Christmas Presence beats Christmas Presents Every Time

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work& Family.  This post originally appeared in our member newsletter. 
This week Jennifer Fraone appeared on one of Boston’s local news channels 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 way 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. The staff members of the Center take turns doing 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 present. As a result, we spend much of our precious holiday time in frenzied malls hunting down the perfect gift, which often doesn’t prove to be that perfect. Instead, we might choose to slow down long enough to realize that spending time with our loved ones might prove far more valuable than something that comes in a box with a bow.

My own family is certainly not exempt from the “rushing around to buy presents syndrome”. But there are three things we do every year that are far more meaningful and memorable to all of us than any 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. 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 Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack always playing in the background.)

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

I wish you happy holidays, a Merry Christmas, and a prosperous New Year!


The Boston College Center for Work & Family is a global leader in helping organizations create effective workplaces that support and develop healthy and productive employees. Please visit us at
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