Opinion & Editorial

The best holiday gifts are often not found in stores

Growing up, I fondly remember receiving the Sears Great American Wish Book in the mail. Maybe some of you do, too.

The glossy catalog came in the autumn and was filled with everything a kid (or adult) could want for the holidays.

I remember one winter when I was around 8 or 9, a particular item caught my eye: a pirate ship, complete with crew, paper sails, cannons, and treasure. The way Sears laid out the image of the boat – floating near a palm tree-laden island awash in aqua-blue waters – only enhanced my desire to captain it.

At the time, I wanted it more than I had ever wanted anything.

And so I lobbied my parents and wrote Santa, making it my singular mission to get that ship. And when Christmas morning came, I still remember the joy of tearing off the paper and the note from Santa and seeing that pirate ship box in all its glory. 

I still recall the smell of new plastic and the way the little plastic cannonballs felt in my fingers as I loaded them into the little plastic cannons and fought with imagery enemies.

It was pure joy that seemed would never recede.

That is, until a few months later when that joy was slowly replaced with disinterest, and the ship sat on my shelf and collected dust. Soon, another Sears Wish Book would come, and the material consumption process would start anew.

Aside from that pirate ship (which I’ve since passed on to my daughter!) and a handful of other gifts, I don’t remember the presents I received for Christmas. I certainly don’t remember receiving many gifts that provided long-term joy.

What I remember, though, are the holidays spent tossing the football around with my brother Tim, reading “The Night Before Christmas” with my dad, or having a fondue party with friends to celebrate my daughter’s first Christmas in Springfield.

Experiences. People. Presence. Without trying to sound corny, those are the gifts that still mean so much. 

I’m not saying you should (or can) avoid the proverbial “pirate ships” when gift-giving. As I’m sure you fellow parents know, kids – conditioned by capitalism – sometimes won’t let you. 

Instead, I encourage you to slow down and consider if those gifts will genuinely give the receiver lasting joy beyond a few imaginary treasure hunts in the South Pacific. And if you make the purchase, reimagine how you might acquire those gifts (see: thrift stores, Facebook Marketplace, etc.) 

Seek to provide a real treasure: memories that last. 

Daniel Hiestand is the outreach coordinator for Lane County Waste Reduction and monthly columnist for The Chronicle.



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