Marc Sparks On Life: Never Be the First to Break a Holiday Family Tradition

Posted on Dec 6, 2013 in Marc Sparks: On Life | 0 comments

Marc Sparks On Life:  Never Be the First to Break a Holiday Family Tradition

Marc Sparks is an entrepreneur who has been involved in more than sixty start-ups since the Seventies. He is also the founder, owner, and CEO of Timber Creek Capital, a private equity firm.

Family holiday traditions are so important to the fabric of our society. I love asking people about how they spend the Christmas holiday and what they do with their family.  My family and I have a tradition whereby we give each other one gift (plus a stocking), and we give this gift on the evening of Christmas DAY! The anticipation all day on Christmas is so thick you can cut it with a knife! Our “one gift” policy is pretty solid; however, a few of us have figured out that if we get a huge stocking, then it must be filled to the top so you can see the magical and often hilarious “stocking topper”—and that allows for a few more trinkets.

We have all come to love this tradition because while it’s fun, it also helps us focus on the real meaning of Christmas. It is important to be able to count on a certain level of normalcy in life, and counting on something that is as tried and true as a holiday tradition—something that everyone can expect and anticipate for months ahead of time—well now that makes for good quality family time and lifelong memories.

Ask and You’re More Likely to Receive

One of the cable networks has an annual tradition of showing the movie A Christmas Story over and over and over again throughout a 24-hour period starting on Christmas Eve. The main character is a young lad named Ralphie who covets one particular gift above all else: a Red Ryder B.B. gun. And he lets everyone—his parents, his teacher, and even the local store Santa—know it. But the adults dismiss his idea, telling Ralphie that, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Christmas morning comes and Ralphie races downstairs and tears into his pile of presents. There’s the usual treasure trove of toys and assortment of socks and other clothes—including full-body pink Easter Bunny footie pajamas from his aunt. Ralphie was quite disappointed—until his father pointed out there was one more present hidden over in the far corner. You guessed it… a Red Ryder B.B. gun! In the end, Ralphie got what he wanted because he asked for it.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. If you truly want to receive the gifts you want, SIMPLY ASK FOR THEM. Don’t expect anyone to know what you want for Christmas if you don’t’ tell them.

Put Some Thought into Your Gift-Giving

Now, if people would simply tell us what they want for Christmas, holiday shopping would be a breeze. You probably have a fairly good idea as to what family members want—that part’s easy. It gets a bit trickier, though, when it comes to buying gifts for close friends and co-workers. And if you’re a business owner, you won’t want to forget about your valued clients. Doesn’t have to be much, but you want to show a token of your appreciation for your ongoing business relationship. When it comes to gifting to anyone, it’s best to follow two simple rules.

First, never give anyone a fruitcake…justsainzal. A gift of fruitcake says, “I really have no idea what you want, and I really just need to finish my shopping. But I have to give you something so you can’t say I didn’t give you anything—so here. Enjoy!”  Gifts should be a personal expression, so put some thought into it. There’s nothing personal about a fruitcake. After it sits in the fridge or cupboard until it’s discovered in March, it could be used as a replacement brick on the patio—but more often than not, it gets tossed in the garbage. What good is that? My wife, of a quarter century,  reminds me that “you had all year to think about something to give me”.

Second, never give a loved one a gift that suggests they need improvement. Gifts are an expression of unconditional love. Giving someone a gym membership indirectly says, “You could stand to lose a few pounds.” Likewise, you wouldn’t want to give a voracious reader any sort of self-help book. Doing that says, “You’re not good enough.”  The gifts you give should make the recipient’s eyes light up—not remind them of their shortcomings.

Sometimes the Best Gifts Cost Nothing

Don’t fall into that trap of thinking that when it comes to gifts bigger is always better.  Likewise, don’t think you have to spend excessively to show your loved ones how much they mean to you. In fact, sometimes the most heartfelt, personal gifts cost nothing at all.

For instance, never underestimate the power of forgiveness. Letting go of hurt feelings stemming from a past transgression or disagreement can be extremely powerful, both for the recipient and for you. The holidays are a time of great joy and the perfect time to begin anew as we head toward a new year.

Volunteering is another way to give. Sometimes the jobs no one wants conceal big opportunities to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. Homeless shelters, churches and other charitable organizations need help serving holiday meals to those in need.  What a perfect way to start a new family tradition!

The holidays are all about traditions. Embrace and nurture those dearest to you, and make it a goal to start a new tradition this year. May you get the gifts you desire (but tell people what you want!), and put some thought into the gifts you give. There’s no greater way to express what someone means to you.

You know a little more about my family holiday tradition, now tell me about one of yours by leaving a comment below.

From my family to yours, happy holidays!
Read more Marc Sparks’ insights at, his views on business and entrepreneurship at, and excerpts from his upcoming book, They Can’t Eat You, at

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