By Josh Duckwitz
While leaving a Wawa recently, I glanced at the gift-card rack. I had never noticed just how many different vendors' gift cards were available at Wawa. I jokingly said to myself that one could get all his Christmas shopping done in under 10 minutes by purchasing any of the dozen gift cards available. Then I thought that there probably are a number of people who do this very thing.
For those who feel they are too busy to be "bothered" with shopping for loved ones, the idea that a quick stop to a local Wawa (or a supermarket or bookstore selling gift cards) can eliminate this bother is appealing.
Gift cards are not a new phenomenon, but seeing these cards made me worry that we are moving too far away from the point of gift-giving. It made me wonder, at my cynical best, why some bother anymore.
I no longer get that child-like excitement that I once did when thinking about Christmas. No longer do I dream throughout the month of December about the size and weight of the packages that would be waiting for me on Christmas morning.
I am self-sustaining and reaching 30; if I need or want something, I buy it. I no longer rely on Christmas to deliver me toys or whatever else it may be, simply because I can afford those things myself. The excitement is not in the getting but rather in the giving. It's the feeling you get when you find someone you care about that one gift that you know they will love. The gift you know will get a big reaction.
When you find that special present, you are letting that person know that you have spent time thinking about him or her. It lets him or her know that he or she is in your thoughts when not in your presence. It lets people know you care.
When I receive a gift card, I am grateful, yes, but also disappointed. Even if the card is for a store I would like to buy something at, I still feel as though the person either didn't want to take the time to pick something out for me, or doesn't know me well enough to know what I would want. I would much rather receive a book that I might not read than a gift card for $25 to the book store. The book reveals actual thought. When I receive a gift card, I feel sad that in the past year, that person and I have spent so little time getting to know each other better that all they could think of to buy for me is a card that lets me buy what I want.
I concede that the idea behind gift cards is a good one. We have all received gifts that because we didn't like them, or they didn't fit, or for whatever reason we were forced to return. Maybe the buyer of the gift card is trying to avoid giving the recipient a trip to crowded malls to return something he or she doesn't like.
I believe, though, that gift cards are becoming the norm because we are spending less time making real connections with each other. We are more connected to our inanimate objects than to those we care about. We are buying gift cards to allow those we love to buy what they want because we honestly don't know what they want.
I have fond memories of Christmases past of everyone sitting around admiring and displaying their gifts. Of heartfelt thank-yous. These memories are being replaced by visions of envelopes at my feet and thoughts of what I can buy for myself, and I don't like it. Christmas should be a time when we think about others. I despise this new norm, that on Christmas I am forced to wonder what I will buy for myself with all these gift cards I now have.
So, call it a New Year's resolution if you want, if you have bought those you love gift cards this year, try to spend next year getting to know those you love a little better. This time next year you can join me in being excited to see their reaction when they open the gifts you've bought and know how much you care.