For many, the “most wonderful time of the year” isn’t so wonderful. While the rhetoric surrounding the holidays is all about gratitude, giving, and joy, the reality of the holidays may be much bleaker. In my editorial for this issue last year, I wrote about how much I love giving and receiving gifts, but as I worked on this year’s gift guide, I couldn’t shake the stress of gift-giving. There are so many people I love who I want to give deeply meaningful gifts, but that hope — that I give everybody something they’ll never forget — can weigh on me, especially as I begin to enter my seasonal depression and just all around feel like I have less bandwidth to do the things I need and want to do.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, 46 percent of adults are worried about affording gifts and 40 percent about finding gifts. I’m sure this stress is only exacerbated if you’re buying gifts for your children, for whom you want to maintain the magic of the season. As someone who is an avid gift lover and giver, knowing this makes me extremely sad. Gift-giving is such a joyful act of connection and love, and it has been perverted into status symbols, unrealistic expectations, and capitalistic stress. Coupled with messaging that the holidays are about joy and love, this stress can make people feel jaded, like they’re failing at this cultural tradition so integral to American society.
The truth is that the holidays, if you’re going to go all out, are a lot of work. I’m having to go out of town for multiple days for Thanksgiving with my family, on top of a separate Thanksgiving dinner I’m cooking with my boyfriend and a Friendsgiving potluck. I have to decorate the apartment for Christmas; plan a night to see Christmas lights; make Christmas Eve and Day plans with my family; buy and wrap presents for my friends, boyfriend (eight for him because he celebrates Hanukkah), and family; cook Christmas morning breakfast; and look at that! It’s New Year’s Eve: gotta make plans, maybe host a party, find something to wear, and make some resolutions.
You may read all that and think, “Well, you don’t have to do any of those things.” And it’s true, I don’t. But if I didn’t, I would miss out on the many benefits cultural traditions bring, namely community and a sense of belonging. As a white person with no connection to my ethnic background and a strong distaste for nationalistic patriotism, it is very rare that I feel a sense of cultural identity, and I don’t want to pass on the few traditions that do make me feel like I belong.
But these festivities are stressful and expensive, and all held during a season when our bodies want to move much slower and do less, not more, and that’s not even considering the grief of lost loved ones who aren’t here to celebrate with us and strained family relationships.
I say all this as a validation of the stress you may be feeling and continue to feel as you read through this gift guide and see gifts that are unattainable for you. Even though the expectations you may be putting on yourself may feel inescapable, it really is the thought that counts when it comes to gift-giving. This is a season when we’re all feeling stress, and maybe the greatest gift you could give someone is a compliment, help in the kitchen, or a note telling them how much you love them.