Matthew 2:11 – When they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, they fell to the ground at his feet and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests[k] full of gifts and presented him with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Traditions are such an important part of Christmas: the food, the carols, the get-togethers. And the gift-giving. Receiving gifts is one Christmas tradition that big and little kids look forward to.
The gift-giving tradition is rooted in the Christmas story. Wise men from the east spent months traveling to Bethlehem to find the newborn king. A bright star guided their way. When they finally arrived in Bethlehem and found baby Jesus (who was no longer a new-born), they worshiped him with gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh. By no means were these practical gifts for a baby. Yet, the symbolism of each gift is huge. Plus, the value of these gifts presumably provided resources for Mary, Joseph and the little King to escape the wrath of Herod and find refuge in Egypt.
As much as gifts are part of the Christmas story, somewhere and somehow, the tradition of gifts has often become the main focus of Christmas. While gifts can be a special and meaningful part of Christmas, so much energy and priority gets bottle up into picking out just the right gift. Our American consumer economy has come to depend quite heavily on Christmas shopping. It is so easy for families to overspend in November and December and then feel laden with ridiculous bills to pay into the new year.
My attitude towards gift-giving is different from many Americans. Even as a small child, I looked at the few presents under our Deaton family tree and knew these were gifts my parents could not afford. Most of these gifts were practical, with maybe a fun one thrown in. Later on, my Mom invested huge amounts of time and energy into giving gifts to her family. The massive number of packages around the tree at times embarrassed me. I knew she felt it was necessary to “over-do” in later years to try and make up for the relatively skimpy gifts we received as children. In multiple discussions with her on this very topic, I was never quite able to convince her that fewer gifts and more quality time together would be more meaningful.
Over the years, I have edited my own Christmas list significantly. Yes, I give gifts. Hubby Rick and I are blessed, and we can share some of these blessings with loved ones. However, how we approach giving gifts may not be main-stream. Do our grandkids and others who receive gifts always know this? I’m not sure. What I do know is that I want my heart, soul and mind to be in the right place as I make a gift list for those we choose to give gifts to. Here’s how I think about this:
- We focus on giving gifts to the younger people in our lives: our grandkids, nieces, nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews. Yes, there will be a few other random people on the list, carefully curated. Every person we give a gift to is a specific choice. I no longer give gifts out of obligation or because I know someone else in my ring of family and friends may give them a gift.
- While the cost of gifts is calculated in what is chosen, not every grandchild may be treated exactly the same. Yes, I have watched our grandkids count packages and see if everyone has the same number. When they do not, we have the conversation about how some gifts maybe more “special” than others. Do I spend exactly the same amount of money on each grandchild or child? No. There are years when we want to get something specific to a particular person that is more expensive. I do not raise the limit for everyone else to compensate. Eventually, every grandchild will get something special.
- With our grandkids, we started a grab-bag tradition with them years ago. Literally, I wrap up silly things we have around the house or ones I picked up at a dollar store. Contents may include anything from an orange to purple reading glasses. We take turns opening up these grab bags and laughing at the contents; putting them on or wearing them and cracking jokes about them. There is always a bit of exchanging afterwards, which is perfectly fine. The kids almost look forward to opening up the grab bags as they do their real presents. They talk about what they received for months to come.
- For my Deaton Family Christmas, we have followed a tradition of a white elephant gift exchange for years. The difference? Every gift is something from our historical family. These are items that were my parents or grandparents. Some are super cool. Some are pure silly. This tradition has allowed us to shift away from buying more “stuff” and use things that help tell and re-tell our family history. Every Christmas, my nieces and nephews tell me this is their FAVORITE Christmas tradition. They wait 364 days for this day. And I believe them.
All this said, yes, I will do some Christmas shopping this year. But I think very specifically about what and how and why we give gifts. Over the years, our Christmas gift-giving has taken a different route. It’s more than spending hours scrolling through Amazon or wandering through a store hoping something will pop out at me. Here are some ways we have shifted our gift-giving. I share these ideas because maybe you are looking for a different way to gift-give this year. Here are my suggestions for presents when giving Christmas gifts are important.
Give handmade gifts. A few years ago, I made shadow boxes for some adult family members. I included a recipe that my Mom had hand-written along with a spoon from her every-day silverware. The recipes were ones that my Mom regularly used or, like this one, that were her Mom’s. Here, I preserved my grandmother’s cabbage salad recipe in my Mom’s handwriting. This same Christmas, I had additional shadow boxes and items available for family members to make their own shadow box of mementos. It was so fun to see what different people picked to include in their shadow box.
One Christmas, I made quilts for some of our grandchildren. They still use them to this day. A bigger project like this may not be realistic for this Christmas but something to think towards for next year. The quilts are a daily reminder of how much their Grandpa and I love them.
Give quality time together. While taking three of our grandkids to school one morning this past week, the topic of Christmas came up. They specifically asked if they were going to get to come to our house between Christmas and New Year’s as they did last year. AND if it would be planned like last year.
Here’s what we did. Hubby Rick and I specifically planned overnight stays with our grandkids … two grandkids at a time. Rather than having all the grandkids at one time, we opted for two at a time. This way, we had quality time with each kid and choose activities that were more age specific for each group.
Why did the kids ask if we are doing it again this year? THEY LOVED IT. They loved having just two at a time. They loved picking what they wanted to do, rather than trying to find an activity that everyone would like. They loved having one-on-one time with us rather than a crowd.
My point is this: as much as kids say they want to open presents, what they really yearn for is great quality time together. The kids may not remember what present you gave them last year, but they will remember going sledding together. Or driving the golf cart through the snow. We have taken nieces and nephews for overnight stays at a hotel versus a big Christmas present. And they still talk about those adventures today.
Maybe it’s treating a friend to lunch. Making a coffee date with someone you never get to see. Doing an activity with a special someone that they love to do.
It’s OK to create boundaries and limits as to what can be done as part of quality time together. You do you and you pick something that makes sense with your loved one. I am confident that the gift of creating a special time together and thus creating memories will become someone else’s special memory as well.
Give consumables. Some of us do not really want or need more things for our houses. In fact, we are trying to have less things. This is why consumables make perfect Christmas presents.
When Hubby Rick’s Dad was still alive, I gave him a gift of a pie a week. For nearly two years, I made a pie. Every. Single. Week. Sometimes he made suggestions on what type of pie he wanted. Other times, I used what was available. I knew not to make him pumpkin pie but that lemon meringue was always welcomed.
No, this was not a gift that I could wrap up and put under the tree. But it was a gift that kept going for months. Believe me, it was one that Tony thoroughly enjoyed. Every. Single. Last. Bite.
It does not have to be a pie a week. And it doesn’t have to be every week. Consumables are ways to give a gift that says “I’m thinking of you” in a small, yet meaningful way. Every year, I put together plates of homemade cookies that I give to various people, just like my Mom did. Or put together a box of cheese and sausage or another local product that someone special will appreciate. These do not need to be elaborate or costly. If it is a family member, include a family photo they will appreciate.
Another present I often give is fresh flowers or a Christmas arrangement or plant. These can be given earlier in the season so they can be enjoyed with family, company or while entertaining.
Give the gift of helping. If baking or flowers are not your thing, give the present of helping someone in the future. A coupon for doing yardwork or helping in the garden. Cleaning the gutters. Washing windows. Driving them to an appointment. Make it something your loved one will appreciate and you will feel good about doing. What may feel like something simple to you may be a big deal to the recipient.
Give the gift that is created, made or offered by a local business. I know ordering online is often convenient. There are times I do this. Yet, I really, really, really try to support local business owners. Right now, there craft shows or barn shows or bazaars or other local events where people offer their products that are often handmade or curated. If you aren’t quite sure what to get someone, attend one of these and look for inspiration rather than at a big-box store. When you do this, you are supporting a local person who is providing for their family. Every dollar poured into a local community gets multiplied over and over. It’s a great way to support local and find something fun for a loved one.
Give to a non-profit. Over the years, Hubby Rick and I have bought each other lots of sleds, toys, boots, and coats for our Christmas presents to each other. But none of those presents can be found at our house today.
We have chosen not to buy presents for each other because, well, we really do not need more stuff. Instead, we buy gifts for kids in our community who may not otherwise receive Christmas presents. Sometimes we pick up a tag that lists something very specific for a child. Other times, we buy presents and drop off for a specific family. If possible, we also provide a meal for a family.
Being able to give to someone else brings us so much joy. We also pick some non-profit organizations near the end of the year and make contributions to them as well.
If someone were to give us a gift, what are our favorite gifts to receive? A letter or card saying that someone made a donation to a non-profit organization on our behalf. End of story.
Making Christmas Meaningful. Let’s be honest. Giving gifts will always be a part of Christmas. And this is OK. What I hope we will ponder is why we give gifts. Who we gift. And then, what we give as something that fits into our larger idea of how we live our lives. Too often, I feel gift giving has become very removed from the original intent of why gifts were given to Baby Jesus. I encourage us to dig a little deeper this Christmas and think how the wise men’s visit can and should influence our holiday gift giving.
For the chance to reflect more creatively with Christmas gift-giving, I am grateful.
Dear God – Yes, gifts were part of the first Christmas story. And yes, gifts are definitely part of our celebrations today. As we plan gifts for loved ones this Christmas, may we reflect upon why gifts were part of what happened in the early months of Jesus’ life. May these same concepts guide our gift-giving today. Amen.