Presence Over Presents

December 27, 2013

by Kim Childs, CPPC

In recent years, I’ve become a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to holiday gifts. It’s not that I don’t want to give to the people I love, I just dislike the shopping frenzy and the enforced buying of things that they may not even like.

Lately, I’ve been trying something else: If I don’t find a truly meaningful or spot on present for someone, I give them my presence. I offer brunch, lunch, movie, and other kinds of dates to familyhands holding a gift members and friends at birthdays and holidays, inviting them to cash in when it suits them. So far, it’s been a lot more fun and memorable.

A plan like this might fall short when it comes to kids, who look forward to creating passionate wish lists and unwrapping packages every December, but maybe it’s still worth trying. After all, I can only remember a handful of the gifts that I received as a child, while one of my best holiday memories has nothing to do with presents.

When I was eight years old, my father moved our family from New Jersey to Cape Cod, to start his own business in the place where he’d grown up. Initially, my brothers and I were unhappy about the move because it took us away from our friends and schools. The relocation was especially hard on my mom, as it placed her hours away from her mother and sisters for the first time in her life, during a difficult time in our family.

Once landed in Massachusetts, my brothers and I occupied ourselves with new friends, schoolwork, and cousins that we’d never met. Mom had a harder time, having no school or neighborhood games to facilitate social connection. On top of that, we were short on funds while my dad worked to launch his business. As fall approached winter and money remained elusive, gifts were not in the budget and Mom’s spirits grew as grey as the skies.

Not helping anything was the fact that most of our Christmas tree ornaments had broken during the move that year.  While that could have been the last straw, it led to a magical memory.

One mild day in early December, I came home from school to find my mother in the backyard, assembling an impromptu crafts station on the picnic table. “We lost our Christmas ornaments,” she proclaimed, “so we’re going to make our own this year.”

Mom had spray paint, sequins, and glitter all ready to adorn the unlikeliest of decorations: soup can lids. She’d spent the morning removing the lids, and waited for us kids to arrive before cutting them with tin snips into stars, bells, angels, and trees.

My brothers and I got to choose our shapes and decorate them as we laughed, sang carols, told tales about our teachers and classmates, and basked in Mom’s renewed cheer. That December afternoon at the picnic table was more memorable than most Christmas mornings.

To this day, my brothers and I speak fondly of our “tin can Christmas” as we point out the few surviving ornaments on our parents’ tree. Primitive, yet crafted with love and hope, they are more precious than some of the shiny new ones.

I recall that ornament-making party as a glowing example of my mother’s creativity, resilience, and ability to bring love and light to our days no matter how dark her own were. Struggling with three kids, persistent migraines, various part-time jobs, and a business to co-manage, Mom didn’t have much space to explore her passions during my childhood.

But she was usually up for fun, and she could turn soup cans into angels and stars.

As a student of Positive Psychology, I learned that money spent on experiences tends to make people happier than money spent on things. That’s because trips and adventures can create memories that last a lot longer than items found at the mall. Special times, especially when shared with people we love, can yield a lot more of what my teacher, Tal Ben-Shahar, calls “the ultimate currency”—namely, happiness.

That’s why I choose presence over presents whenever it feels right. It’s much more fun than shopping, it removes a layer of “to dos” and it leaves me less stressed, more fun to be around, and feeling more connected to those I love.

And isn’t that really what the holidays are all about?

Kim Childs, CPPC, is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, Creativity, and Midlife Transitions. Click here to learn more and schedule an initial consultation.


  • Nicole Stottlemyer

    You words are as easy to read as your voice (on the homepage) is to listen to. You melted my heart with this story and reminded me of the power of presence! I send lots of love to you darling! Send some of your magnificent writing skills in return! 🙂

  • Kim Childs

    Thanks for that lovely appreciation, Nicole! I’m working on being more present in 2014. Sending love right back at ya!

  • Laighne

    Kim, as usual, your message is so eloquently stated! And I miss your presence and look forward to connecting when you are in western MA.

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