NOTE: I recognize that Christmas is based on a Christian holiday and therefore not Radically Inclusive. However, in this rant I am speaking to the non-religious traditions, iconography and marketing that are a deeply pervasive part of United States culture.
You would think that Burning Man, with it’s Gifting Principle, would have enhanced my appreciation of Christmas.
In fact, did you know that the very first theme camp was Christmas-based? Complete with a tree, Santa, and a staged family blowup fight.
But this year, I found myself struggling to embrace the Christmas season more than ever. Specifically the Gifting aspect.
I would be cruising through a store, see some item and think, “I could give that to my sister in law.”
I didn’t think, “my sister in law would love that!” I was only interested in fulfilling my gifting obligation.
And if it is an obligation, it ain’t no gift!
I’m not even sure we should call it a “Holiday gift Exchange.” If you are required to exchange items. That is a transaction. That is barter. Maybe we should call it, “Holiday Barter”?
But all that focus on consumerism at holiday time is not the fault of Burning Man.
How Burning Man ruined Xmas for me was in the deeper understanding of Gifting.
Gifting isn’t about giving someone a thing. It is about adding to their life in some way.
It is fine to give a plastic bracelet. That is like Gifting training wheels. It is a gesture saying, “I am giving you a gift!”
But the true magic of gifting comes when you start to see gifting as the act of elevating someone’s experience. Now, that can be done by giving them a thing…in fact I know many people who have a near-mystical ability to find gifts that are immensely personal and thoughtful. But Burning Man has taught me that the deepest expressions of Gifting are when we use our talents, time, and attention to help someone. Or connect deeper with them.
Plus, I have been inspired by so many amazing eco-conscious Burners that I now feel twinges of guilt when I buy frivolous plastic stuff.
This year, as the 25th approached. I was less prepared for our family gift exchange than I have ever been. When the Amazon Prime 2-day delivery deadline passed, I knew I was screwed.
But I remembered my Grandpa. And how he used to donate to Heifer.org on behalf of his grandkids. He would buy goats or chickens for impoverished communities around the world in our name.
So I bought a cow.
And then when my nephew opened up the package that had the explanation printout inside, I announced that in-addition to the donation on our behalf, I wanted to share a meal with each of them over the next year. Hopefully I can get to know them good enough that I can think of the perfect gift next Christmas.