Sat., Dec. 1, 2018
Matthew 2:11 – The Wise Men went to the house. There they saw the child with his mother Mary. They bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures. They gave him gold, frankincense and myrrh.
As you read the following quote, please note the year it was written:
“Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now. There was less haggling and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less wearing of soul; and most of all, there was less loading up with trash.”
– Meredith Deland in Harper’s Bazaar, 1904
Can you imagine what Meredith Deland might say today if she observed some of our Christmas traditions? Might she be even more appalled?
In the last years, I have tried to unwrap Christmas and refocus on the true meaning of what I feel Christmas is: the birth of a baby that became the Savior of the world. Yes, it’s hard to give up those traditions which we have embodied for years. (True confession: I ordered Christmas cards again this year. A lot of them, even though I keep thinking I’m going to edit this whole deal. So, I send them out again because LOVE hearing from people that I often do not see.) I will bake our favorite cookies. But there are areas where I try to pull back the glitzy wrapping paper and get to the true heart of Christmas.
One way I do this is how I approach gift-giving. I’m not trying to convince anyone to stop giving gifts to people they love. I encourage us to be more thoughtful in how we go about gift-giving.
To help spur us into why reconsidering gift-giving, look at these statistics:
53.1% of people report receiving unwanted gifts during Christmas. This amounts to $16 billion of unwanted gifts every year. (What COULD be done with this money?!) Reports indicate 18% of gifts are never used and 4% of gifts are immediately thrown into the trash.
This speaks nothing of overspent Christmas budgets. Or how one-quarter of Americans are still paying off last year’s gifts.
What are we to do? How can we reframe Christmas gift-giving into something more meaningful? Can we stop buying for those who really don’t need or want a gift? Can find joy in other ways?
Here are a few suggestions to help us unwrap Christmas:
- Stop purchasing gifts for those who don’t need or want a gift. Choose alternative ways to celebrate. For many of us, if we “need” something, we find a way to get it. “Waiting” until Christmas for a special gift happens less often. From the beginning of our marriage, Hubby Rick and I agreed NOT to purchase each other Christmas gifts. Rather, we make contributions towards families who have a need. Last week, Rick announced that he had completed his Christmas shopping. A young driver that Rick works with will soon begin his second round of cancer treatment. The co-drivers collected money and gave it to him at Thanksgiving. I’m confident my “Christmas” present is important to this family that has young children. Each year, Rick and I pick families and given them a little extra cash at the holidays. The cards and letters back from these families have made us cry. In subsequent years, often these same families have paid forward our gift to another family in need. Rick and I love giving these gifts as our presents.
- Wrap up special and funny family items and turn it into a gift exchange. This is my FAVORITE way we have unwrapped Christmas. My nieces and nephews would agree. For the last several years, I have put together the Deaton family gift exchange. I wrap up items from our family. Some are special and meaningful, i.e. – my Dad’s dog tags. Others are quite silly – the 4-H songbook when my siblings and I used to go Christmas caroling to shut-ins. I include little stories with the items. At our Deaton Christmas, we open these gifts in an orchestrated way. The process has become so special I’ve had to create “rules.” To learn more about how we do this, read my post about the Winnebago camper, the highly coveted gift in last year’s exchange. Family members repeated tell me: DON’T STOP doing the Deaton family gift exchange. This event special because it has also become a way we pass family history and stories from generation to generation.
- Make a gift. Last year, I made a crayon wall hanging for our granddaughter, Ellie. After she opened it, I realized her brothers felt disappointed they didn’t receive something like this. This year, I am making presents for our three youngest grandkids. Being crafty is not a requirement. I still have the shelf my Dad made for each of his kids one Christmas. My sister-in-law Linda gives us canned goods from her garden each year.
- Make a donation to charity. While Charitable Tuesday is past, I am confident charities will still accept donations. It can be a monetary gift or an in-kind gift. Take your children or grandchildren shopping and let them pick out items to donate. Our local food pantry is encouraging people to donate toiletries this Advent. Blankets, pj’s, coats (new or gently used) – there’s always a need.
- Make a birthday box for Jesus. I will share this calendar during kid’s time at church on Sunday and encourage their families to make a birthday box for Jesus. They can give the box to a family in need or bring it to Christmas Eve worship, where it can be donated to the local food pantry.
- Memorable “silly” presents. We do this with our grandkids and Rick’s kids. I wrap items from the Dollar Store or other silly items in little gifts bags. We take turns opening these bags and seeing what silly thing is inside. There is always exchanging after we’re done, because who wants pink bifocals other than Grandpa? The kids talk about the oranges, apples, flarp, and goofy mustaches they got at our Christmas celebrations.
- Plan a special outing. Pick something you can do together: sledding or ice skating, a movie, bake cookies and deliver to neighbors or something else that you come up with. We’ve stayed overnight at a hotel with a waterpark with our grandkids and nephews in lieu of more presents. Create a tradition which focuses on something other giving gifts and expresses how special our loved ones are.
Yes, I am buying a few Christmas presents. It’s hard to completely get away from this, especially when kids or grandkids are involved. I’ve watched our grandkids count how many packages each received and compared with each other. When this happens, this as an opportunity to unwrap why we give gifts at Christmas.
The wise men didn’t show up empty-handed at the stable. While their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh seemed unpractical for a baby, their symbolism was powerful; then and now. Giving gifts can be very powerful and positive. Maybe we just need to unwrap how and why we give them this Christmas season.
For the chance to unwrap Christmas and focus on heart-felt gift giving, I am grateful.
Holy God – unfortunately, we’ve taken the concept of giving gifts, represented by the wise men, and often turned it into something driven by consumerism and unrealistic expectations. May we be inspired to unwrap Christmas in a new way this year. Amen.
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