The Gift That Gives Back

Kayla Tehero, Staff Writer

As the holiday season rolls around again this year, people are hustling and bustling to find the perfect gifts for their loved ones. Shopping carts are piled sky high, and busy bodies speed through department stores with an abundance of overflowing shopping bags. Everyone is searching for the perfect gift to give to their loved ones during the season of giving. People are also giving to total strangers: writing cards to hospitals, serving meals at soup kitchens, and caroling at nursing homes.

It is non-negotiable; people are more charitable, towards loved ones and strangers alike, during the winter holidays than any other time of the year. Why is this? Do our hearts really grow three sizes, or is there a less generous explanation for the season of giving? Shankar Vedantam tells NPR, “Social pressure might be playing a very powerful role…. If you’re at a workplace and everyone’s writing checks to charities or doing things that are charitable, you feel kind of obliged to do the same.” Vedantam is definitely not wrong; following peers who are participating in altruistic deeds certainly plays a role. But is it the only reason we give gifts and serve others at the end of the year?

The University of Texas Dallas Magazine writes, “The holiday season can be a time of introspection for many, leading them to refocus on what’s important to them and perhaps inspiring them to take action.” Many IHS students shared that family and/or friends were the most important thing in their lives, and the holidays are a great time for people to focus on their relationships with friends and family. The New York Times reports that “giving gifts is a surprisingly complex and important part of human interaction, helping to define relationships and strengthen bonds with family and friends.” Gift-giving offers us the opportunity to express appreciation for the people and relationships in our lives we are most grateful for. Sophomore Connor Reid says, “I think gift-giving kind of shows the friendships and relationships you have and really strengthens the bond you have with other people.” Exchanging gifts with loved ones can be so helpful for both individuals’ social health and the development of their relationships with others. Junior MoMo Brown shared how the sincerest gifts can really build that connection, stating, “The ones that have some thought put into it are the best. It could be as simple as a pair of socks, or as complicated as a painting, but if there is thought behind it, it is a good gift.” Reid agrees, saying, “Something personal specifically acknowledges that you know them. It might be kind of random, but it shows that you understand and get them.” The traditions that are associated with holiday gifts also bring people together. Freshman Avery Magus, for example, shares, “My family and I, we always give gifts to each other. It is always really fun.”

But not only does our connection with others benefit from gift-giving, our personal health does as well. South University says, “When we give without expecting anything in return, we are improving our psychological health…. There is an enormous sense of satisfaction when seeing the expression on the face of someone you’ve given a gift to.” Spreading the holiday gift-giving love can actually help us to love ourselves more; when we demonstrate altruistic traits, we feel good about ourselves and the impact we have on others. This is especially true for people who enjoy gift giving and service year-round. Brown shares, “Gift giving is my love language. I love giving people gifts, and I make all my friends’ Christmas gifts…. I love giving, it just makes me feel so happy.”

However, not all valuable gifts can be wrapped with paper and tied with a bow. Senior Elaina Johnson shares, “The most meaningful gift is time, really. I know that I appreciate spending time with people more than most things.” This is another important aspect of holiday traditions: spending time with each other. Families travel long distances to share a turkey dinner, and friends assemble to exchange gifts and compare ugly sweaters. Time is perhaps one of the most valuable gifts we exchange during the holiday season. But Johnson does not just share her time with family and friends. She also shares it with her community. She shares, “During Christmas, our family organizes a neighborhood food drive, and I volunteer at a refugee care organization. As people are trying to celebrate these winter holidays it becomes more difficult for many families to make ends meet. I find it rewarding to serve and help people find excitement rather than concern during this time of year.” Many people like Johnson spend a great deal of time volunteering during the holidays, for the exact same reasons we give gifts to loved ones. The University of Texas Dallas Magazine adds, “Volunteering has been shown to lead to personal and social fulfillment by connecting people with other members of their community who share their values and beliefs.”

The holiday season is full of gift-giving and service as we motivate each other to reach out to our loved ones and our community. Although it can be difficult not to let stress snowball, do not forget what is important to you during this wonderful time of the year and take a chance to improve your relationships with your family, friends, community, and yourself.