Christmas Presence Trumps Christmas Presents Every Time

This week Jennifer Fraone, Marketing and Communications Director for the Boston College Center for Work & Family, appeared on one of Boston's local television stations to do our monthly "Work-Life Wednesday" segment. We've been doing these regular pieces for nearly a year and it has been a great outlet for us to talk about our research, provide updates on new developments in the field and offer some evidence-based advice on how individuals can flourish in the work-family aspects of their lives. Staff members of our center take turns appearing in these pieces and we have all enjoyed the opportunity to experience what Andy Warhol memorably called our "15 minutes of fame" -- although in this case, it's closer to five minutes.

In her work and her writing, Jennifer frequently offers her thoughts, suggestions and advice on what one can do to create greater "work-life harmony," to borrow a term from my friends in Singapore. In this week's segment, she provided a number of excellent tips on maintaining balance during the stressful holiday season. One of her pearls of wisdom was "It's more about presence than presents." Jennifer discussed the fact that we often feel compelled to get everyone on our list a gift at Christmas time. As a result, we spend much or most of our precious holiday time in frenzied malls hunting down the perfect gift, which often doesn't prove to be all that perfect. Instead, we might opt to slow down long enough to realize that spending time with our loved ones would likely prove far more valuable than something that comes in a box with a bow.

My own family is certainly not exempt from the syndrome of rushing around to buy presents this time of year. But there are three things we do annually that are far more meaningful and memorable to all of us than a material gift could ever be. First, we do an annual pilgrimage to Providence, RI to see a wonderful and always unique rendering of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. We make an overnight of it and after the show enjoy a meal in one of Providence's many wonderful Italian restaurants. Dickens' timeless work never fails to remind us of the true meaning of the season. Second, on a mid -December afternoon we go as a family to pick out our tree and then spend the early evening decorating it together (with the late, great Vince Guaraldi's classic A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack playing in the background.)

Finally, as many of my friends and colleagues know, I am quite proud of my Irish-American heritage. So the third "much beloved" tradition is that I drag the entire family to see A Christmas Celtic Sojourn. I'm the only one in the family who really loves traditional Irish music so part of the beauty of this tradition is seeing the disappointed look on my angelic children's faces as I hold up the tickets and bring the good tidings that we will once again be attending this wonderful show. And every year, however reluctantly, the kids get dressed up and despite their protestations truly seem to enjoy an evening of Irish music, storytelling and dance. So while the kids are more excited to witness Scrooge's transformation or decorate the family tree than they are about their Gaelic evening, they are present in each of these three small but important traditions. And each year, their presence is the greatest gift I receive.

I wish you happy holidays, a merry Christmas, and a prosperous new year!

Dr. Brad Harington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family and a research professor in the Carroll School of Management.