For years, I’ve heard well-meaning folks lament the commercialization and materialism associated with Christmas. Heck, I’ve even joined the chorus of those who’ve vowed to cut back or cut out gift giving lest anyone get the idea I’ve bought in or sold out. But this thought process can devolve into actually hoping you don’t receive any gifts so you won’t feel obligated to return the gesture. In order to justify a sanctimonious abhorrence of elevating materialism above spirituality, you might even find yourself saying things like, “She doesn’t really need anything,” or “I can’t afford to buy everybody a gift.”
But generosity is at the very heart of God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. And who says we have to buy gifts at Christmas? Some of the best gifts I’ve received have been of the homemade variety; things like spiced nuts, candy, cookies and granola. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to give a gift. Gifts of service are equally nice. Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk or offer to babysit. “We love because He first loved us.”
Gift giving does take a bit of thought and planning, which is another thing some folks complain about. I know you’re busy. We are all busy. But if I’m honest, being too busy to think about, purchase, make or wrap a gift is really just my way of saying, “I’d rather do anything else besides something special for you.” Maybe we should re-read the old tale, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and let the notion of self-sacrifice sink in a bit before we get all uppity about gift giving.
Not a crafter or cook? Well, a store bought gift need not be expensive. The old adage, “It’s the thought that counts,” still counts. Let me clarify: scooping up a cache of crap only to decide later who gets each of our hastily purchased do-dads does not constitute being thoughtful. Being thoughtful requires us to pay attention, to listen and to take note of what gives others joy and then selecting gifts accordingly. Being thoughtful does not require us to overthink it or be anxious about choosing the perfect thing. It’s not a contest. And if it’s not perfect, be comforted in knowing that being generous or charitable is not a waste of time or money.
Inexpensive yet thoughtful gifts can include things like:
- Books!–Fiction, non-fiction, picture books, cookbooks, etc. There are books for every interest imaginable.
- Food and Wine–A bottle of wine or spirits, a bag of specialty coffee, a jar of honey, a box of chocolates or even a single serving of some scrumptious delight can hardly be a fail. Everybody eats.
- Little luxuries–Hand lotion, nail polish, lip balm, hand warmers, socks or a gift basket containing a variety of similar items.
(Got a family too big to buy for? A friend recently shared with me how her family members pitch in to create one large charitable donation each year. Family members select the charity of choice on a rotating basis. What a great idea! Group support of charitable giving not only makes such a gesture more fun for everybody; it prevents you from seeming weird by being the only one making charitable donations in lieu of giving gifts.)
What not to do:
- Buy items you love without giving any thought as to whether the recipient will also love it.
- Try to be overly “helpful.” No exercise equipment, self-help books or nicotine gum unless you’re certain these types of items will be appreciated. Certain means you’ve heard it said. Certain is not, “I’m certain so-in-so needs this.”
- Yammer on about a gift’s cost or how much stress was involved in finding or selecting it. Our exasperation kinda sucks the recipient’s joy out of receiving a gift.
- Be ungrateful about any gift you receive. Wish lists are a guide, not a directive or command.
Let’s just say I’m back in the gift giving camp. To my mind, the lavishness of department store displays, homes drenched in Christmas lights and abundant feasts during the holidays need not be perceived as sinfully decadent. Take it in. Soak it up. Give generously without a grudging heart. Let all of the holiday excess wash over you as a reminder of the overwhelming outpouring of love and grace lavished on the world by a loving God who sent his son that first Christmas morning. Let the good news of great joy for all the people fill your heart with the sweet assurance of knowing how much you are loved. Share the love. Give a gift.
*Do you have great gift ideas or family traditions? Please share your thoughts about generosity and gift giving in the comments. Merry Christmas!