Presence vs Presents

Presence vs Presents


My family has traditions—lots of them—especially at Christmas time. There was a period during my childhood when I had family members living out West, in the Northeast, in the Great Lakes, and finally in the South. Despite the distance that separated us, we managed to celebrate Christmas together every year. Christmas for my family wasn’t simply a day on the calendar; rather, it was a time when family came together. Some years, Christmas happened on December 25th. Other years, it was on the 23rd or the 28th. For us kids, the time together was about the presents! For the adults, and specifically my grandmother, it was about being in the presence of family.

Sure, getting the latest toy or video game is exciting, but I’ve come to find that, like the previous year’s gifts, they eventually end up collecting dust next to all of the previous “must-have” presents. During the last few Christmases that she was with us, my grandmother would tell us as December approached that the only thing she wanted for Christmas was “to have all the family together.” Presence over presents. This sentiment likely resonates with the matriarch and patriarch of your family as well. But what does being present mean?  

The Meaning of Presence

First, being present means being together in a certain place. In our family, this was a commitment that required A LOT of travel and alternating who hosted Christmas to spread out who had to make flight or driving arrangements. It was tough, but we made it work because we valued being in the same place. 

However, there are families I know that live in the same city and yet aren’t able to come together in a common place to be with one another. Work schedules, in-laws, and other family commitments can certainly make the holidays hectic, but what would prioritizing a few hours for the family to get together require of you?

Being present also means being in a position close to someone. Not everyone has the time, ability, or resources to be physically together. Nevertheless, there is still the opportunity to be close – to create traditions, to express love and well wishes, and even to exchange gifts. One the easiest ways to still be present is through the use of technology.

No matter how much distance separates you, technology makes it possible to enjoy seeing family members smile or share a laugh with them. You don’t have to be physically close to create closeness, and yet, seasons pass and opportunities are missed. What gets in the way of us sharing this closeness with other family members? Unsettled disagreements, unmet expectations, grievances, and withheld apologies? Are these, in the grand scheme of things, important enough to withhold connecting with family?

My Hope for You

As you engage in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I hope you stop and realize that no matter how great the presents under the tree may be, your presence is what will likely be remembered the most. Be mindful about setting grievances aside. Make the drive across the country or town. Pick up the phone and make that call. Be intentional about creating moments that become memories. As your kids grow older, I can promise you that they won’t remember every present they received at Christmas, but they will remember how your presence made them feel.