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Holidays and celebrations: To gift or not to gift

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Mother's Day is just around the corner and while most people opt to give mom a special something as an expression of their love and gratitude, others feel material presents are a weak substitute for true emotional expression. It's an age-old debate that may never be settled.

Gifts can and do articulate emotion. How you give and what you give speaks a deliberate message to the person being gifted. That gift doesn’t need to cost much, yet it communicates a great deal. To the lucky beneficiary, it conveys you took the time to select something unique to her.

The bestowing of presents on others has long been recognized as a demonstration of gratitude or affection and is practiced in most cultures. It is a language by which we communicate how we feel about another person with a symbolic object. Even in Biblical times, prophets honored God with gifts (usually some sort of an animal sacrifice, which thankfully, is not a popular practice present day).

Today, gifts are exchanged with loved ones and people with whom we wish to show some level of appreciation. But while gift-giving is a popular and widespread custom, a number of people simply resent the fact they “have” to give gifts simply because our consumerist culture dictates so.

During this past holiday season a group of “anti-materialists” were protesting on bustling-with-buyers 5th Avenue in New York City, urging eager shoppers to shun buying massive quantities of goods. They argued commercialism has reduced us to a greedy and money-oriented society. These dissenters said there are many non-material ways by which we can extend our fondness for someone and we as a progressive society ought to avoid promoting pervasive materialism.

Although they have a point, the "pro-gifters" couldn't disagree more. Setting aside an afternoon to spend with mom, for example, can be of significant value, but it all depends on whether or not your mother considers time to be a particular “endowment.” You may consider hours spent with her to be meaningful, but if she’s a gift enthusiast, she’s going to be looking for something to unwrap or eat.

If you’re an avid proponent of a non-material holiday (or if you’re just plain broke), you might offer an afternoon of service so mom can do something other than clean her house or do laundry, or you might want to take her on a lovely afternoon picnic with a basket full of yummy goodies you make yourself. Keep in mind the meaning of a true gift is something given to someone to give pleasure or show gratitude, not to flex your unique financial aptitude.

If you’re a die-hard gift-giver, one who believes special occasions are opportunities to bless others with “stuff,” then enjoy Mother's Day and its tradition without being made to feel avaricious. Holidays are an opportune time to show others how much they mean to you, however you choose to do it. But remember to keep your gift heartfelt in order to make it meaningful.

If you're flat broke and are considering the act of "re-gifting" something that's been given to you, consider this age-old debate about that particular practice: Some abhor the thought of giving away something given to them because it discredits the giver, while others believe the gift is theirs to use however they wish, and if it’s to give it away to someone else, then that’s perfectly reasonable. So if you ascribe to the re-gifting-is-permissible camp, remember to remove the tag bearing your name before you give the item to mom. There’s nothing more tacky than unwrapping a gift to find a note with the giver’s name as the intended recipient.

One previously considered faux-pas has been transformed into a definitive “faux.” Gift cards, once considered an announcement of a giver’s lack of interest or attention, are now chic and desirable. These are essentially gift certificates gone glam, and given to one’s favorite store, can be the most coveted present. Plus, the amount will go farther once those after-holiday sales launch. With so many retail options, gift cards suggest, “I want you to enjoy buying whatsoever you choose or want most.”

However you wish to express your affection, Mother's Day is an ideal occasion to show and tell the moms in your life you care about them. And whether you choose to express that sentiment with a material gift or a symbolic act of service, you’ll enjoy this time of year more if you don’t lose sight of why you celebrate.

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