From The Heart, Holidays

The Gift of Presence Over Presents

family putting up a Christmas tree together

There’s just something magical about the holidays: the soft twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, the sweet sound of carols being sung by a choir, the mouth-watering aroma of freshly baked cookies filling your home, and, of course, the beautifully wrapped gifts covered in ribbons and bows!

I can still vividly recall one Christmas from my childhood when my mother painstakingly wrote my name on each package in Elmer’s glue and then meticulously dusted each cursive letter with silver and gold glitter. An impressive feat for any parent to accomplish, but even more remarkable when you consider that my mom was a single mother working nights in order to provide for the two of us.

To this day, receiving a gift from my mother is always a thing of beauty.

As I reminisce upon the great care my mother poured into wrapping and decorating each gift, I can say with complete certainty that I do not remember a single item that I received that Christmas. Were there dolls. . .books. . .clothes? Perhaps. Truthfully, it wasn’t the gifts that I remember at all. What I remember was sitting in our tiny kitchen at our second-hand table watching my overworked mother make “Christmas magic” right before my eyes (out of little more than glitter and glue).

It was her desire to make the holidays beautiful and memorable that I have held onto for all of these years.

The holidays are a time of celebration and gift-giving, and it can be easy to get swept up in the consumerist frenzy of buying presents for our loved ones. But this year, let’s challenge each other to try something different. Instead of focusing on material goods, let’s gift our presence—our undivided time, our full attention, and our love—to our friends and family.

While this sounds like a lovely and worthwhile cause, I realize that it is much easier said than done during such a hectic season. So, here is my holiday gift to you in the form of a few simple suggestions:

Putting ‘Presence’ Into Practice:

1. Put your phone down.  No, REALLY. Set it aside and spend some time truly focusing on those you love most. The first step in creating a family tradition that everyone will love is sitting down and spending a little time brainstorming ideas together. In order to know what your family will enjoy most, you need to be fully present and listen intently during your discussion. This means cell phones and screens are off-limits.

2. Create a holiday tradition together. Start by spending quality time talking about what Christmas means to each of you as a family. Whether it’s making hot cocoa around the fire, decorating cookies, making ornaments, or watching classic holiday movies, choose activities that allow time for meaningful conversations about the season of giving.

3. Spend a day volunteering for an organization that helps those less fortunate. Whether it’s a day spent singing Christmas carols and ringing bells for the Salvation Army or an afternoon spent shopping to fill up shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, giving back to others creates meaningful memories that your kids will cherish for years to come.

4. Make a list of all the things you’re thankful for this year. Turn this into a simple game to make it even more fun! After each person shares their gratitude, have everyone write it down on a piece of paper and hang it up somewhere in your home on a garland or festive banner.

5. Go on a “family adventure” day (or night) together. Traveling is one way to create memories that will last lifetimes (and the travel doesn’t need to be far or costly). Instead, plan an outing closer to home such as visiting a local theater for a Christmas program or going ice-skating at the local pond. Make it an evening event by loading everyone up in the car to drive local neighborhoods in search of the best Christmas light displays.

Bonus: bring along hot cocoa and your favorite Christmas playlist!

6. If you’re finding it extra difficult to escape consumerism and feel that you must give a gift, consider giving a gift of your time, service, or adventure. Rather than spending money on items, consider gifting free childcare (time) to the couple that never gets a night out alone or delivering a hot,  home-cooked meal (service) to a single, hard-working mom.  Giving your kids acting, singing, or skiing lessons (adventure) makes for a gift that truly keeps on giving throughout the year.

7. Finally, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or any other holiday that your family holds near to your heart, remember the reason for the season and be sure to incorporate activities that center around those beliefs. During Hanukkah, light the candles every night, even if you’re busy. Then spend a little time sharing stories around the menorah discussing the meaning of its light as a family. If you celebrate Christmas, consider attending a live nativity or set aside time as a family to read the Christmas story from the book of Matthew or Luke.

Remember That It’s About Presence Over Presents

When we stop and take time to recall our most memorable and meaningful holidays, the majority of us would agree that they have very little to do with the “things” we received, and everything to do with the people surrounding us and how those people made us feel in that moment.

Material items are quickly forgotten, but the traditions and special occasions we share over the years have the ability to live on forever in our hearts and minds. By being truly present with those who matter most to us this holiday season, we can cultivate a sense of mindfulness and gratitude that is often lost amidst the stress and distractions of the season.

So this year, let’s put our phones down, close our laptops, give our bank accounts and credit cards a break, and share something truly priceless with those we love most: our authentic presence. By doing so, we may just find that it is the best way to savor all the joys of the holidays.

Featured Image Credit: Jonathan Borba
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I am a mother of two and a former elementary teacher turned aspiring author and freelance writer. When I'm not dropping my daughter off at volleyball or taking my son to Tae Kwon Do, I enjoy working on my memoir and writing for other publications on a variety of topics. I loves Jesus and all of His children, detest cold weather, drink copious amounts of coffee, and enjoy traveling anywhere sunny and tropical. You can check out some of my writing and my blog at Email: