This Christmas (well, really Advent, but that’s a topic for another time) I had been especially concerned and felt restless about the birth of Jesus and Christmas day being consumed by Consumerism whose goal it seems is to turn Christmas into just some day in which it is our right to get presents from people whose duty it is to buy them for us because of, you know, the true “Spirit” of Consumerism, er I mean Christmas or I mean the holidays or something.
Even though I could recognize the positives of giving (and even receiving) presents, I struggled to make a meaningful connection between the relentless secular imperative that we can and should buy, give, and get happiness in fancy looking boxes and the birthday of a little baby named Jesus. Then three days ago I (and my family) received 4 gifts that helped me make a connection and helped reconcile the tension I’ve been feeling. They came from 4 very different sources and all were very unexpected, and it was the unexpectedness that first caused me to reflect more on the positive aspects or virtues of Christmas gifts and how they connect to the actual day that bears Christ’s name.
The virtue of a genuine generosity was something that stood out first and not because the gifts were big or expensive. (They weren’t. I suppose most, by the standards set by the gods of Consumerism, would be considered quite small: an ornament, a set of jams, a bottle of sparkling wine and a gift card, and a set of gifts for the kids.) No, I think I experienced genuine generosity because these gifts seemed to be given free of any sense of obligation. If I had to make a list of people I thought I (and my family) might receive Christmas gifts from this year, never would it have occurred to me to even consider including these four people on that list.
Now I know I’m not exactly revealing any groundbreaking revelations, but these 4 gifts helped me remember that being generous isn’t about having to spend a lot (or any certain amount) of money, but more about truly and freely choosing to give. It’s more about really thinking about someone and truly feeling moved to give something free from any expectations of getting something in return. A gift of this kind of generosity also brings to the recipient the gifts of at least two other virtues: humility and gratitude. Humility is required to be able to receive a gift, no matter how small, that was unexpected or feels undeserved, and that humility leads to a true sense of thankfulness, not necessarily even for the gift specifically, but simply because someone… thought… about… you.
Reflecting on these 4 gifts also helped change my attitude about shopping for gifts by helping me recognize again the positive aspects present in choosing a gift for someone. When choosing gifts or shopping for gifts, I think there’s certainly a danger of reducing people (who will be receiving the gifts) merely to tasks to check off a list, and I believe it’s this reduction of people, our family and friends, which takes the joy out of choosing and giving gifts. Conversely, a certain goodness (for lack of being able to think of a better word) exists in the search for a gift that connects with another person, a gift that shows another that someone… thought… about… them, and differently than how a person might think about an item on a list.
In light of these thoughts, I recognized that Christmas provides a special opportunity to recognize and experience all the positive aspects and virtues of giving and receiving gifts, not just from other people, but from God. For just as marriage and the creation of a family are a reflection of the Trinity and a share in God’s creative power, giving and receiving gifts on Christmas can be a reflection of God giving and us receiving the first Christmas gift, a Savior. In experiencing God’s perfect generosity, we realize that God did not have to give this Gift to us. Humility is then required of us to recognize and admit that we truly need this gift, and with that humility we can receive that gift with a true sense of thankfulness. God gave his Son and in turn, his Son gave his life not for just a bunch of names on a list, but for each… of… us… individually. That is the best reason to be filled with joy and something to remember with each gift we give and receive on Christmas.
—by The Five Minute Catholic
Still struggling with keeping Christmas from turning into an exercise in excess, especially with your kids? Here is a little idea I heard about.
- Set a limit to the number of gifts that will be given by letting the kids know they will get 3 gifts because that is how many Jesus got (gold, frankincense, and myrrh). Simple and reasonable.