Sunday, January 1, 2012

I Stopped Giving It All at Christmas

By Lara Krupicka

“Please let me give flowers to my teacher,” my daughter begged that first year we were introduced to Teacher Appreciation Week. But out in my yard the only blooms visible were rows of wilting daffodils.

“Can it wait a few weeks?” I asked. My daughter cried. Within a few minutes, however, I had her excited at the prospect of the bright pink peonies and deep purple irises yet to bloom. More tears were shed that week as she daily recounted the flowers and gifts other children brought for the teacher. But, two weeks later she returned from school bursting to share how her flowers brightened the teacher’s day and her empty vase. That day I learned the value of bucking tradition when it comes to gifts.

If you’re like me, sometime in late October the anxiety begins to build. By Thanksgiving it’s a palpable knot in your stomach, and by mid-December it has become full-out panic. In the name of tradition and expectation we push ourselves to stressful heights during the annual holiday season. And chances are, at the end of each one we vow not to do it again. Yet October rolls around and… stress again. What to do? Change it up! Stop the old, stressful tradition and start a new one. Stop giving gifts to everyone on your list at Christmas. Instead, give your gifts of appreciation to people like your hairdresser, the mailman and yes, the school teacher, at other times of the year. You’ll find that spreading out your gratitude will result in benefits for both your recipients and for you.


You’ll benefit by having the ability to be more thoughtful in choosing your gifts. With a self-imposed, flexible deadline, rather than one dictated by the calendar, you can find space to be creative and considerate. There will be no more last-minute dashes to the store to grab some old something for the doctor or babysitter.
Not only that, but the thoughtfulness becomes more apparent when the gift does not arrive at the traditionally appointed time. A few years ago I started giving teacher gifts during October and November. Having seen the mounds of gifts some teachers receive in December and the less-than-enthusiastic reception they induce behind closed doors, there is no doubt tradition equates with obligation for some people. And that defeats the purpose. My October gifts are separated from the season of obligation, and as such, stand a better chance of being appreciated for their sincerity. Rather than showing up in obligatory fashion, my gifts arrive unannounced, unexpected.

One year, my youngest daughter particularly enjoyed giving her teacher a fall gift. She giggled as we created the padded pumpkin, wrapping a roll of toilet paper (more giggles) in cushy batting and patterned fabric. And she proudly inserted the stick she’d found in our yard in the pumpkin’s top as a “stem”. The next day she stood erect in the line at school, clasping the gift bag to her chest. Later that afternoon, she leaned into my arm as I read the note from the teacher. “Thank you for the adorable pumpkin. It’s the only fall decoration I have for my desk. How thoughtful of you.” It made not only the teacher’s day, but my daughter’s as well.

Focus on the Recipient

Taking the time to think through and act on what would be most meaningful to our beneficiaries can greatly enhance the value of a simple gift. When during the year could they use the appreciation and encouragement the most? What gift or gesture would speak to them personally? Putting the focus on our recipient means watching, listening and learning about them in an effort to truly appreciate them individually. Instead of following our timeline or our “to do” list in a mechanical fashion, we act on a timeframe more suited to those we seek to bless. That speaks volumes. It elevates the value of the gift by virtue of being other-focused.

As church nursery coordinator I saw the need for this in my gifts to the nursery volunteers. I baked them cinnamon rolls in December in a nod to tradition. But then in February, when cabin fever reached its height and the end of the term seemed far away, I gave each of them a gift: an encouraging book I’d selected for specifically for each of them, along with a hand-written note expressing my gratitude. The impact of my timing led one of my volunteers to come thank me for my encouragement to her.

Freedom and Peace

Other rewards for bestowing appreciation gifts outside the frenzy of the winter holidays include freedom and peace. My holiday gift-buying list shrinks by at least a dozen when I shift the timing of my gifts of gratitude. This frees up space for baking, or entertaining, or even shopping for gifts for family members. It reduces the load of holiday preparations to a manageable size. I’m less stressed and it shows in everything I do during December.

We need to rethink giving our gifts of appreciation at Christmas. It may mean explaining to people our intentions, to counter any expectations related Christmas gift-giving traditions. But in doing so, we’ll lighten our own load and open the door to a season of peace and joy. We’ll bring our gifts into an open time frame; one better suited to the needs of those we’re giving to. And we’ll have more time, both for considering the gifts we give to those we appreciate and for those gifts remaining on our list for the holidays.

Why not give yourself a break this year and take appreciation gifts off your holiday “to do” list? You might come off as the best giver ever when you spread out the blessings over the entire year.

Lara Krupicka is a wife and mother to three tween girls. She writes and speaks regularly about gift giving, hospitality, and finding simple ways to live the abundant life Jesus promises us. Lara is also the author of Pampering Gifts: Crafting a Ministry of Treating People Well for Less.