Presence a better gift for the holidays over mundane presents

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
December 24, 2000

In an elevator this week, a woman told me she couldn't wait for Christmas to be over. She still had too many presents to buy and had not yet put up her "damn decorations." She wished someone would pass a law making Christmas gift-giving illegal, so she wouldn't have to do it. I suspect she owns no Toys R Us stock.

It made me feel warm all over.

If you have people on your shopping lists for whom you have not yet bought presents, mentally place them into one of three categories: 1) people you love dearly, 2) people you love less than dearly and 3) people you do not love. Skip the folks in category three; anything you do for them is probably hypocritical and takes time away from people in categories one and two. Skip the people in category two, too. Write them a long letter next week, instead of buying them a Billy Big Mouth Bass.

You are obviously too busy to shop, so you probably don't spend enough time with the people in category one. Go spend the rest of the day with them. Drive around town visiting; get on the phone; have a long, spontaneous lunch with someone - don't spend the precious few hours you have today in the mall buying some last-minute obligatory crap. Touch someone's life in a way that may influence them forever. If you give them a part of yourself, you will forever live in them and in every life they touch.

To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant," if only one person does this, everyone will think you're crazy and you probably won't ever have to buy Christmas presents again. (I speak with the voice of experience. Ask my in-laws.) If two people do it, folks will think you're weird and just ignore you. But if three people decide that Christmas presence is more important than Christmas presents, you might start a movement. Think about how great that would be.

The problem is Santa Claus. Before his takeover of the calendar from October to December, it was easier to experience the miracle of Christmas. But what do people want today' a savior or sugar daddy? Which do we need? Do we really want to teach our children that if they are good enough, some fat guy in a red clown outfit is going to break into our house and bring them a GI Joe with a Kung Fu grip? What does that attitude say to (and about) the children of parents who are less affluent than you? Are those 'bad kids' because they did not get the bicycle they wanted? If we equate our children's gifts - even in a joking manner - to the quality of their actions during the year, how can a 10-year-old interpret other children's gifts any differently? If good behavior begets good and plentiful toys, then a skimpy Christmas bounty must be the result of poor behavior. Kids learn from us. Can we sell the notion of grace when we really prefer a Rolex and earrings? What relationship does a Playstation 2 have with the hope represented in the birth of a child?

Regardless of your religious tradition (or lack of it), to rush to the mall today with a sense of panic and obligation is a shame. Whether the focus of your tradition is on an Eid-ul-Fitr festival of fast-breaking, a Temple rededication following the Maccabees' victory over the Greeks or the humble Judean birth of God in man, focus on your presence today, not your presents.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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