An article in this morning's print edition of the State Journal-Register titled "The not-so-perfect gift might be intentional" caught my attention. I found it online at the Portland Herald Press with title, "Michelle Singletary: Don't give a gift to send a message."
The author, Michelle Singletary, cites a research paper by Deborah Cohn, a professor at the New York Institute of Technology, who found,
One out of every three gift recipients in the U.S. returned at least one gift item during the 2013 holiday season with the total dollars of returned gifts estimated at $262.4 billion (not including fraudulent returns).
Frankly, that number shocked me. It should shock you, too.
Think about that for a minute. Nearly $263 billion in unwanted Christmas gifts. What does this say about the gratitude the average American feels toward the gift giver? What does this say about how well the average America gift giver knows the person to whom the gift is given? What does this say about how well the average American knows why we give gifts to each other at Christmas in the first place?
The current population of the United States of America numbers some 325 million people. If my math is correct, that means the average American returned gifts totaling more than $800. Each. Children, though, aren't returning gifts, so the actual figure must be higher. What kind of gifts are people giving to each other?
So far this year, most of the gifts I've received have been in the form of chocolates, Dr Pepper, and gift cards to Barnes & Noble (which are all perfect gifts for me). If years past are any indication, this will likely continue, and my gratitude will not be the less for it.
Are we trying to impress each other with the gifts we give? Perhaps.
According to Singletary, Cohn found that people tend to return gifts for one of five reasons:
- Gifts (presumably) given in an attempt to change a person;
- Gifts (presumably) given to you for me;
- Gifts (presumably) given in aggression knowing the recipient will not like it;
- Gifts (presumably) given purely out of an obligation; and,
- Gifts (presumably) given with the intention of showing off.
Let me just say that if you are giving gifts for one of the above reasons, you're doing it wrong (unless you're Bilbo Baggins about to leave the Shire and will never see any of the recipients ago).
We, as a nation, have drifted so far from the central tenets of Christianity that we do not even know realize the ridiculousness of what we have done to the celebration of the Birth of the Savior. We have turned our gift-giving into a mockery.
The magi offered the Child of Bethlehem their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to honor him as a priest, a prophet, and a king; they recognized who Jesus of Nazareth is and gave him appropriate gifts. How well do we know those to whom we give gifts? Is it really that hard to find a gift that will honor their personality and hopes, while at the same time demonstrating we value their uniqueness?
Perhaps this Christmas we should stop taking pictures of ourselves and engage those around us in real conversation. If we do, maybe next year we can give a gift from the heart, a gift that won't be returned.