While my grandma was alive, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. Not because of the tradition of Thanksgiving based on the false history we are fed in school, but because it was a low expectation holiday of food, family, and friends. The concept of spending time with family without the obligation of exchanging gifts provided the sense of connection I missed growing up.
For most of my life, I missed out on family holidays, living too far away for easy travel for turkey and brisket. For the last 15 years of Grandma’s life, I never missed one. Every year Grandma would work for days to make sure the savory dishes we had grown to love were on the table. She sweated over the stove, dipped into the oven, hot pads always nearby.
After her death, and the death of my father in the same year, we forced our way through Thanksgiving dinner. We felt we were honoring her by getting together and making the same foods. Divvying up the turkey, the stuffing, and mashed potatoes and gravy. We ate together, then went our separate ways, as we always do. Until we would get together a month later for Christmas.
Christmas has always felt like a gluttonous holiday. Even as a child I felt the tugs of disillusionment with the day, though I could not articulate it at the time. It felt like too much — too much spending, too much pressure, too much hypocrisy. Giving was not an act of kindness, but one of expectation.
Giving out of obligation feels at odds with the spirit of the holiday season. Giving should come from the heart, not because of a date circled on the calendar. Gifts are appreciated much more when they are a surprise, with no reason, the calendar free from a holiday. Giving without any expectation of reciprocation, without any requirement. These gifts are the best to receive, and the best gifts to give.
Maybe the best gifts go to the people who really need them, and that certainly does not rely on a calendar. People need help all year long, yet it is only during the holidays that most remember the beautiful art of giving.
This one-month period from Thanksgiving to Christmas makes up for most of the giving through the entire year, both from caring and obligation, though retailers are always trying to expand that timeframe, so we have skeletons and candy canes in the same aisle. They can hardly be blamed since this is when they make the bulk of their yearly profits.
Perhaps we should take the act of giving from the tight grasp of turkey claws and reindeer hooves and give when there is no mascot to push us.
As much as I would like to break free from the societal obligations of purchasing gifts based on a date, I won’t. My friends and family expect a gift and I don’t want to disappoint them. So, instead of scrolling through endless images with no real value, I will make my purchases from local businesses, small businesses, independent authors, and Black-owned and/or Women-owned businesses.
Perhaps my gifts for the holidays will still be purchased out of obligation, but they will, at least, be bought with intention.
What would happen if we moved holiday gift giving to all year, independent of a day on a calendar?
A version of this post was first published on Get Inside.