How Presence–Not Presents–Makes the Holiday Season

How Presence–Not Presents–Makes the Holiday Season

Confession: I have Christmas-gift-shopping anxiety.

Is that even diagnosable?

My disease onset begins in August. Come Halloween, I’m a wreck, sweating over who needs or wants what. How I can possibly make it through another season of this? I wonder. When I was younger, my worries were rooted in poverty and financial instability; now the stress has shifted to find-the-most-thoughtful-gift-they-can’t-live-without perfectionism.

It takes me forever to purchase gifts, even if I have a detailed list.

Am I the only one?

I want this year to be different.

Writing and sharing For Sabbath’s Sake has shifted my view on materialism and our shopping culture. I know, intellectually, that gift-buying does not equate to time spent together and memories shared, but I still worry about what people think of me based on the gifts I give them.

This is where I need to lean into practicing what I preach.

Sabbath is stepping out of the ordinary, chaotic time—including the frenzy of holiday shopping. It’s the one day (or one hour, or one afternoon) where we say “No!” to what theologian Walter Brueggemann calls the “culture of now,” and “YES!” to Rabbi Joshua Abraham Heschel’s idea of the “palace in time.”

But that’s hard amid these consumption-promoting days. It is difficult to say that there is more to life than purchasing gifts when we are inundated with ads to buy stuff we all don’t really need.

What truly makes us happy are our cherished relationships. And what those bonds need most is time, not treasure. Time is our most valuable non-renewable resource, so spending hours—not dollars—is the way to embrace this hope, peace, joy and love shared with family and friends.

The Christian liturgical season of Advent begins this Sunday. As America continues its over-the-top retail push, I’m (re)turning to sabbath.

I’ll still get my Christmas shopping done (eventually), but with a lens of intention. How can I offer my presence in tandem with my presents? How can I share the gift of time in addition to the gift of treasure?

Remember: it’s the most wonderful time of the year—time being the operative word.



2 thoughts on “How Presence–Not Presents–Makes the Holiday Season”

  • There is an alternative! One year I gave my brother a picture cook book, some chocolate brownies, and the tools and ingredients needed to make some brownies. I gave him the gift of food, knowledge, and time to bake together. You can give time cheques. Once we made my husband a bucket of fish (my son’s idea) and on each fish was written something like, a kiss. a cuddle, a board game, an adventure… something we could do together! And one year my husband wrote me a song, recorded it at a friends house and burnt me a copy. These are the greatest gifts, these are the ones we will treasure. I know, when I but my Dad a book on the weather or a barometer (he is weather obsessed) he will smile politely, thank me, put it on a shelf, never look at it, and donate it to charity in a few years. Now we just skip that bit. I make him a card, tall him I love him, and sometimes I buy him a charity gift instead. I created a small business as an antidote to all this buying better at Christmas time. is a safe place you can buy charity gifts, experience gifts, anything that is ethical and focuses on being more present in someone’s life rather than just buying them more stuff. I would be honoured if you would take a look and add a link if you like what I do. Thanks.

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