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A Gift Giving Guide

by on November 23, 2016

Tom Trinidad, Pastor, Faith Presbyterian Church

“Christians often find themselves caught in the dilemma of wanting to mark [Christmas] in some meaningful way consonant with the spirit of the festival, but abhorring the greed, consumerism and meaningless conviviality which the culture seems to impose. . . Increasing numbers of people want to take a stand against Christmas becoming an ever more obscene display of conspicuous consumption in a world where so many want for the basics.” (Doing December Differently, pp. 13, 131)

Mid-winter gift giving has been going in the Christian church since the time of Christ, but not for the reasons we like to think. Giving gifts to emulate the Magi who gave gifts to Christ (Matthew 2:1-12), or to express Christian faith and goodwill (as in Ebenezer Scrooge), are relatively late developments. Originally, Christians gave gifts at mid-winter for the same reasons everyone else did. They were celebrating Saturnalia (a festival in honor of the god Saturn), or Kalends (the Roman New Year), or some other Winter Solstice festival (the beginning of a longer appearance of the sun).

Only later were these extra-Christian gift giving practices overlaid with Christian themes including remembering the benevolent 4th century Bishop of Myra (present day Turkey) St. Nicholas, or the 10th century Bohemian King Wenceslas. Despite objections by the English and American Puritans, it wasn’t really until the 19th century Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas” and Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol that gift giving at Christmas took on particularly Christian meanings.

It is estimated that in 2016 Americans will spend 656 billion dollars on gifts, an increase of 3.6% over 2015. Forty-one percent (41%) of people report feeling pressure to spend more than they can afford. Fifty percent (50%) report feeling stress and anxiety. Sixty percent (60%) say Christmas puts a strain on their finances. It is for these reasons of history, theology, and practical finances that the quotation which opens this writing resonates so powerfully with people.

How might we honor the ancient and universal impulse to counter the winter doldrums through gift giving, yet do so with a truly faithful Christian spirit? Following are some suggestions. Consider them suggestions for mindful giving, or intentional giving, or thoughtful giving, or how to give meaningful gifts. When we don’t give gifts in these ways, other reasons creep in that rob us, and those to whom we give gifts, of the joy of gift giving.

  • Check in with your feelings. Do you feel anxious or resentful about shopping for and giving a certain gift? What lies behind such feelings? Wouldn’t it be better to feel joy or excitement when gift giving? If you can’t come to these feelings, it might not be worth giving a gift.
  • Check your motives. Are you giving out of guilt, a sense of duty, a fear of rejection, or to manipulate the relationship? Wouldn’t it be better to give out of affection or appreciation or gratitude? If these aren’t your motivations, work through things until they are.
  • Are there alternative “gifts” you can give, something other than a shopped-for expense? Consider giving your time as a volunteer service (“I’ll watch your children, perform a chore”), or a relationship building opportunity (“I’ll pay for lunch”). Consider hand-writing a note expressing what you appreciate about someone and your relationship with them. Perhaps you can make a craft gift.
  • View the gifts you give as a message of your soul or heart. Take time to discern what you want to “say” to someone through a gift. If your heart or soul doesn’t have something to say, wait to give the gift until it does. The gift will be more meaningful then.
  • Give your gifts thoughtfully and extravagantly as a repudiation of our culture’s preoccupation with transactional “I do this for you so you’ll do that for me” relationships.

Notes and Gift Ideas:

 

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