(Re)Branding the Tradition of Gift-Giving: Combatting the Corruption of Materialism This Holiday Season

by The Cowl Editor on December 5, 2019


Gift giving is a classic holiday tradition, but it can be the source of stress for many people, especially college students. Photo courtesy of Pxfuel.

by Alyssa Cohen ’21

Opinion Staff

Each December, the stress of holiday shopping has become a commonplace complaint amongst Americans—particularly to college students who often lack the extraneous funds and the time necessary to establish holiday shopping as a priority. 

According to a Healthline survey, upwards of 60 percent of Americans experience elevated stress levels during the holidays. Those who completed the survey identified the financial and social pressure of holiday shopping as the most significant catalyst for their increased internal tension. 

The tradition of the gift exchange is perpetuated each year with the intention of engendering a fun opportunity for families and friends to reunite and demonstrate their appreciation for one another. However, this tradition has degenerated into another chore within the hectic American schedule.

Consequently, corporate America capitalizes on the innumerable thoughtless purchases of Christmas gifts from Amazon or local malls. People feel obligated to buy costly gifts for as many people on their list as possible within a restricted time span. 

These purchases, though well-intentioned, enable the chore of holiday shopping to become entirely materialized, diminishing the inherent virtue and value of the tradition of gift-giving. 

The commercializaton of the holiday season has incited a skewed social perception of name-brands and municipal value as the most critical qualification to consider when identifying an appropriate holiday gift. This societal conflation of the cost and quality of a gift has irrefutably influenced the financial stress surrounding the holiday shopping process and devaluation of the gift-giving tradition altogether.   

In order to combat the commercialization of of the holiday season, society must redefine its qualifications for an appropriate holiday gift as something demonstrative of the interests, values, or needs of the recipient rather than merely as something that costs a lot of money. 

Regardless of the price of a gift, if the present is impersonal to the recipient, it will likely seem useless or meaningless to them and by default, the purchase of the gift proves a waste of money and time for the giver. 

That being said, finding a “thoughtful” or “personalized” gift does not necessarily mean embarking on a quest for the most creative and meaningful item that the recipient never even realized they always wanted. One could instead get crafty or think practically.

In many cases, a letter to someone on your gift list explaining your appreciation or adoration for them or a framed photograph of loved ones may prove exceedingly more meaningful than any store-bought item. Also, if a holiday shopper is deciding what to purchase for a gift they should consider what items the recipient will actually use through the consideration of their likes and interests, the stores and restaurants at which they regularly shop or eat, as well as their potential work, school, or domestic needs. 

Gift-giving should also transcend materialism in the sense that presents do not have to be tangible. A plan to catch up over lunch or to attend a day trip, concert, play or sporting event with someone can also serve as a meaningful present. After all, the holiday season should be about reuniting with family and friends, appreciating the presence of loved ones within your life, and making memories.

 In turn, society must not enable name brands and pricey electronics to hijack the inherent virtue and purpose of the holiday season. Instead, we should refocus our energies on enjoying the present moment and taking a hiatus from the otherwise relentless chaos of the year—especially as college students. This holiday season, we should be sure to appreciate the people in our lives who make each day a bit more manageable and inspire us to persevere through the mayhem of the quotidian.