Melissa Nazario

Melissa Nazario

I don’t know when it happened, but somehow in my adult life, I became a full-blown Scrooge. Maybe it was when Christmas music and decor started creeping into stores earlier, right after Halloween. Or maybe it was after feeling bombarded by the onslaught of holiday marketing, vying for precious holiday shopping dollars with “killer sales,” and causing people who just celebrated a holiday of giving thanks to camp outside big box stores all night and practically (sometimes literally) trample others for that $99 gadget. Fortunately, we don’t see that sort of shopping mania in Okinawa.

There’s an Ikea video in Spanish that has gone viral, called “The Other Letter.” In it, children are told to write a letter to the Three Kings, the equivalent of Santa, for what they’d like to receive for Christmas. Their answers are typical: a game, a Wii, a guitar, even a unicorn. Unexpectedly, they’re told to write another letter, this time telling their parents what they want for Christmas. The children struggle. Then, the video fast forwards to the parents reading aloud what the children have asked for. It’s not toys, or a unicorn: it’s simply that the parents spend more time with them, that they eat dinner together more, play soccer, or be tickled or read to.

And that’s really what tends to get forgotten, isn’t it, especially during the mad rush of holiday season chaos? What we really want from each other can’t be bought at a store; that’s a myth the retail industry wants us to believe, and we haven’t even discussed the environmental costs of that unbridled consumerism. Even more valuable than the biggest-ticket item on your holiday list is this: your time.

So what does “quality time” actually look like as a gift? How might you give that to yourself and others? Can you even wrap that? Here are some ideas:

For children: Remember that kids just want to spend time with you, and they can tell when you’re distracted by your smartphone or the TV, so be aware and present with them. They truly would appreciate a special playdate with you, a jar full of cookie ingredients that you make together, or a new chapter book that you can read to them each night. Even if you’re on a tight budget, you could wrap library books — what matters is reading them together.

For friends: Similarly, friends want to feel connected, and that you’re there for them. You could surprise them with a special lunch date at a new restaurant they haven’t tried or a “voucher” to teach them some skill you have. You’d be surprised how much you know that others would love to learn, whether it’s budgeting and personal finance, learning a new technology, crafting, cooking, couponing, home decor, or gardening.

For yourself: If you’re too busy working on your to-do list to take care of yourself, you won’t be able to really enjoy the time you do have with friends and family. Don’t forget to take a break and do some self-care if you’re feeling frazzled. Try to focus on the few things that are truly necessary for you to do each day, and then schedule in activities that will help you relax, whether that’s a bath, a nap, or a walk.