How selfish, you may be thinking! Why wouldn't you give something to the people who mean the very most to you, especially as you're giving thanks for the greatest gift of all -- Emmanuel, God with us!
Here's the deal. For a couple of years now, I've come to realize a few things that have changed my gift-giving habits:
1. Giving isn't about gaining stuff, it's about true generosity.
As a kid, Christmas is measured in food eaten, hugs from relatives, and who got the best presents (from Santa, among others). Even as a kid, I loved giving at least as much as I've loved receiving. Christmas was magical, a time filled with peace, love, generosity, and compassion. As I've grown older, as the glitter and the glamour of this time of year has not faded, but the way I measure the success of the season has shifted. As I've become more and more able to provide for myself, receiving gifts has become less of my focus. Generosity has become the primary focus for me. You see, I am able at this point to buy for myself most of what I need and want, even if that means I have to save for a while to do so. My friends tend to be in similar positions.
I am so profoundly aware that many people in my community and in the world are not able to provide for themselves or their families in the same ways that my friends and family and I are able. For several Advent/Christmas seasons now, I've given a different kind of gift to my friends and family and asked them to do the same for me. Instead of buying the cute coffee mugs, or gift certificates, or blankets, or decorations, or [fill-in-the-blank], I make donations. One year I made donations to a bunch of different organizations that lined up with my loved ones' passions or interests -- Alzheimer's Association, March of Dimes, etc. One year I made one large donation, taking into account $10 per person in whose name I wanted to give. This year I gave to a family who was facing hardship this season and I plan to tell that family's story to those for whom I gave. However I choose to give, I give what I have to those who need. And when I share a note with each of my friends and family, telling them who they helped this year. They know that because I care for them, I am doing what I can to make this world we live in a better place for all of us.
2. Alleviating hurt in the world begins with me and my family.
If I don't do it, who will? Generosity in our world starts with us. Healing in the world happens when we begin to pick up the pieces of the world around us. We cannot expect that everyone else who has more than we do will pick up the slack. And we can't expect generosity to start when we have money. What are we teaching our kids when all we do is give expensive presents to those we know and love? Shouldn't they get to experience the joy that it is to give to someone who truly needs and doesn't just want? What if this season you invited your kids or grandkids to pick three of their own toys they want to share with a kid who might not get another present this season? What if you went to your local food bank or soup kitchen and volunteered together? What if you encouraged your kids to take a little bit of their allowance and collect for the church or another a worthy cause?
3. Sharing ourselves with others is the reason for the season.
I so often hear "Jesus is the reason for the season." Yes, that's true, but it's not only about Jesus' birth. It's about God making an appearance in a very present and tangible way for those who hadn't already known the love and compassion of God in their lives. God arrived on the scene to pour himself out for the lost, the hungry, the broken, the sick, the rejected, the ashamed, the prostitutes, the thieves, the unclean. Those of us who celebrate the arrival of Emmanuel, God with us, celebrate a God and Christ who gives everything for those who need. As we seek to follow in the way of Christ, we too are called to share ourselves with those who need us. Sometimes that's our family and friends. Often that's a stranger. See, generosity isn't about making ourselves and our friends/family richer, it's about making our world richer by giving of ourselves for those who need. It's about celebrating the birth and life of Christ by following more closely to the way that he showed us to live.
That's the "magic" of the season. Love and generosity stir within us something that needs to be awakened again. Something that we've forgotten after 10 long months of working, dealing with death and loss, and and selfishness, and unforeseen troubles, and broken relationships. Love and generosity stirs up hope within us and those we connect with this season.
So what now?
Maybe you're not ready to completely give up on the gift giving. And, honestly, I still give a gift here and there too. Why not try making a donation or two? You never know, maybe generosity will catch on and the world will get on board with sharing of ourselves with others, and giving to those who need, and spreading peace and hope and joy. Maybe that will happen, maybe it won't. But we'll never know unless we try! This year, give the gift of hope.
Happy giving, and merry Christmas!