Why giving gifts doesn’t necessarily mean you sold your soul.
I think we can all agree that the retail side of Christmas is out of control, and has been for many years. Every year it’s more expensive gifts, worse debt, and bigger and more useless piles of “stuff” that we won’t use past January. Our holiday of giving thanks to God for what we have is immediately followed by Black Friday, where we rush to buy more of what we don’t need.
Sometimes it feels like gift giving has become more trouble than it’s worth, and many families have begun scaling back. Others replace gift giving with charitable giving. My family has been moving in this direction for years, and you might be too.
But there’s not necessarily anything wrong with giving and receiving gifts with others. That’s right: it’s still okay to exchange gifts and be a Christian. I still spend time every December shopping for a few people I care about. I’ll admit, I put more thought into some gifts than others, but I always think about the receiver. Who are they? What are their interests? Will they really use or appreciate this?
Gift giving offers us a chance to think about people around us. We smile just thinking about how much she’ll love it, or how his eyes will light up when he unwraps it. Or, when we struggle to find a good gift because we don’t know the person very well, we recognize the room for growth in a neglected relationship. Gift giving can be a meaningful way to reflect on and express our love for each other as spouses, siblings, children, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, co-workers, or friends. In fact, for some people gift giving is the most comfortable way to express love for another.
I’m not saying we all have to give each other gifts, because it isn’t the purpose of the season. And this isn’t a call for you to give me gifts – I have already received enough Christmas gifts to last a lifetime. But we don’t have to feel guilty if we do have a desire to give. We can be reasonable gift-givers and Christians. We can worship Christ on Christmas Eve and open up gifts on Christmas morning, and not be committing a sin.
A few years ago, my family chose to not exchange gifts for Christmas. Yet when we gathered, my mother had placed a small gift for each of us by our seat at the table. She just couldn’t help herself. My first response was to roll my eyes and think, “Oh Mom, it’s not about giving gifts. I thought we agreed to not do that this year!”
Instead, I gladly accepted the gift, which was a small carved nativity. Then, as a family, we bowed together and prayed, and broke bread together as we celebrated being in the presence of each other and of the Christ child. And it was then that I realized, in this season when we celebrate the joy of the greatest gift of all, that there can also be true joy in the giving and receiving of lesser gifts, when the gift giving is truly an act of love.