As the machinery of the Christmas season begins to grind and whirr—and like it or not, it has begun—it’s worth thinking about the gifts we hope to give our loved ones.
Time is often the most treasured gift. Here’s a short excerpt from Sabbath in the Suburbs‘ December chapter:
Early in the month, a friend sends me an article on happiness. Just in time for the Christmas shopping season, a new study shows that we receive more satisfaction when we spend money on experiences (vacations, outings, recreation) than on things. Our cultural intuition suggests that physical stuff would make us happier longer, while experiences fade over time. But according to the study, the opposite is true: our enjoyment of objects decreases, while our memories of an experience deepen. What’s more, we typically receive more pleasure from spending a little bit of money on experiences than spending extravagant money on objects. We get more bang for our buck with doing, not possessing.
The study has obvious implications for Sabbath and our sense of time. We can spend all our time working, striving, earning money so that we can buy more stuff. Or we can focus on the things we love most—friends, family, and simple pleasures. I know that for many people, the economics aren’t that simple; they are striving to pay the bills, not buy a lot of shiny toys. Even in those cases, there is good news: accumulation of things does not make us happy. Time with loved ones does. The best things in life really are free . . . or at least cheap.
This matter of stuff versus experience is embedded in the Jewish and Christian stories, too. The first chapter of the Bible introduces a God who creates and creates and creates. God calls each of the created things “good.” Material things are good! But on the seventh day, the sabbath day, God rests. And God calls that day “holy.”
Things are good, but time is holy.
How will an awareness or practice of Sabbath impact the way you spend the holiday season? How does Sabbath impact our gift-giving? What rituals will you keep, and which will you discard? I’d love to know in the comments.