Give Your Presence, Not Your Presents
By Brigit Atkin
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
Several years ago, I decided to break with tradition by taking our kids on a cruise during the holidays rather than celebrating our traditional Christmas with extended family. Our kids were all for it, and I reserved the booking online. However, as Christmas approached and our children realized there would be no gatherings with family, they emphatically changed their minds. They decided the holidays wouldn’t be right without eating Christmas Eve dinner at our house, visiting with grandparents on Christmas Day, and attending the Atkin Christmas party between Christmas and New Years Day. Luckily, I was able to cancel the cruise without a problem, and our festivities went on without a blip.
What would make teenagers turn down a Caribbean vacation on a ship that would have its own lively Christmas celebration? Pondering this question made me realize that it was the importance of family connections, especially during this time of year.
In thinking about traditions that connect us as humans, the following are some of the things that come to mind: food, presents, music, dancing, storytelling, playing games, and visiting. One of the magical things that happens when we gather around the Thanksgiving table or the Christmas tree (or at other cultural or religious holiday celebrations) is that we put our phones aside and engage with each other. We make food and treats together, and sometimes we pray together. In exchanging gifts, we think about someone other than ourselves, focusing on what would be loved or needed by the one receiving our offering. We forget about the cares of the world as we interact with those we love.
In connecting with your family this season, never underestimate the importance of your presence—not just the presents. To be present is to be aware. It’s to live in the moment and to savor the precious sights, sounds, and feelings that accompany the interactions with those we love. When you give your presence, you give the gift of you. You give someone your full attention, notice their expressions, or sincerely compliment them about something you appreciate about them. You listen to them and love them just as they are.
This is a magical time of year, a time of lights, music, laughter, family, and friends. See if you can’t make it a little less stressful and a whole lot more meaningful by fully connecting with those you love. Gift them with your presence. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to make the holidays memorable. You don’t have to go on vacation to make Christmas fun. Maybe one of these years we will take that Christmas cruise, but for now, I’m content with our family traditions and the connections we are making.