The Soapbox: Holiday Gift Giving Is A Total Scam

First thing’s first: I’m a Jew. I haven’t celebrated Christmas since I was a little kid and we still believed in Santa Claus. (I was eight when I discovered he wasn’t real, and ceremoniously told my younger brother and sister at the dinner table. My mom got so mad she squeezed ketchup all over my face.) We never had a tree, but after that year, we stopped getting Christmas presents, too.

My bad.

That said, I love Christmas and all the crap that comes with it. The carols, the decorations, the smell of pine trees and general good cheer, the cookies — but I cannot get behind this whole gift-giving thing. For kids, sure. But adults should stop trying to buy presents for each other and just spend the money on themselves.

As an outside observer on holiday gift-giving, it seems that the Christmas Industrial Complex has convinced everyone that they’re not good people unless they buy gifts for all of their loved ones. In this rubric, giving and receiving goods is a proxy for love and compassion — turning relationships into transactions. But aside from theoretical Marxist problems with holiday gift-giving, there’s also the more petty and practical angle: holiday gift-giving means people end up with a lot of crap that they don’t want, and certainly don’t need — all in the name of making us feel as though we’re making our loved ones feel loved. And it puts undue stress on both the gift giver and receiver to keep the happy holiday charade up. Wouldn’t the money you spend on gifts for random relatives and office mates be better spent on buying things you definitely know you want?

Abolishing Christmas gift-giving (as it stands) may sound callous, I know, but I’m not arguing that we abolish gift-giving all together. It’s wonderful and lovely to receive thoughtful, personal gifts. But that shouldn’t be relegated to one particular time of year when people feel obligated and overburdened by the thought buying gifts for distant relatives. It seems really contrived to load up all your gift giving to one day — and I think giving loses meaning when it’s expected, anyway.

It seems silly — and thoughtless — to purchase gifts for people simply because a holiday dictates that you should. Plus, that money would be better spent by buying things you actually want for yourself. You know better than anyone what gifts you’d like; if everyone could just agree that Christmas was a time to spend money on ourselves — to treat ourselves, as Tom Haverford says on “Parks and Rec” — I think we’d end up with a lot less resentment toward our friends and relatives. We’d certainly end up with fewer Starbucks cards and unwanted smelly perfume sets.

And besides, Christmas seems like the perfect time of year to really remember what’s important to us — our friends and families, our health and well-being. You can’t put a price — or a gift tag — on that.