Whether you explicitly partake in the winter holiday season or not, it’s likely you participate in some kind of gift exchange. With the novel coronavirus pandemic continuing to roar across the nation, this holiday season may look different for many of us. Instead of flying to meet up with family, many of us will stay home. Those of us who have been sheltering in place solo might embrace the holiday season as a party of one. The other big impact of this pandemic is, of course, how it’s affected employment. As of now, unemployment is sky-high for many, including young workers and working mothers. People who haven’t actually lost their jobs but are working in potentially dangerous environments, like grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, and retail workers, would probably feel a whole lot more comfortable if they were paid to stay home and stay safe.
We’ve seen lines of cars waiting to access food assistance. We know parents are wrestling with how to handle child care, virtual learning, and staying afloat financially. We also know many people in this country still do not have health insurance or are underinsured. Scary all the time, but especially at the rate people with the coronavirus require hospitalization or report long-term effects. How does this connect with the holidays? Instead of buying stuff for friends, neighbors, and loved ones that they truly don’t need, consider giving them cash.
As decorum goes, giving someone money can be a mixed bag. Sometimes people prefer it, as, obviously, they can use it to purchase precisely what they would like, save it, and so on. Other people feel that choosing a gift is a sign of care and shows how well you know and consider the recipient. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with giving—or wanting—a present. But in a time when people are struggling to avoid evictions, get food on the table, and perhaps would love to not take on another shift of gig work, giving someone cash is a way to help meet the need and perhaps lessen the mental stress of trying to survive a pandemic in a country that doesn’t often provide its people with nearly enough help.
The best way to know whether cash would be appreciated? Just ask. Or slip a bit into a card, or send it over a money-sharing app. If you’d like something a touch more personal than cash, getting a gift card to a locally owned store or restaurant is another great option as, of course, small businesses certainly need every boost they can get.
If you’re feeling self-conscious or uneasy about the monetary amount you can offer someone this season, gifting people a bit of labor can also provide more joy than an item. Like what? Assuming you’re in a COVID-19 pod or already sheltering in place together, you could help out by doing extra chores or home maintenance, doing some bulk cooking or baking, meal prepping from pantry staples, or volunteering to do some child or pet care so your loved ones get a little free time.
A big caveat here, of course, is that sometimes people simply prefer traditional gifts. And that’s okay! Even people who are struggling financially (be it because of the pandemic or not) absolutely deserve to have fun, have hobbies, and get new stuff. The suggestion about cash is merely a reminder that you don’t have to mindlessly gift someone an item just because that’s what societal norms dictate, especially in a period where so many people are facing economic stress and instability. And relatedly, a reminder that unhoused people in your community are your neighbors, too. If you have the means, consider giving to those in your community who are suffering the most and with the fewest resources.
Big corporations are going to keep pushing capitalism this holiday season, but consumers can opt out—or at least take those dollars local.