Buy less. Shorten your gift list. Ask for less. Resist the pull of commercialism on your family by deemphasizing gifts and focusing more on family time, activities, etc…
These are popular sentiments among conscientious families these days that wish to remember the Christ-child as more than just an afterthought in their celebrations this month. I can certainly empathize with this desire, and I completely understand why many families will choose to minimize the gift giving and receiving. It’s been overdone. Overemphasized. There are children who believe that the entire point of Christmas is what’s on their wish list to Santa. That just doesn’t sit well with me at all.
For those of us who count gifts as a love language, it is not so easy to dismiss their importance and centrality to our celebrations – to just focus on family time (a different love language) instead. I remember my childhood Christmases with magical and fond memories because of the amazing extent to which my parents went to make it special for us. There were family activities and togetherness in the days leading up, culminating with Christmas morning and the overflowing of gifts and toys that delighted and thrilled us. The amount they spent I never knew, because it never mattered. It was far more than any other day of the year, and that was significant. We waited all year for this day. Not a penny was spent out of turn and each time we decided on a “want” we were told to ask for it for Christmas. And so we waited until that one special morning in which gifts were lavished upon us by parents who loved us and wanted to share in our delight. As I think back on those memories I remember the gifts that He pours out in my life. Sometimes they come after waiting, but they are always worth the wait. I learned gratitude this way. And the knowledge that those who love me want to see my joy, as does He.
I want my kids to wake up on Christmas morning to lots of gifts and an overflowing stocking because I want them to know the overflowing love of Christ. I want them to know that God desires to give them so many gifts, and that Jesus Christ was the very best gift of all. He didn’t hold back, but rather he gave us blessings in abundance if we dare to see them and declare them. A family of origin, a new family in the midst of growing, beautiful masterpieces in the form of wide-eyed children, rich with wonder and ripe with curiosity and unending trust. A marriage that is built on faith and that endures through the hard times anchored firmly. A home that is cozy and warm, beautiful things for my eyes to see, food that tastes good, and incredible health and life that beats in our chests all of us each day on and on, not stopping for single second. I catch my breath and realize that I am blessed beyond comprehension, and emulating His generous character is one tiny way to thank Him.
Furthermore I want them to delight in giving specially chosen gifts to family and friends to symbolize and share that love and richness from our lives. Not a material richness, to be sure, but a spiritual one. A richness that cannot be bought for all the savvy business deals in the world. I want to share that overflowing abundance, signified by the tradition of wrapped up packages containing all manner of treasures and delights. There was everything from new sleds (remember GT’s, anyone?) to slippers, all to remind us of the Giver of Gifts and His goodness to us.
The tradition of giving gifts has usually been linked to the wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus to honor him. We give gifts to each other today to remember this and to honor Christ. So I think the pertinent question is not how much can we minimize our participation in the gong show of more, more, more – and how quickly can we jump on the less, less, less bandwagon. It is simply how can we ensure that our gift-giving honors Christ? Whether one small parcel or a toppling pile of packages – how can we bring glory to the King of Kings, of whose birth we sing, by participating in these modernized traditions?
If I may be so bold, I have a few suggestions. Nowhere on my list will you see the suggestion to cut the aunties and uncles off from the gift list, or spend half of what you did last year, though if you thoughtfully choose to do those things, that’s ok too. Do whatever works for your family! I just don’t think it’s necessarily the better way.
- Consider buying used. We have a very small amount to spend on gifts because as missionaries our monthly budget is very tight. Our kids don’t know the difference between a toy bought from a friend second-hand for a third of the store price, and a boxed toy from the store. You can get so much more for your money – three outfits instead of just one. Four books instead of a brand new one.
- Get creative! I had aspired to make all handmade gifts this year, but being pregnant this fall and having other things on my plate to fill my time just didn’t allow for it. So my modified goal is to have at least a couple of handmade gifts, and to increase that number each year from now on. Handmade is often more frugal, always more personal, and definitely a break from the commercialization that is indeed so rampant in our society.
- When you buy gifts, do it carefully and thoughtfully. A hastily thrown together gift with no real effort to make it special is a dishonor to the God that gives us more than we could ask for. If you can’t figure out “the perfect gift” then ask the person!
- Don’t spend more than you can afford. Being a poor steward of your money in order to give an impressive and awesome gift is not honoring to Christ.
- Think of others. Emphasize giving to teach your children generosity and selflessness. As you are able, consider giving to charitable organizations that work with those in our own neighborhoods who may not be able to afford any gifts at all, or those in other countries who cannot even afford the basic necessities of life.
The bottom line is this: however you give, whatever you give… do it with the intention of honoring Christ our King as the true giver of gifts. The one who blesses us beyond comprehension with good things, like a love that we don’t deserve, and the beauty that is in our everyday living. Such rich blessings, given with a perfect love.
Emulate the beautiful generosity of our loving God, and celebrate the Christ-child who is the most precious gift of all.
May peace and joy be yours this Christmas!