Wednesday, January 04, 2006

the real meaning of Christmas gifts (part 1)

This year we didn't get our Christmas shopping done. Out of the fifteen or so families I regularly buy gifts for, I got absolutely nothing for four of them (thus far), and felt bad about the "incompleteness" of most of the rest of the presents. The presents didn't "say" what I wanted them to say, they didn't mean what I wanted them to mean. While other people have been urging us not to forget the "real meaning of Christmas", I've been completely sidetracked as I've wrestled with the question of what a Christmas gift is supposed to mean, especially in light of feeling completely overwhelmed with all the wonderful gifts we were given!

This blog entry is my attempt to figure out the meaning of Christmas gifts. I'll write my practical applications in a separate blog entry soon. (That will be added pressure for me to come up with some conclusions, I hope. Meanwhile, any insights my readers may have are welcome! )

picture from Old Island Stamp Company

1. Christmas presents can be something the recipient genuinely needs. I've heard stories about kids getting new boots or winter coats for Christmas. But I don't know what (if anything) any of my friends and family truly need that they can't afford to get for themselves or their children.

picture from

2. Christmas presents can be something that says, "I remember who you are." I remember that someone likes the color yellow or the smell of vanilla. I remember someone lamenting that they can't get thimbleberry jam locally, or admiring the funky blue coffee mug their co-worker was toting around. But as the years and miles grow between us, I find myself wondering: does he still love the color yellow, or is he tired of it? How many vanilla-scented candles does she have sitting on her fireplace? Did a new grocery store move in that carries funky flavors of jam now? And what sorts of other things have caught his eye since he saw (and I bought) that coffee mug ten years ago? Part of my issue here is that I've been a terrible communicator. Having four little kids at home certainly hasn't helped me improve on that, but I really haven't been good about staying in touch. Many of my friends and family have moved, gotten married, had kids, changed jobs... are they really the same people they were ten or twenty years ago? How do I know what they like now?

a tiny felt stocking I made for my dad a few years ago

3. Christmas presents can be homemade things, something that says "I spent some time making this for you." This has been my favorite approach to Christmas in the past. But the last few years I've found that I cannot raise four young children and have any sort of devotional life and keep the house clean and dishes washed and ALSO make unique homemade gifts for people. And there are times I wonder whether any of the handmade gifts are genuinely welcome, or just added clutter that people feel guilty for getting rid of, but don't really want. Since I live far away from most of my friends and family, and they're all polite and well-mannered, ;-) there's no way for me to tell.

picture from Tassier's Sugar Bush

4. Christmas presents can be "luxury gifts" like real maple syrup, or gourmet cheeses, or handmade soaps from a craft fair. Things that most people like but wouldn't normally get for themselves. This has been my default mode for the past few years, without enough time to hand-make all my gifts. But I've been increasingly uneasy about it. Each year when I set about doing my Christmas shopping, the words of James 5 have rung in my mind a little louder: "You have lived your life in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in a day of slaughter." Should I - should we all - be spending money on luxuries and gifts for our rich (by worldly standards) friends -- while millions of victims of tsunamis, earthquakes and unjust wars are still trying to dig some sort of life out of the rubble?

picture from iTunes Music Store

5. Christmas presents can be cash or gift certificates. I've never liked this idea... to me it feels like the "here, you get what you want" approach to Christmas. Not that I haven't appreciated receiving gift certificates... but it seems so impersonal somehow. It doesn't satisfy my gift-giving urge.

picture from

6. Finally, Christmas gifts can be charitable contributions given "in honor of". You can give to thousands of organizations from American Cancer Society to Samaritan's Purse to Unicef... all of them non-profit organizations who genuinely need your money and put it to good use feeding the hungry or working to cure cancer or hundreds of other good things.

This sounds like a wonderful option... until it occurs to me that I am no longer giving any expression of love to my friends or family who, rich or poor, I do want to show love to. Friends and family living far away, who I can't just cook supper for or drop by for a visit. Friends I can't mail a hug to; friends that because of my four young children have not gotten a letter from me in years. And by my giving $20 in their name to some charity, are they going to feel loved by that? Besides which, like giving a gift certificate, it doesn't fill by deep-down love for finding or making just the perfect gift....

....So... what should I do?

Or, to use an overused phrase, "What would Jesus do?" And/or are there other gift-giving choices I have besides these six? Tune in to this blog again soon. Hopefully I'll have some answers. Or if YOU have any answers or insights for me, feel free to comment or email!


Anonymous kim said...

I've been thinking about this. I don't have any good answers, I feel like the crafty "thinking of you" and "i remember who you are" are hard for me, I don't feel like I'm good at them even if I had the time ... I don't know what Jesus would do. I do know that He *received* frankincense, myrrh, gold, and expensive perfume ... does that add any insight?

1/05/2006 9:26 PM  
Blogger Wool Winder said...

Some years I feel good about the gifts I give, some years I don't. Like you, I want the gift to express how much I care for the person and I want the gift to make them happy. I guess that's the problem. "Things" don't bring happiness or love, so I guess I shouldn't worry about it too much. It really is the thought that counts, I suppose. Still, I stress over it.

1/06/2006 9:55 AM  

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