• Allan Shedlin

Give Them Presence for the Holidays...and Then Some

By Allan Shedlin

Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group

PHOTO: AdobeStock

A version of this post was originally published and distributed worldwide by The New York Times/Hearst News Service, November 22, 2006.

This is the time of year when I wish my ad-laden newspaper and daily junk mail came with a hand truck so my back won’t go out as I haul it inside. And when I wish the deluge of uninvited social media invaders and broadcast hawkers would cease and desist. Halloween, Election Day, Veterans’ Day, and Thanksgiving are now behind us, and Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa, impatiently awaiting their turns, are ready to intensify the materialistic hype. How I long for it to ebb.

As retailers jockey for advantage and social media goes into overdrive, the flurry of gift-buying advertisements and websites builds to a blizzard earlier and earlier and comes at us from every conceivable (and inconceivable) angle – cold consumerism fills our television screens, and all the other screens new technology afflicts. With the retail giants now displaying Christmas decorations and other items in early September, and mail-order and internet catalogs pushed on us as early as Labor Day, the days without holiday frenzy seem to be outnumbered by those with it. (Thankfully, some "big box" retailers finally decided to close on Thanksgiving Day, enabling their overworked and underpaid employees to enjoy the holiday with their families.)

This annual commercial blitz makes it harder to think about the unique opportunities the holidays provide for deeper meaning. I’ve spent years asking scores of people to tell me what they remember about their childhood holiday celebrations. Not a single person began with a memory of a specific gift they received. Instead, they spoke about traditions, tastes, smells, sights, places, visitors, and, most of all, about feelings. Their responses reminded me of a saying I read on a refrigerator magnet a few years back: “The most important things in life are not things.”

So, a few years back I established a new tradition of giving holiday presence, rather than presents.

Winter holiday celebrations are times of unique anticipation and intensity – veritable “Kodak moments” of the heart and soul. They account for an inordinate number of deposits in our memory banks at the same time as they are hyped by retailers in direct proportion to the contribution they make to end-of-year profits. The media sales pitches demand we find just the right presents, especially for the children on our lists. But as we consider our own holiday memory banks, the yield is more of presence than presents; and there is little doubt that the dividends are much greater.