What to get everyone for Christmas

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Every Christmas, after the initial flurry of present-opening, we’d toss all the paper into the biggest box we could find. Sometimes the cat would make a bed of it, and she seemed pretty comfortable. So when I’d walk down my back lane to learn what toys other kids got, I’d imagine gathering every family’s paper in one giant pile and jumping into it like raked-up leaves.

If the homes on our little street would have made a pile the size of a minivan, then the entire city’s paper would surely make a pile the size of a small office building. You could jump from a plane into it and be fine. Each city in Canada would contribute another building-sized pile, every year, until you had an entire city of crumpled gift wrap. The paper from the US would make it ten or twelve times larger. A decade’s worth would be unimaginable.

It occurs to me only now that the gifts that came in that paper would make an astronomically larger heap — an entire Death Star of toys and kitch, having come at a cost of about 5 trillion dollars.

Gradually I began to realize that while having new toys is a wonderful feeling, nothing was quite as wonderful as unwrapping them. The high topped out in the morning hours and wore off faster each year. By January, our family’s joy level was always about back to normal, maybe a little lower, and the decorations and ads that were still around by that time only made me sad it was over. The new stuff was still around, but it was no longer so new, and Christmas didn’t leave me with the net gain it seemed to promise. What we were really buying was the swell of awesome feelings that crested at about 9am on the 25th and then gently drained back to sea level.

The items we end up giving or getting at Christmas are usually entirely ephemeral. A typical American or Canadian has received thousands of dollars in Christmas gifts throughout his or her lifetime, and would be hard pressed to remember getting the vast majority of them, let alone tell you what those gifts are doing for them now. Ultimately they’re bought to stir up the magic and promise of Christmas, and they do, but often that’s all they do.

The bulk of consumers’ Christmas trillions is spent trying to buy an intangible thing we can call The Magic of Christmas. Some of this Magic certainly comes from outside the shopping aspect — the closeness of family, the warmth of sweaters and boozy board game sessions — but that’s the free part. The vast majority of the spending arises from chasing the ecstatic feeling of Christmas morning one felt as a child, even if you’re grown up now and only want it for your children.

The rest of the year we would call this feeling abundance. It’s not a feeling particular to Christmas, but for a lot of kids Christmas morning represents the abundance feeling at its peak concentration. The first days of Summer break gives a similar high, but it’s spread over a much longer period and so it’s never quite as dazzling. There is also a minor spike in the fall, the evening of Halloween. In each case the abundance feeling is glorious, but fades quickly.

I don’t want to dismiss the lasting meaning of this Magic, or these gift-opening experiences. Some of my best memories are of those glowing days surrounding my childhood Christmases. But the gift-receiving part was absolutely central to making those days glow for me, and I think this is true for almost every child. Experiences of abundance are intoxicating and unforgettable, and we seek them everywhere in life, but for many of us we never find them so dependably as we do at Christmas.

There are ways to create abundance that are far less costly than through traditional Christmas shopping though, and which keep it going much better. Only later in life would I start learning to get that abundant feeling from simple luxuries like walls, socks, food and visits with loved ones, and would it appear more evenly throughout the year. 

Gifts that give

Christmas gives most generously to those who are doing the selling. The vast majority of everyday people are on the losing side of the enormous exchange of value that takes place during the holidays. As nervous as the word “inflation” makes people, cash itself does a much greater job at retaining its value than most of the stuff we spend it on, and this is doubly true at Christmas.

The holiday mall-goer typically trades money for things whose value fades much more quickly, and never had as much to begin with. Imagine buying an investment that’s almost guaranteed to lose half its value in 24 hours. That is the range of investment quality we’re talking about for most of the shopping that goes on in December. That’s because we don’t think of Christmas purchases as any kind of investment, and even if we did we don’t know another way to go about it.

The pivotal understanding in moving from unhealthy finances to healthy finances is learning this: feelings are what you’re actually trying to buy with every purchase. Every thing we want amounts to a feeling we want, and so everything we buy amounts to an attempt to buy a source of emotional experience, even if we don’t realize it.

This is true throughout the year, but at Christmas in particular we open our wallets out of conditioning and momentum, rather than a clear-minded reflection on the real value gained (for either ourselves or the recipient.) When you feel like you’re buying abundance, it seems like you can never buy too much.

In terms of the joyful feelings and quality of life we’re actually seeking with our purchases, there’s a vast range in return on investment. Some people make terrible investments their whole lives by making purchases that are enormously expensive, give only a few moments of pleasure, and come with a bag of potential health and social issues — hard drugs and prostitutes, as an extreme example.

Every year a gazillion consumer dollars go towards buying similarly short-lived feelings, often junk that may make someone smile for ten seconds when they open it but never does anyone any other good. The joy-per-dollar rate for most Christmas gifts is probably pretty low in most families. When you think that people often go into high-interest debt to fund this losing exchange, it goes from silly to sad.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are purchases that generate returns for a long time. That is how the rich get rich: they are careful to buy only things that pay them in some way, like businesses, properties, educations and business leads. And they certainly are careful not to buy things that leak money or value.

But financial abundance is only one kind of abundance. Some purchases also pay its owner interest and dividends, in the form of personal growth, insight, skills or confidence. The principle of compound interest applies in virtually every area of personal gain, and the rates of return are far greater than even the best financial investments. Ten percent is nothing.

The best purchase I ever made for myself was an online blogging course, back in January of 2009. It was a few hundred dollars, and directly because of it I found my passion in life, I’ve become a much more happy and capable person, I’ve made thousands of dollars and I escaped the rat race, and the best of its returns are certainly yet to come. That gift kept on giving and will keep on giving probably past the end of my life — over the years as this blog grows and my writing skills improve, I’m helping increasingly more people, and I’m increasingly more free to make my best contributions to the world.

I didn’t quite know the astounding value of that purchase at the time, but I certainly would have been more likely to make that purchase if I had been in the habit of only spending on things I expected to create some form of lasting returns. Spending on education was out-of-character for me, and it was a major purchase. I feel very lucky that I had a good feeling about it, because it was an absolute steal — orders of magnitude better than successfully nabbing a $39 television or any other Black Friday loss leader.

Give growth for Christmas

All purchases are exchanges of value. Many, or maybe most Christmas gift exchanges disperse the value something like this: the giver comes away with some debt and the mildly relieving feeling of having fulfilling one of his social obligations; the recipient gets a bit high opening it and possibly enjoys using it, but will soon forget it; the retailer adds a bit of money to his money pile. Retailers want this kind of exchange to happen as often as possible.

Sometimes it works out better though, and the giver feels wonderful and the recipient gains something lasting, and the seller adds to his stack. But I think this is the exception — most of the consumer Death Star is built from waste and debt. But we can make that happen more often by thinking consciously about the real-life value of what we buy.

Imagine if after Christmas, millions of people were left with the means to become better and more capable people, rather than billions in debt.

Last year I announced to my family that I’m no longer going to participate in the normal exchange of gifts. I just don’t feel good about it. I’ve come to feel a tinge of guilt at buying any new, manufactured good, and I think this is a feeling usually worth trusting.

Yesterday my mother suggested a wonderful alternative for gift-giving between the adults of the family: we each find books that we think everyone will like, and give a random wrapped book to each other person, which we will pass along to each other throughout the year as we read them. In our case everyone would get a new book to read each month of the year. This I feel good about because the value of each purchase goes to multiple people, and that good books deliver lasting value, even lifelong value.

Everyone has a different emotional relationship to the gift-giving aspect of Christmas. Some can’t stand it and some love it. I acknowledge that opting-out of the tradition isn’t desirable (or possible) for all of you, so I suggest getting gifts that pay interest — skills, insight, recurring joy. This creates abundance of the lasting kind.

And if your gifts return compounding value, give this abundance to yourself too. It’s easier to know what gift will pay you the greatest dividends than it is to know the long-term value of a gift to someone else, so take advantage of how well you know your recipient. Make an annual tradition of giving yourself a gift that leaves you with a new skill or a recurring source of joy or income.

My post-Christmas gift to myself in 2009 paid for itself in the monetary sense a long time ago, but it also pays me every day in a dozen ways, particularly in the moment I wake up and remember that I don’t have a boss any more. (The course isn’t available anymore, because the man who taught me to blog is now focusing on teaching people to build membership sites.)

If you feel guilt about buying a present for yourself, then make it one you expect to pay off in dollars, because it’s easier to see that there’s no loss in value. A new skill — or better, starting a tiny business — could pay for all your holiday gifts by this time next year. If you want to start a one-person business, you live in an era where it’s as easy as it’s probably ever going to be. Chris Guillebeau runs a lifestyle business course that could make a chimpanzee back his money several times over in a year.

I’ll probably get something else too, but one thing I know I’m getting for myself this year is a book about making bread from scratch, along with the necessary kitchenware. I’m going to learn to make my own bread, which will make its money back quickly, be a lot of fun, and give me one of those gritty medieval skills that I’ll have forever. I wish I had done this for each of the last dozen Christmases.

Whatever you do, think of all your gift purchases in terms of what they are likely to deliver beyond the initial rush of receiving them. Imagine what the world would be like if that was a cultural norm. Imagine what just a decade of that mentality would for the population, even if the tradition were started only today.

I’ll give you your first idea for free. Plant a seed by sharing this post on Facebook.

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Photo by Randy Robertson

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{ 56 Comments }

Garrett December 1, 2013 at 11:53 pm

The rich are constantly buying things that quickly lose value–to a much greater extent than do those who are not wealthy. They buy all sorts of toys and gadgets that are unnecessary and lose much of their value within 24 hours. The difference is it doesn’t make a dent in their wealth. The reasons the rich get rich are varied, but luck (including being born overprivileged) plays a huge role. And, as a result, they are also able to buy that which gains so-called value. Of course, we really ought to be re-defining value. The particular culture of which I’m a part would seem to have a really screwed up sense of what that term means. Those things with extrinsic value (or, really, no value at all in my estimation) take precedence over that which has intrinsic value–as a result, billions are denied that which has intrinsic value (shelter, clean water, food, etc.).

Meanwhile, the masses are brainwashed into thinking they need to have a taste of that lifestyle, thus the pathetic Black Thursday/Friday scenes (people trampling and beating others in order to grab the latest popular gadget). Stores opening on Thursday night instead of Friday morning didn’t seem to reduce the madness.

As for me, I’m neither poor or rich by US standards, and have no desire to be either. I’m just trying to live simply so that others may simply live, and live locally by thinking globally (admittedly, I’m far from 100% successful).

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Veronique December 2, 2013 at 4:05 am

FYI –
bread = flour, water, yeast, salt. Kitchen gadgets needed = one large flat bottom bowl, one spoon, one measuring cup. Put your dough to rise in your oven with a pan of boiling water sitting on the bottom.

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kabamba December 2, 2013 at 4:46 am

I have made many purchases in my young adult life as an employee. But very few equal to one purchase I made in August 2010. One sunny day, completely out of character, I walked into a music store and bought myself a guitar. Don Williams got his first guitar when he was 14. I was not that “lucky”. I got mine when I was 30, but my life has completely changed and I am so grateful.
Thank you very much for a wonderful post. I think I know exactly what you talking about.

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David Cain December 2, 2013 at 10:12 pm

A musical instrument might be the perfect example of what I’m talking about. I bought my guitar almost ten years ago now and it has brought me so much joy per dollar it’s unbelievable. Rock on Christopher :)

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John December 3, 2013 at 10:55 am

Playing guitar is one of the most rewarding things you can do in life! I’ve played for almost nine years now and it’s crazy how much you can learn. A true life long exploration.

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Claudia December 2, 2013 at 6:04 am

Thank you David, this came at the perfect time as I was wondering what to give to my 16 year old who has a passion for drawing and programing. I want to give something to feed her passion instead of a new gadget that she also want. As a 16, she probably will feel a bit disappointed with an educational gift (like an online course) but as your blogging course, I’m hoping to get some with long lasting value.
I hope I find something . . .

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David Cain December 2, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Maybe some good materials? One of my more memorable (and lasting) gifts was a good quality watercolor pad and a set of drawing pencils.

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Claudia December 8, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Tks David.
Only saw this today.
She is a good artist and has all pencils and materials for drawing. As a typical teenager she keeps comparing herself to others and feeling bad.
She read this fantastic post (and few others, especially ones about being shy) and despite agreeing with you, she conveniently said: this is for adults!
I tried!
I shared it on my FB.
Thank you!

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James December 3, 2013 at 11:17 am

Hi, Claudia

If you mean computer programming, this site was recommended by David’s buddy Mr. Money Mustache: http://teamtreehouse.com/

(Here’s the article if you are interested. Really hits the point about the value of education outside of college- http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/02/07/interview-with-a-ceo-ridiculous-student-loans-vs-the-future-of-education/)

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Claudia December 8, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Hi James, thank you!
I only saw this today.

I still want my 16 year old to go to college and this is probably my own ‘programing’, if I may.
She hated the idea about not getting a gift and I ended up buying an igadget. I’m not proud of it but
I hope she grows out of this gift giving idea soon. She’s read few articles on MMM and liked them although she’s not ready to implement them. :)
Sorry about being off topic here.

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Vilx- December 2, 2013 at 6:09 am

My parents tried the breadmaking. They also bought one of those electrical bread ovens that do all the mixing/waiting/baking for you (for about $60, if I remember correctly). Possibly an overkill, but that’s not the point. They soon found out that they could make a very delicious bread indeed – but the price of one loaf was even a tiny bit higher than you can get in a supermarket. :| And that’s just for the raw materials/electricity. So I’m a bit skeptical on the economical gains from this one. Still, the health & taste benefits are probably worth it. :)

(Also note that I live in Latvia, so perhaps the prices are different where you live)

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David Cain December 2, 2013 at 10:16 pm

That’s definitely not the case here. A loaf of cheap bread is almost two dollars, and you could make your own for less than fifty cents.

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TsuDhoNimh December 8, 2013 at 7:18 pm

This is in line with my experience too. Using high-quality ingredients (several varieties of premium flour and other ingredients) we can make very tasty bread for $1 to $2 a loaf, compared to $3 to $5 for premium bread at Kroger or Whole Foods. If you make a loaf a week, you end up paying for the bread machine in about a year, and you get better tasting bread too.

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BrownVagabonder December 2, 2013 at 6:20 am

As my family is Hindu, we do not have the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas. But because we have lived in Toronto for so long, we decided to give it a shot. We decided to see what the fuss was all about. So one Christmas we decided to try it out – buy gifts for everyone in the family and open it up on Christmas day. After the initial oohs and aahs of opening something new, we realized that we didn’t really like the gift-giving part of Christmas very much. What we relished was the time that all of us got to spend together, because of the holidays in December. I’m glad we tried the tradition just to see how it felt, but I’m also glad that it lost its shine very quickly. Now, even on birthdays, all we do is go out for dinner, and spend time together. Sometimes we give each other cash if we know the other person has something special they want to buy, but no more gift giving tradition prevails in our family. Thanks for the post!

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David Cain December 2, 2013 at 10:20 pm

The kind of gift-giving here would definitely be weird if you didn’t grow up with it. I’m still in the process of figuring out how to do it in a way that feels right to me but also doesn’t alienate other people, so I like hearing what people do in other countries.

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BrownVagabonder December 9, 2013 at 7:06 am

In India, we have a huge focus on food and celebrations are not complete without sharing loads of food, sweets, and drinks (non-alcoholic or alcoholic). This way, we spend hours in each other’s company, eating, drinking, dancing, having a good time. But it is rare that we would exchange gifts. If we do, it is usually given in a monetary form, such as 20 rupees given discreetly by a grandmother or an aunt from under the folds of her sari. :) Those aunties can really store huge amounts of stuff in their bras – it really amazes me.

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Robin December 2, 2013 at 6:24 am

David, I love your posts! Thank you for this. I’ve not ever seen the feelings of Christmas (and the driving forces behind them) so eloquently described.

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Lena December 2, 2013 at 6:31 am

Great post as always, David
Try sourdough bread, no yeast. It’s the simplest, ‘cleanest’ bread, with just flour, water, salt. The process requires dedication and discipline. You’ll like it

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Marko Saric December 2, 2013 at 7:25 am

Great post David! I love your story about the blogging gift you gave yourself!

I’ve been thinking along the same lines as you recently. An example of a gift I gave my mom that is a gift that can contribute to personal growth and keep giving is a blog. I actually spoke to her and set up a blog for her. It worked very well and she is extremely happy and dedicated to it now.

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John December 2, 2013 at 7:31 am

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking/writing about this topic lately. I’ve come to the conclusion that our presence with people is far more valuable than a present we could give. Creating memories that last is what counts. As you said, its very hard to recall what I received for Christmas even a few years ago. Well done as usual!

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Cherry Odelberg December 2, 2013 at 7:59 am

I loved the way you put it: “Experiences of abundance are intoxicating and unforgettable, and we seek them everywhere in life..” – so true.
P.S. I learned to make sourdough bread from scratch one year and we survived on it – worthy goal – not to mention the feeling of abundance when you smell baking bread.

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Pri December 2, 2013 at 8:20 am

I come from a culture where gifting is traditional not huge during X’mas or other festivals — it’s a different matter that markets have managed to convince everyone that not buying = sinning. And personally, I do not quite like the idea of gifting — and took it upon myself to write people long personal letters, thus giving them a good part of my time and getting myself to really put to words why I think they are special. I think the idea of abhorring gifts came from the time when my mother would buy me a dress or something and our choices would just clash. We women no more buy anything for each other because we are worlds apart.
But I wish I was a bit like other people and was able to buy gifts. I find myself absolutely handicapped in thinking that gifts are useless — because people do expect gifts. When I returned to my native (3rd world) country after having spent 9months in USA, without a single gift or even a bar of chocolate since we get all of it here now, my mother proclaimed (and rightly so) that I could go down in history for not buying gifts for anyone.
But now I am dating a wonderful man from a country and culture where gifting over X’mas is huge. He is ditching being with his family over X’mas to spend time with me. And I really would like to gift him something but I really dunno what. Books I love are not necessarily his cup of tea — and has also been the case with other people too. What do gift someone? Something that is close to your own heart, or something that would make them squeal with joy?
Not everyone likes long love letters. Not everyone is a book nerd like I am. Not everyone understands my disdain for shopping. So, as much as your post makes sense, I actually hate it that I hate the idea of gifting :(

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Kenoryn December 5, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Then you need to give home-made gifts. :) Something they would enjoy, made with love by you. And if you don’t have the skills currently to make anything they would like, it’s an excellent opportunity to learn a new skill – win-win! This year I am learning woodturning to make my parents a pepper mill and salt shaker set, and learning lots about ‘rustic’ style woodworking to make my sister a barn board blanket chest. I probably have as much fun making these things as they do receiving them. :) And I think the good feelings last longer with homemade things. As I type this I am curled up with the crocheted wrap my mom made me for Christmas last year and it’s like being wrapped in that warm fuzzy Christmas feeling. ;)

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Claudia December 2, 2013 at 9:30 am

As for bread, try using almond flour instead. Baking in general is tastier, lighter and much healthier. Here is a great website – http://www.elanaspantry.com/simple-bread/
Good luck and thank you again for giving yourself that blogging course few years back. As it turns out, it has helped to change not only your life’s perspective but also your readers and I’m no exception.
Long time fan and first time commenting.

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Trish Scott December 2, 2013 at 10:54 am

Sharing on FB and Twitter.

I have personally never been rich enough to buy Christmas gifts or to gamble. I just can’t use my limited financial resources that way. If I am spending the day with someone I find a token gift, under say $5.00 per person, for them to open and play with for one or two minutes then discard. I usually don’t give anything at all if not spending the actual day with anyone. My children and best friends have always understood my gift giving strategy and I leave my grandchildren to sort that out in their heads as they choose.

I do, though, have one favorite go to gift idea that I share on my blog every year. I hope you David, and your readers will check it out. Thanks.

http://www.trishascott.com/tis-the-season-2/

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Kenoryn December 5, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Of course there is no reason gifts have to cost money… Rather than a token gift that would be discarded maybe it is better to give people something meaningful like the poster above who gave letters to people telling them how much they mean to them, or gifts of time, like a certificate to clean someone’s house for them, or make them a fancy dinner, or for a loaf of fresh home-made bread the first Saturday of every month for a year, or a collection of favourite family recipes compiled in a notebook, or a collection of veggie seeds saved from your garden with an offer of help planting them in spring.

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Ton Bil December 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Your gift idea is generous as can be, and totally worth taking a look at – thanks for suggesting it.

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Joel Zaslofsky December 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

The post has been shared on Facebook, Twitter, and G+. And I left myself a reminder to share it again after the new year to prompt people to adopt this mindset all year ’round.

At least I know I’ll be trying the David Cain approach to gifts more now.

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Mike December 2, 2013 at 2:02 pm

For breadmaking, I’d recommend Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. There are a lot of different styles to try, and the method they introduce for making the dough is very easy and tasty at the same time. My son loves that I can make a baguette for everyone for breakfast in the morning before I go to work.

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d.sylvester December 2, 2013 at 2:53 pm

I suspect The Man is not pleased with your yanking the curtain back on his profiteering machinery. You’re divulging valuable secrets – which emotion levers to pull in the “consumer”. The ones marked ‘indulgence’ or ‘short-term self-interest’ for example are particularly effective at steering the flow of money in the direction of those who hold these emotional values most dear.

Your article discloses that we are not just consumers, but traders. And we all have an emotion lever marked ‘compassion’. Pulling this lever, seeing money as the embodiment of compassion, we tend to trade in ways that benefit us all – not just the individual or a selfish few. Compassion, turns out, can’t be consumed, but only given freely, and The Man in us fears that lever.

Dave, I for one love the feelings of abundance I get from reading your posts – so much beautiful and enduring meaning wrapped up in understandable words. It’s a fabulous gift. The compassion you trade and your generosity – starting with the gifts you give yourself – is compounding indeed!

Happy holidays

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d.sylvester December 2, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Oops – I made the “Dave” mistake.

Sorry David!

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Jeremy @ Go Curry Cracker! December 2, 2013 at 3:17 pm

This post brought a tear to my eye. It beautifully and elegantly states how I have felt and acted for years at the time of Christmas. I think this could be the most beautiful post you have written

On to the bread: My wife makes bread regularly. Today we are eating Rosemary bread, and it took 5 minutes to make and cost about $0.05.

The book “Artisan Bread in 5 minutes” delivers the titled promise, and the basic recipe is available for free on YouTube
http://youtu.be/JFJZPm-_2-M
(this is the base for the Rosemary Bread we ate today)

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mariavlong December 2, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Sorry but Eff Christmas. There is no more contrived, stressful, passive aggressive way to fuel the economy than this misplaced holiday. A while ago friend of mine once heard one of her college teachers say during a lecture that the U.S. economy runs on guns and Christmas.Could not be more true.

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Kenoryn December 5, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Sad that people can’t find a way to enjoy the spirit of the season without the commercial aspect. Christmas is a time to do nice things for people you love, and there’s no reason that has to have anything to do with buying things.

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Rebecca December 2, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Thank you David for such a timely post. It’s a wonderful reminder. I too make my own bread – I like Brother Juniper’s Bread Book – excellent simple receipes and he does a wonderful job explaining the process and the science in layman’s terms. Veronique has it right – best bread – Flour, water, yeast and salt!

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Chris December 2, 2013 at 6:59 pm

David,
Your new full time job is yielding very well thought out and insightful readings. Keep up the terrific output of your inner thoughts and thank-you for the early gift of a good read :) I enjoyed the topic as we are now only 2 weeks away from moving to Vancouver Island and will be spending Christmas alone with no extended family, just my wife and 2 children. We have spoke about it being a simple time together with no emphasis on gifts and we are all excited to focus on our time together while escaping the regular holiday routine. Have a terrific night and stay warm as I assume the clutches of winter have fallen upon Winnipeg.

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Marie December 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm

What a wonderful post. During my childhood overseas Christmas was a quiet day to spend with family. Adults did not exchange presents. Gifts for children could not be larger than what would fit in a pair of the child’s shoes. Imagine my dismay when I moved to the US to witness debt-fueled buying frenzies, mountains of unnecessary stuff, and yes all that wrapping paper. Some teenagers are now starting a new tradition: brave the crowds at the mall on Thanksgiving night in search of Black Thursday sales. Very sad.

I like your idea of self-gifting and lasting abundance. One of my favorite ways to take a break is to attend all-day mindfulness/meditation workshops. I think I will treat myself to one soon.

In terms of bread, I haven’t tried it but many people swear by the no-knead recipe in the New York Times. The recipe and video are online. Apparently it’s very simple. Best wishes to you.

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BeatTheSeasons December 3, 2013 at 5:50 am

Good luck with the breadmaking. My OH has been doing this for a while now and it’s brilliant. Recently I ate my first shop bought loaf for about a year and I couldn’t believe how disgusting it was, even though I bought an expensive one. How quickly one’s tastes change! She uses the book “How to Make Bread” by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou and there are no machines involved. In fact there’s not even any kneading required if leave the dough for long enough. She also has various pots of starter lurking in the kitchen.

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David Cain December 5, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Yes, who things happened this week that got me wanting to make my own bread. The guy in front of me at the checkout bought two loaves of rye bread and it came to 9 dollars (!!) and then later on I ate some of the two-dollar loaf I bought and it was totally gross.

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R.J. Hill December 3, 2013 at 8:37 am

Thank you for articulating what I’ve felt for a while now. This post has me more excited about the holidaze than I have been for some time! Have a great season!

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Josh December 3, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve always had an internal twinge every year when the holiday shopping begins. I know gifts given will only supply momentary joy, and eventually end up on a shelf somewhere collecting dust. This year I’m making a push towards gifts that give lasting joy.

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Meg December 3, 2013 at 4:39 pm

A lovely post, one after my own heart. This will be our third holiday without shopping for gifts, and it’s worked out well. I don’t miss the creepy, futile feeling of buying something for someone who I know buys everything they actually need and want in the first place. Much better to just focus on having a good time.

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Val December 3, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Really good, thought-provoking post. May I make a suggestion (as a reader for years?): take off the facebook suggestion at the end. If people feel led to share your stuff, they will.

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David Cain December 3, 2013 at 10:55 pm

With respect, no. You are welcome to do what you like on your blog.

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Nathan December 5, 2013 at 2:50 pm

That’s right David!

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Pura Vida Nick December 5, 2013 at 3:28 pm

If I can’t convince my family to do your mom’s great book sharing Christmas gift idea, and if we won’t stop doing presents all together, maybe at the very least, I can ask for “the gift of abundance” from one of my family who “must” buy me something. A good example would be asking for Chris Guillebeau’s course or some other self improving thing, that pays interest in terms of personal growth.

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Val December 5, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Hey David,
I don’t have a blog. In fact, yours and one other (Free Range Kids) are the only blogs that I read on the internet. And I didn’t mean any disrespect if you took it that way. Of course you do whatever you want on your blog. I think, however, that perhaps I didn’t explain myself well (or what my rationale was for my suggestion.)
The post was fantastic. Really. And I was thinking about sharing it on facebook as I was getting toward the end of the post… thinking “wow, this really needs to be heard…” And then I got to the last sentence, and you asked us to share. And, for some reason, it struck me like a chain letter, and I had the same reaction that I have to chain letters, which is absolutely NOT to forward.
Don’t know if that makes sense to you or whether you care, but thought a little more detail might help you understand my thought process.

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David Cain December 5, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Hi Val. I apologize for being cranky. I saw your comment at the end of a difficult day and it set something off in me. All bloggers deal with a certain amount of criticism, but one thing I have trouble with is when people tell me how to write or how to operate my website. I don’t think my reaction was unusual but it certainly wasn’t very kind either. I’m sorry.

I hate chain letters too, or any social media status that says something like “Please copy and paste this if you love your kids!” or whatever such crap. I wasn’t doing that and I’m sorry you had that reaction. I wanted the idea to influence a few more Christmases than it would have otherwise. Bloggers ask people to share their work all the time, and I do it only occasionally, because it sometimes doesn’t occur to people to do so. The odd person will have a negative reaction to pretty much anything I do, and that’s unavoidable.

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Val December 5, 2013 at 8:58 pm

All is well. I appreciate your sincerity. Always have. :)

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Dustbuster December 6, 2013 at 3:33 pm

This post is pretty much why I don’t like receiving gifts and prefer to ask for money. I feel guilty about this, but I hate receiving gifts because I often don’t use them and then they make clutter, and then I feel guilty for resenting the gift/not using it. Especially if it’s just an ornament — what use is there for something that just sits there and looks pretty? If I chose it it’d be one thing, but usually a gift like that reflects the tastes of the giver, not my own. (I can’t tell you how many times, as a tomboy, I’ve received something pink and glittery from friends as presents.)

And that leaves me feeling like I’m being ungrateful.

When I receive gifts I prefer them to either be edible or currency of some sort. (I must be the only person in the world who actually prefers gift cards over a random present.) It drives my friends nuts because apparently I take the “magic” out of it by asking them directly what they want for Christmas instead of surprising them, but I don’t like surprises when it comes to gifts. (Not to mention I feel plain annoyed to sit there and have to guess at what somebody might want for Christmas, only for THEM to end up not using it!)

I prefer to use Christmas/birthdays to stock up on things I need, not things I might want.

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Katie December 12, 2013 at 4:02 pm

My immediate family has been gradually shifting our approach to gift giving over the past few years. We love christmas/birthday/other important occasion gift giving and receiving too much to abandon it. Wrapping gifts on christmas eve is one of the best parts of the whole christmas tradition, and you’re right, unwrapping gifts at 9am on christmas morning is probably the pinnacle of the whole Christmas experience, and one that none of my family has ever grown out of.

But we’re no longer giving luxuries, indulgences or pointless unwanted novelties to each other. Instead, we’re reverting to things we need or will have lasting value.

Books/educational courses of course, but other practicalities too. My best present last year was a bunker of coal. I loved it and thought of the givers every single time I lit the fire and warmed my home for months after Christmas. Other good presents recently exchanged have included: everyone in my family clubbing together to get me a washing machine (that actually worked properly as opposed to my previous one) when I became a new mum – again, I think of the givers with massive gratitude every time I do laundry. Windscreen wipers for my sister-in-law who hates doing anything car related – she really appreciated not having to get them herself. A vacuum cleaner as a joint engagement present rather than a ring with a rock on it.

Sure, some of these things are still expensive in financial terms, so we’re still ‘consumers’ through and through and splashing our cash around. But none of these things are glamorous, and I suppose a lot of people would be bitterly disappointed if they got these sorts of things for Christmas instead of glossy luxuries (really, a packet of windscreen wipers in your christmas stocking?!) But we’re finding we really appreciate these sorts of gifts more than anything more frivolous that we might have got in past years, and they seem to have a more lasting and positive impact on our lives, our relationships, and our emotions.

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Jay December 21, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Excellent article. In the last few years of my life I have came to the realization that most sought over materialistic goods do not ever provide their owner with true happiness. The short fleeting experience of joy accompanied with receiving such goods always seemed to me as a waste of money. The cost/benefit/investment perspective you described is such a smart, logical way to analyze our purchases and gifts. I always hated receiving gifts because I’m nitpicky and also felt obligated to reciprocate which goes against my anti-consumerism mindset. I was guilty for hating this aspect of xmas until I read your enlightening article. I no longer feel guilty. ***Jay yells out in best soup nazi impersonation: “NO GIFTS FOR YOU!!”***

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Suzanne January 28, 2014 at 12:50 pm

I wonder why you do not choose to have links (like the one to the man who taught you to blog) open in another window. I always like to link to your examples, but I am usually not ready to leave your site. So then I have to keep hitting the back button to come back, or try to remember where all the links were when I have finished the article. Seems there should be a way to “open link in a new window.” Just my vote…thanks for all the great content and ideas!!

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David Cain January 28, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Hi Suzanne. There is a way. In almost any browser you can RIGHT CLICK on any link and choose to open it in another window.

I used to force links to open in another window, but many people don’t like that, so I leave it up to the user.

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Tarra January 30, 2014 at 9:49 am

I really like this article. One thing my family tries to do is give gifts that will help a person over the course of a year. For example, I have a long commute on public transportation and asked for gifts to help keep me warm. I got gloves, a hat, a scarf, and warm pants – and I use them and am thankful for them every morning at the bus stop.

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David Cain January 31, 2014 at 10:07 am

What a heart-warming idea. Thanks Tarra.

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