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The Gift Of Gratitude : Being A Gracious Recipient
Published Nov. 21, 2012
by Leah Carey
“Here’s my gift for you, Grandma. I hope you like it!” said the 11 year old with a mixture of glee at his own ingenuity and trepidation that she might not love it.
A while back I spent Christmas with a family that exchanged a mountain of gifts — quite literally, there was a mountain of gifts stacked in the corner of the room. Coming from a family that doesn’t do a lot of gift giving, this was pure culture shock for me. But the number of gifts they purchased for each other was only the beginning of my surprise.
What astounded me that day — and has lodged itself in my memory forever — is the way that this family received those gifts.
My own childhood experience at the holidays had been of much hoopla and gratitude around the opening of gifts. Even when my mother opened that not-quite-sure-what-it-is wooden thing that I made in shop class, she oohed and aahed as if I’d constructed the Eiffel Tower (and, if I remember correctly, she still has it in her house 25 years later). And when my father opened the braided friendship bracelet I’d gotten for him, he put it on without a peep about what an odd choice it was for a grown man.
My gifts got better as I got older, but my parents never once let on in the moment that it wasn’t exactly what they had been hoping for.
This is what I anticipated; isn’t that how all families act around gifts? Don’t they say thank you and express delight because “it’s the thought that counts” … even if the physical manifestation is dreadful?
Apparently not so.
This family’s holiday was my introduction to the anti-celebratory Christmas. Despite the sheer magnitude of gifts, there was hardly a “thank you” amongst them.
In fact, the tone was set by Grandma, the matriarch, whose response to almost every gift was, “You shouldn’t have gotten me this.” The other frequent response was, “Why did you get me this, I haven’t even used what you got me last year yet!” Whether it was because it cost too much money or simply wasn’t to her liking, there wasn’t a thing in that pile that passed muster.
When she handed wrapped gifts to others, they were presaged with, “It’s a (fill in the blank) and you probably won’t like it.”
I wasn’t sure how to act. Should I express my true gratitude — even though I wasn’t sure that would be appreciated — or should I blend in with the crowd? Ultimately I wasn’t comfortable fully doing either, so I fell into an awkward no-man’s-land of saying a soft “thank you” even though I didn’t think anyone would hear it.
It has been enough years that I can now look back at that day as a teaching moment.
That was the day I learned that gift giving is a two-way transaction, and the recipient is just as important as the giver. It is the recipient’s job to express gratitude that someone cared enough to want to give them something. When the recipient doesn’t do this — whether it’s because they don’t like it or they don’t feel they deserve the gift — it’s not a rejection of the gift, it’s a rejection of the person giving the gift.
That 11 year old offering the very first gift he had chosen all on his own can tell you — he wasn’t holding out a present, he was holding out a little bit of his heart.
This holiday season I humbly offer this advice: before you open each gift this year, take a moment to envision the giver (whether they are young or old) taking a piece of their heart and carefully gift wrapping it for you. When you respond, do so with that vision planted firmly in your mind.
Gratitude is the best gift you can give this holiday season!
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