Christmas Giving that Conveys God’s Love For Us
Many people know the short story by O. Henry titled “The Gift of the Magi” in which a young couple with very little financial means figure out how to give each other a gift at Christmas — the wife cuts and sells her long, beautiful hair to buy her husband a chain for his cherished pocket watch. What she did not know is that her husband had sold his pocket watch to buy a set of ornate combs for her hair.
The story is a classic piece of comic irony, but more importantly, it underscores the moral dimension of gift-giving. I was always struck by the lesson that even when we have very little, there is always something we can give. One gift, given in love, is more than enough to show our close family and friends how much they mean to us.
“The Gift of the Magi” draws a sharp contrast with what happens in today’s culture. There is an entire infrastructure built up around gift-giving, and it grows more pervasive and lavish with each passing year. We live in a time of extensive online wish lists, when television commercials suggest that we might buy a car or diamond necklace for our spouse, and an entire day is dedicated to getting out to the stores so that we can cross off the must-haves from our gift list and put the retailers “in the black.”
Most parents or grandparents have seen children rip through a stack of presents in a frenzy, looking around for more once they reach the last box or bag. Not only have we given them more than their bedrooms or playrooms can handle, we’ve also contributed to the misunderstanding of what Christmas is supposed to be about.
It’s a vicious cycle, and not an easy one to escape. Expectations are cemented from years past, and the priorities (especially for this grandmother of 11) become avoiding the children’s disappointment and being fair from one grandchild to the other. And there is no doubt that online gift lists are super convenient.
But every now and then, opportunities arise that allow us to draw a line and take a fresh and more wholesome approach to Christmas gift-giving. That is what happened in our family this year, when my 9-year-old granddaughter Natalie made an announcement. She wanted no gifts for Christmas this year. Instead, she asked her family to donate the money to several selected charities.
Natalie’s request is helping some of us in the family to turn over a new “gift-giving” leaf … motivating us to select gifts that positively impact our world and the people in it. For anyone who may want to move toward more altruistic and responsible gift options, the choices are endless. But here are just a few types to consider:
— Experiential gifts: Several psychological studies in recent years have suggested that we derive greater happiness from our experiences, rather than our possessions. As a result, people are encouraged to spend their money on travel and other experiences, instead of new cars or the latest tech gadgets. Applying that thinking to Christmas gifting, you might give tickets to concerts, plays or ballgames; or give vouchers for time spent together doing a favourite activity (a weekend at a bed and breakfast) or necessary one (assisting with cleaning out the garage, for instance).
— Eco-friendly gifts: Consider equipping the recipient with items needed for a more sustainable lifestyle, which helps us to live up to our church’s teaching on the “care of our common home.” These might include items that result in less single-use plastic: reusable shopping bags or produce bags; gift bags and gift wrapping made from cloth or other durable materials that can be used for other purposes; a utensils pack to carry in one’s purse or car instead of using plastic ware; reusable coffee mugs and sleeves or water bottles.
— Charitable giving: Donate to an organisation that is meaningful to your recipient, or buy items sold by a charitable organization that help to support its mission — think bracelets made from ocean-reclaimed plastic, or books, mugs or T-shirts in which most of the proceeds benefit the cause. (A tip that I learned the hard way — don’t do this with children unless, like Natalie, they ask for it. I once tried this with a young family member, and I don’t know that it was entirely appreciated.)
— Gifts of service: Offer your services to assist the recipient with a challenging or labour-intensive task, such as doing the grocery shopping or laundry for busy family members; painting your grandchild’s bedroom in the colour and décor of his choice; pet-sitting while your giftee is away on vacation, etc.
Even if you peel off just one item from your loved one’s wish list and make it a “gift for good,” you are helping others and hopefully inspiring other family members to do the same next year. Happy gift giving!
“Christmas giving that conveys God’s love for us,” was published online by The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. It was written by Rayanne Bennett, associate publisher.