The best Christmas gifts do not come from a store

Published 10:25 am Saturday, November 30, 2019

What’s the best gift you ever received? Whatever it was, it surely wasn’t a material item bought in a store.

An experience, rather than a material good, is the best gift to receive. That’s what University of Toronto professor Cindy Chan and University of California professor Cassie Mogilner discovered in a study they conducted in 2018.

“The reason experiential gifts are more socially connecting is that they tend to be more emotionally evocative,” Chan told PsychCentral. “An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it – like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa – and is more intensely emotional than a material possession.”

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What’s the best experiential gift you ever received? Whatever it was, it surely wasn’t something that someone bought for you.

Of all the Christmas mornings I’ve enjoyed and the many gifts I’ve been given, I can’t remember a single one of them – except the lime-green Huffy Spyder bike I got when I was 10.

But I vividly remember the wonderful experience of being a child in a big family with parents who put our needs ahead of theirs.

We’d sit around the Christmas tree, taking turns opening our presents, talking and laughing as our dog Jingles rolled around in the torn wrapping paper.

We’d enjoy a big breakfast that my Father made in his cast-iron skillet, talking and laughing more. Then he’d begin pleading with us to “get ready for church so we don’t end up standing in the aisles like we did last year.”

With five sisters and one shower — and the hours my sisters spent blow-drying their long Farah Fawcett hair – we’d be late for church and end up standing in the aisles like we did the prior year.

These are the things I remember. These are the real gifts my parents gave to my sisters and me – the experiential gifts we all hunger for.

So it puzzles me that we put so much time and effort into buying material gifts for loved ones.

It’s especially bizarre to me that people would rush to a store just after Thanksgiving dinner, because the real gift of Thanksgiving is sitting around the table after enjoying the feast, sharing joyful memories of family members no longer with us and talking about everything and nothing and all that’s in between.

My mother and father are in their 80s now. Their good health is the biggest gift my family and I dream of and are praying for this Christmas.

The money I’d otherwise spend on gifts is going to a handful of my favorite charities.

My time is what I must give more of this Christmas. Elderly parents will tell you that all they really want from their children is more time with them.

But giving my parents more of my time is really a gift to me – a wonderful gift I will remember long after they’re no longer here.

Material gifts are great to get. But no material gift can ever compete with an afternoon listening to my parents’ hilarious story of the day they met. That sort of priceless experience is an unending joy – but it’s available, as Christmas ads say, only for a limited time.

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Email Tom at