. Practicing generosity encourages openness and vulnerability, and brings us right to the heart of connection with those we love.3
Another benevolent way of offering ourselves this time of year is by volunteering at a local soup kitchen, animal shelter or donating goods to organizations in need. Spending a day being of service to others not only brings tremendous support to our communities, but it also provides amazing benefits to the person sharing his/her time. Volunteering can help us feel more socially connected as well as help ward off the loneliness and depression that many feel during the holidays and darker days of winter. In addition to supporting our mental health, donating time or goods has also been shown to lower blood pressure and possibly even extend the length of our lives.4
Cooking is a nurturing ritual, so why not offer it to those we love, both in and outside of our family? Breaking bread is a practice that spans nearly every culture and demographic and is a way to cultivate a warm, generous and loving environment to those who surround and support us. We love the idea of opening our homes and our kitchens to those who may not have family nearby or bringing a hearty meal to someone in the midst of a challenging time. Even creating a special me-meal is a beautiful way of offering self-care. Food feeds the belly as well as the heart, and the making of it boosts confidence, self-esteem and creates important bonds as well.5
In Native American cultures, there is a ritual traditionally performed around the winter solstice called a “giveaway.” In such ceremonies, a beloved and useful item of personal or monetary value is given to someone else. This exchange represents an important life event or transition, in that one honors the object, what it provided and then lets it go. A giveaway is a wonderful means of practicing appreciation as well as sharing resources with others. And there are many ways we can replicate this ritual today – in White Elephant parties, Secret Santa celebrations, and spiritual gatherings. By releasing something of significance, we practice trust, knowing that other good things will come our way and that our offering will provide value to someone else. Often times, the sharing of stories also facilitates unexpected and unique connections with others.6
Last but definitely not least, we are huge fans of philanthropy – giving not just our time but also dollars in support of causes that we recognize to be impactful. Many people often think that in order to really make a difference, we have to donate huge sums of money. But imagine what would happen if everyone we knew contributed $100 to a certain cause? Philanthropy is generous dedication to change, and there are a myriad of nonprofits needing funding in all areas of life – from cancer research and health-related organizations to the environment and politics to social justice and advocacy. There are also many GoFundMe pages of individuals needing support for a particular life challenge. Opening our wallets helps support the people who are passionately and willingly trying to change the world for the better.
The holiday season brings many moments that are sweet and joyful, and gift-giving can be one of the most pleasant parts of our celebrations. But taking time to reflect on what it really means to give, going beyond the material, offers opportunities to deepen our experiences and connections with others. We believe that true giving gives us joy without any thought of receiving it back, and the process of doing so enriches our lives tenfold.
From our hearts to yours, we wish you a wonderful holiday season, filled with richness, generosity and all things beautiful.
“Generosity is exactly this: to give that which is dearest to us. It is an act that transforms us." – Piero Ferrucci