When many people think of Christmas, the first thought that comes to mind is presents, packages wrapped up crisp and neat in festive paper, be-ribboned, and tucked away under the bows of the Christmas tree to mingle with the low hanging ornaments. Gone are the days when sugar plums danced in childrens’ heads and shrieks of glee could be heard over a stocking filled with an orange and a couple of candy canes. Now, it’s iPhones and PlayStation consoles cluttering up kids’ noggins and taxing parents’ already stretched bank accounts.
I was a greedy kid. When the Sears Wish Book arrived on our doorstep, we, my sister, brother, and I, were all over that thing like a woman with PMS on a family sized bag of M&Ms. We lovingly lingered on every page that pertained to us and went so far as to circle the items we were wishing for. I’m surprised I didn’t develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
I knew almost every year what I was getting, because I couldn’t tolerate the anticipation. I was simply incapable of living with the fact that there were secret things, gifts for me, hidden somewhere in our home that I was not allowed to see until a predetermined date. When the season descended and the parents were out of the house or preoccupied, I got itchy. I rifled through the cupboards, belly crawled under the bed, climbed on things that never should be climbed upon, to find those gifts that were screaming at me in that high-pitched whistle that only dogs and little psycho kids can hear. One year, the parents must have gotten wise, because on Christmas Eve, I had to carefully tear at the taped seam on the underside of one of my presents to make sure they had gotten the message and that I would be happy come the grand opening.
To this day, I prefer cash to a surprise, tangible gift, which is strange, since I don’t particularly like shopping. Gifts are very personal and I’m picky. I don’t want another thing entering my home that’ll be stuffed in a drawer and donated in the end. I don’t buy things easily and don’t like to own things that I don’t absolutely adore or that don’t serve a purpose, because we all know that more things means more work and I don’t need any more work! If I’m going to possess something, I want it to be something that made me say, “Wow, I can’t live without that! I want to take it home!” I rarely find such things when I shop, which is more often than not on vacation, so I would never expect even my family to choose something that would please me.
Do we really know what other people like anyway? When we go out shopping for presents, don’t we tend to choose what we like? I think clothing is an especially difficult thing to purchase for someone else. I bought my sister a sweat suit one year, when that sort of thing was in, pink and lime green (I know. It sounds hideous). My sister is a brunette and I’m a blonde. I wore those colors, she didn’t. She never complained, but I saw her wearing it after Christmas and it completely washed her out. My husband bought me a t-shirt once that was given to his mother straight away. She was there at the time it was given and she liked it! I bought my brother a sweater and I never saw him wear it. When I saw his friend wearing it, I was crestfallen.
It’s not just the money we spend, but the actual work of procuring presents, the hours swallowed up wandering through a mall, the bombardment of our senses, the jumbled myriad of colors, textures, shapes, and types of things, the standing, shifting, and inching forward in long lines, the weary, frazzled, stinking masses of people pushing on all sides, the greasy fast food gulping whilst vulture onlookers put dibs on your table, only to purchase things our family and friends neither need nor want. Doesn’t that description just fill you with peace, good will, and holiday cheer? No wonder online shopping is winning the consumer dollar tug of war.
It’s one thing when someone gives you a list with specific items on it and you purchase something from that list. There’s still a bit of a surprise, but there’s also satisfaction on both sides. In this society, most of us have more stuff than we know what to do with much less store, so to buy and give a gift without thought is unhelpful and wasteful. Especially, with those near and dear, we should be gracious enough to investigate. I’ve had the odd time where I’ve chosen something appropriate, without knowing preferences, that was received with joy, but this is the exception. Is it just me or do we all have trouble finding that perfect gift?
I’m wondering if we’ve forgotten the meaning behind the gift giving. Do we give gifts because we love each other or because it’s a tradition or it’s expected of us? Do the gifts we give actually reflect our love? For Christians, this is the time of year when we focus on the story of Christ’s birth. We remember the wise men. Yes, they gave the babe costly gifts, but they had to sacrifice beyond that one expense. There was no fast food, trains, planes, or automobiles in those days or GPS, for that matter. Traveling was undoubtedly physically and financially taxing, yet something compelled these people to pack up a mule or a camel and follow a star, a tiny pin point in the sky, to trudge miles through lonely, arid places to worship a child they’d never seen. I rely heavily on my GPS even in the smallish city I live in. I get lost easily. Direction for me is right or left, not north, south, east, or west. I don’t know that I could have done what these fellows did. They may have found my dried up, sand-dusted corpse a few kilometers from my house. If we take our cue from the one who sacrificed it all, who gave his life for our salvation, wrapping himself in a blood-red ribbon that we might be cleansed, forgiven, and reunited with our loving Father, then shouldn’t that change the way we give? Wouldn’t giving gifts that cost us more than a twenty-dollar bill bring more meaning and true joy to our Christmas celebrations?
According to this article, which I recommend as it’s highly enlightening, purchasing pre manufactured items for the purposes of gift giving began because businesses saw how they could use the custom of Christmas gift giving to increase their sales. That’s right. It all began because of greed! Before this, people made things, baked banana bread and cookies, knit mittens and scarves, whittled toys. They used their skills, their hands, and their resources, and gave up blocks of time to create something unique and personal. Some of the best, most cherished, presents I’ve ever received were made for me. I know there are people who still do this and we need to learn from them, but let’s not stop there. Let’s use our imaginations! A gift doesn’t have to be wrapped or even fit under the Christmas tree. Are you a good cook? Have someone over for dinner, like me, who hates to cook! Maybe you’re a particularly efficient housekeeper. Offer to do a top-to-bottom cleaning of a new mom’s home. Do some laundry for the harried working mother. Bring someone else’s kids along on a picnic for an afternoon so their parents can have break. Take a teen out for a burger and a blockbuster. Purchase an experience, two tickets to the symphony or a play, for a friend you’ve been longing to spend time with. Give a donation to a charity your friend supports in his name. Buy a therapeutic massage or offer to give one to an exhausted caregiver. Do home maintenance, yard work, or shovel the walk for an elderly person. Get a group together to sing Christmas carols at an assisted living facility. It can be something as simple and life-changing as telling the people you care about what they mean to you. A heartfelt letter on beautiful paper filled with words of love and encouragement may become a rumpled treasure read over and over in the hands of a relative or friend. I would be happy to receive such a letter and nothing else!
Probably, what we all need more of is the gift of laughter. I don’t like Secret Santa parties and I’ve explained my reasons above, but I’m all for a White Elephant Party. I’m speaking of the type of party where guests are invited to hunt through their own hoards, no shopping or outlay of funds involved, to find the most ugly, tacky, or useless thing they possess, to wrap it up pretty, and bring it to the party. One year when I was invited to such a party, I was working as a dental assistant and the dentist I worked for allowed me to take an old upper denture he had hiding in the back of a drawer. You can imagine the response when that disgusting baby was revealed. Actual guffaws were had by all!
On one side of our family, we do our shopping, at least for the adults, on Christmas day. We read the Christmas story and then pore over World Vision catalogs with our children, picking out gifts for strangers who have so much less than we do. Each family decides together what they can afford and, at the end, we pray and someone recounts the gifts we will send to friends across the sea.
Whatever you do this season, and I suspect many of you have already finished your Christmas shopping, I urge you to consider how you might include Jesus in your giving from now on. Think on the sacrifice our Lord made, casting aside his majesty, removing himself from the comfort and continual tenderness of the trinity, taking up the fragile form of an infant bedded down in a crude feeding trough. If we truly are Christ followers, every choice we make should be patterned after him. Yes, sacrificial giving, investing yourself in the gift before you give it, may cost you more, in the way of thought, time, and effort, but I wager to say the result will be worth it. May he, the supreme giver, infuse our lives with his love, power, provision, and creativity as we seek to emulate him at Christmastime and in every day of our lives.
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