The holidays are a time of good cheer – and gift giving. I do like picking out some of those special gifts for my good friends and relatives but the rampant consumerism is appalling. You know exactly what I mean.

If you think this tsunami of buy, buy, buy is new, you’re so wrong. Let’s have a little history lesson, class.

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving an official national holiday, to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November each year. In 1939, there were five Thursdays in November, which would mean the traditional holiday shopping season after Thanksgiving wouldn’t begin until a week later than normal. Department store owners were worried that the shorter shopping season wouldn’t be enough to give them their own holiday gift of good profits.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, being the savvy politician that he was, changed the date of Thanksgiving in an effort to boost buying during the Great Depression. He declared the holiday to be the fourth Thursday in November, where it has been ever since.

Many people were furious with FDR, ridiculing the change as “Franksgiving.” Ah … politics.

But back to the present – or presents. For the moment, let’s put politics aside and look at what you might want to consider for your holiday gifting. I have a few thoughts on the subject, some unique ways to give without breaking the bank.

Stop by to say hello

Older friends and relatives often are shut-ins. There is surely someone you know who could use a few visits.

I don’t mean a one-and-done thing but perhaps three or four let’s-make-a-date-and-do-something commitments in the coming year. Put your plans on a card, make a schedule and then do it.

This will give everyone something to look forward to. They win; you win.

Remember that great book “Tuesdays with Morrie,” by Mitch Albom? This was a fine treatise on intergenerational conversations. It is also, by the way, a great book to give one of your young relatives.


We are a country of volunteers. We are generous folks in that way.

Write a gift card to a good friend indicating you will give time and energy to the favorite charity, religious organization, social services network or civic event of their choice. It might be helping at a local food pantry or at their church. Let them pick it out. In fact, they might just do it with you – a bonus to both of you.

Donate money

When it comes to disposable income, not all of us have it, for sure, but many of us do. Be it $5 or $500, donations are what keep those organizations that are near and dear to us alive.

When I was a resident, I sent $50 from my first check to the Zen Center of San Francisco because they had helped me so much during my turmoil of medical school. These days, we help send children to camp every year in a friend’s name. The smile on their face is worth a million bucks.

You could write a check to your friend’s favorite charity and offer it with a nice card and a pretty bow. It makes a great gift.

The gift to yourself

The dark days and cold weather coming up are the times we turn to our inner self. All those shows on TV seem to show that everybody is just happy all the time. Kind of like Facebook, where everyone looks like they’re always having such a wonderful time, all the time.

On one hand, you know that isn’t the case. But on the other hand, those images are so captivating. So perhaps the gift to yourself this year might be a spiritual awakening – a meditation course, that yoga you’ve wanted to do, the Bible study class you didn’t have the time for last year. Find something to recharge your soul.

I always think about things like this when I’m in an airplane and the flight attendant gives that talk about safety. Most of you have heard it time and time again, but did you listen up? When the oxygen masks fall down, the attendant always reminds us, put on your own mask first, then help anyone traveling with you, like a child, who might need help.

Sometimes the gift to yourself at this time of year is to take that first step toward whatever it is you’re hoping for in the New Year. And the essence of this is you can’t buy it on online. Stay well.

This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions.