The Holidays: Gifts for Parents

Photo courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

Photo courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

Christmas gifts for my parents, I never could figure it out. The earliest gift I can remember was some craft that I had made in pre-school. Two snowflakes made of popsicle sticks and glitter and glue. Later, coupon books: sheets of paper good for one chore or the other. A (horribly) knitted scarf. One year: a still life of fruits in a bowl. 

But I got older and hand-made gifts became embarrassing, and then I really had no idea what to get them. My parents aren’t materialistic and they don’t care about things like clothes or jewelry or collectibles. The things they do care about – an ergonomic chair, a non-stick pan that is truly non-stick, large computer monitors – are things that I either can’t afford or am so clueless about that I would have to consult them, ruining the surprise of it all. 

My parents often talk about their appreciation for non-material things. Experiences or achievements that are ‘priceless’ and therefore infinitely more valuable than some trinket or another. Like a long hike, a vacation, a family board game, getting good grades or winning some competition. Things that you can’t wrap in gift-wrap and put under a tree. These things are difficult because I always want to have a physical object, something that I can actually hand over, like some sort of proof of actuality. When imagining experience-related gifts I often think of a baseball game, an experience that conveniently comes with two paper tickets. Unfortunately, no one in my family really cares all that much about sports. 

I feel the need to add here that my parents don’t hand me a physical gift at Christmas. Ever since the fourth grade, they’ve just deposited money in my bank account. It’s become transactional rather than sentimental, just a movement of money during this time of the year. I prefer it this way because the theatrics of opening gifts have never appealed to me. 

I wonder if I can say the same for my parents. Do I need to give them a real gift at all? Would they rather I don’t? I can’t honestly think of a single thing to give them that they would genuinely appreciate. I suppose the question here is whether or not the act of gift-giving, this societal Christmas tradition, is that important. Is it important enough that I should buy something (knowing they won’t care about it) for the sake of it?

I think that my parents are right in their appreciation for the non-material, for the experiences that lie between us and connect us to each other. Perhaps the necessity I feel for a material object is a product of the constant advertisements and marketing that display Christmas as, most importantly, a gift-giving holiday. A gift should always be something the receiver would like and appreciate, and in my case, a material object wouldn’t really be appreciated. I guess the lesson really is, in terms of parent gift-giving, to do what you think they would value the most.